As Jim Horn of School Matters writes of the tutoring industry,
A huge industry accountable to…whom? Under the law, schoolteachers and administrators are being held to account for the performance of their students. But the tutors? For the last three years, state education agencies have been designated as the watchdogs over tutoring companies. Yet states have been about as aggressive in that role as a brood of Chihuahuas. Most states lack the staff, the money, the gumption and the know-how to oversee the tutors properly.
This sentiment is also echoed by Smart Money, described the tutoring industry as “an estimated $2 billion-and-growing industry that includes private tutors, retail tutoring centers and test-preparation centers” that won’t tell you that “We don’t have to stick to any educational standards.”
Yet the Globe Editors take Spellings at her word on tutoring. Taking the word of any TWPE appointee is a risky proposition, but the Secretary of Education’s requisite need to defend No Child Left Behind, one of the stupidest laws ever enacted, also makes her comments suspect. Noticeably lacking in the editorial is the context of Spellings’s comments? My guess is one of the Editors must have attended this, yet there was no news article about it in the Globe. Maybe I’m too cynical, but is it possible a Globe Editor hooked on accountability asked for criticism of Massachusetts accountability system? A little background about “yesterday” would be helpful.
In their random walk through the corners of their collective mind, the Editors return to the OEQ and console themselves with the belated, rather obvious, thought that the Department of Education will probably pick up their slack. Always a little slow on the uptake, they figure out that the restructuring of the Department of Education will probably take care of whatever useful functions the OEQ carried out. It’s fair to say that Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration probably figured this out already, and recent appointees such as Paul Reville seem unlikely to abandon accountability measures.
So why bring it up the end of the OEQ? All I can think is that like my elderly uncle they want to talk about their chosen subject: education. Other than reiterating the same handful of beliefs, they have little to add to the educational conversation.
Having offered its ill-considered, poorly evidenced opinions on the decline of accountability, the Editors dodder over to its latest hobby horse: helping school systems improve. Educational reform in Massachusetts turns fifteen this year; MCAS has counted as a graduation requirement for seven years; however, the standards and accountability movers and shakers at the Globe have only lately arrived to the realization that carrots and sticks aren’t sufficient for improving education.
This Johnny-come-lately realization isn’t original. Ed Moscovitch, who worked on the original education reform project in Massachusetts, stated the movement’s basic misunderstanding:
the reform law was based on the premise that teachers and principals knew what to do but for some reason weren’t doing it; embarrassing them through low MCAS scores, while decreasing their enrollments through school choice, would somehow get them in gear. This fundamental premise was mistaken.
Educators could have told reformers this a decade ago, but they never really had a seat at the table. Complaints were too easily explained away by smearing the MTA or asserting that teachers were just lazy. The Globe editors fall into this better-late-than-never realization. It would be nice to see them admit to the same fundamental mistake as Moscovitch. It offers them the opportunity, however, to offer their uninformed suggestions for improvement.
It’s not uncommon for journalists to misrepresent research, particularly when it comes to education. Yet the Editors have no idea what they don’t know. They know that the idea of an extended learning time has been connected to research, and it sounds good to them. The suggestion of increasing funds for a longer school, however, comes like much of the editorial, as a sort of misinformed after thought.
The Legislature could provide even greater assistance by increasing funds for a longer school day, one of the few proven methods that help educators close the achievement gap between low-income and middle class students.
Lets start with the word proven. There’s no such thing as a proven instructional method. As educational researcher and writer W. James Popham writes, “the best we can ever derive from educational research investigations is probability-based instructional guidance…. Particular teachers also function in settings where there are particular principals, particular colleagues, and most important of all, particular kids.”
Money for an extended school day could help achievement, however, it matters what is done after school. A lot of extended day pilot programs seem to focus on “enrichment” activities, which though valuable in themselves, may not necessarily affect the achievement gap. If there is There is not a large body of research about the efficacy of an extended school day.
There are, however, many practices supported by research, more extensive and authoritative than that concerning an extended school day. These practices could also help close the achievement gap. One such practice concerns class size in elementary grades. The data here is copious and conditions have been replicated. Another practice is called formative assessment. Research is compelling and authoritative here as well. In fact, there are all kinds of educational practices that work. Is it possible that the Editors were hedging their bets by saying a longer school day is “one of the few” methods because they have no idea how many practices work to narrow the achievement gap?
Unlike my great uncle, the Globe Editors’ fault lies not in the failure of their collective short-term memory, but in the fact that they never learned enough to know what they don’t know. My uncle never pretended expertise where he didn’t have it, the Editors, quite frankly, do. By itself, this particular editorial isn’t anything other than a meandering excuse to rehash ideas they have long taken for granted. But unlike my uncle’s stories, they help set the educational agenda for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. They certainly have a right to their opinion and a right to publish it on the editorial page; they don’t deserve to go unchallenged. We have seen how the national media distort our electoral process; we have seen how their uncritical acceptance of the Iraq War led us into the debacle; they need to be challenged. They need to be held to a higher standard and stop providing the National Review with ammunition.