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MSPnet Blog: “Assembly-line education”

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posted September 25, 2014 – by Rena Stroud

Lots has been said about corporate school reform. A quick Google search reveals a myriad of opinions, and I imagine just those three words – corporate school reform – alone could spark a debate with no further prodding. But Chris Kershner recently added some fuel to the fire.

Kershner, vice president of public policy and economic development for the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce, was recently quoted in a Washington Post article likening students to an “educational product” created for the good of the business community. Here’s what he said:

“The business community is the consumer of the educational product. Students are the educational product. They are going through the education system so that they can be an attractive product for business to consume and hire as a workforce in the future.”

Those are the words Kershner chose to use to defend Ohio’s Common Core curriculum to the United States House of Representatives. The few reader comments on the article suggest that at least some people were just as taken aback by the comment as I was. Is he really discussing our children’s education in the same terms as some new state-of-the-art product? Is the primary goal of our education system to create “attractive products” for American businesses? Are teachers just assembly-line workers, putting together the right parts to create a marketable whole? Is this the type of mindset we want responsible for creating guidelines and standards for our teachers and our schools? What can be done to change it? And, finally, as John Thompson recently discussed in a blog entry on the Huffington Post: “Is it time to escort Bill Gates out of our schools?”

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posted by: Gabriel Della-Piana on 9/26/2014 10:17 am

Assembly-line education is certainly troublesome, whatever advantages it may have for some outcomes. However, it is but one of the contexts one must adapt to in more productive ways. Education and evaluation of educational practice is complicated by context. A prospective approach to evaluation as described in the GAO Transfer paper 101.10 (1990) on the subject includes the notion of anticipating the future and contributing to potential improvement of the future over what it might become without being informed by this kind of analysis. This requires continuous adaptation to context. Ever so briefly, here are some of the kinds of context issues one has to adapt to, using as an example the far too often lack of validity evidence for intended uses of tests. (1) Interpreting scores on new kinds of tests that call on problem solving have high behavior costs of time and interpretive capacity that may interfere with gathering supporting evidence for interpretations to be made. (2) Professional testing standards over the years (especially, the AERA, APA, NCME 2014 Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing) have shifted responsibility for gathering validity evidence from developer to user and if the developer with a large income from testing cannot do it, the user more in a service mode and local will likely not have the resources. And the Standards have no enforcement mechanisms. (3) Law and regulatory practices relevant to testing in schools have a checkered influence on appropriate testing and gathering of validity evidence. Too big to tell the story here, but see Borreca, Cheramie, and Borreca (2013) APA Handbook on Testing and Assessment in School Psychology and Education, vol. 3, pp. 517-542. (4) The influence of technology (technique) requires adaptation. Technology changes learners (in positive ways through knowledge-creating dialogue and experience with hypertext) and routinizes processes (in ways that bite-back and deskills teachers). The work of Bijker, Hughes & Finch (1987, reprinted 2012) and the Gordon Commission on the Future of Assessment (2013) and especially for technology Bereiter and Scardamalia (2013) tell the story. (5) The influence of private industry structure and the education market, influences what is seen as validity evidence and reduces access to validity evidence (see P. Burch, 2009 on Hidden Markets). (6) The demand/supply gap in testing and assessment expertise impacts the capacity to do what needs to be done and has been well documented. I am currently writing with two colleagues (Connie K. Della-Piana and Michael K. Gardner) about this perspective and it is a larger story than this brief note can fully capture. However, the prospective vision for evaluation, sketched here, illustrates the complexity of the path of continuous adaptation to context.

Hm, connecting the dots?

posted by: Brian Drayton on 9/29/2014 5:06 am

Gabe, your post is highly condensed! I am not sure I am connecting the dots between this very full statement of the "problem" of evaluation and validity, with the broader concerns voiced in Rena's post and the links there. Is the connection that we get the kind of education we evaluate? If so, I wonder if an alternative, which perhaps underlies the reactions Rena described (and has) to the "student as product, economy as consumer" message, is more like this: Let's shape the school experience that we hope for, based on a range of criteria, and then figure out how we want to evaluate it, rather than the other way around. Over and over, the conversations (including the standards conversations) have had this broader aim in mind, at least on the part of some of the designers, but when considerations of evaluating and improvement come in, the broader view is lost under the pressure of evaluation mechanism and efficiencies of various kinds, which inevitably exclude various kinds of collateral damage and "externalities" which are real to the students/teachers/parents experiencing them, but not accounted for in the evaluation system.

you got it on connecting the dots

posted by: Gabriel Della-Piana on 9/29/2014 8:33 am

Your statement gets it right. And there are many interferences with "shaping the experience that we hope for". I suppose underlying my view is that teachers have more agency than they realize and so do evaluators. And we need their considered views to start shaping more and seeing paths to shaping in the midst of all the constraints.

Assembly line education

posted by: Martha Syed on 10/8/2014 7:21 am

I'm sorry just that quickly I lost the person's name that has made this observation of our educational environment. Unfortunately I do remember that he's a senator. Does understand that the smallest unit of society living is the "family unit" and that based on that fact; that is how the needs and wants of a society is developed. The business community is not the only part of society that depends on the educational system. It is the god given right that every human being be allowed to develop his or her mind and spirit to be able to strive and contribute to the betterment of the human consciousness in our country and world. People are still looking at this educational revisement as an entitlement for only a few. That's how I took his comments. If I have offended anyone in my comments that is not my intentions and I ask for your forgiveness. Also if my understanding is clouded enlighten me. Thank you