In Whose Best Interest?
Phil Kirk, the governor-appointed Chairman of the State Board of Education, is moonlighting. Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to figure out which is Phil's main job and which one earns him his fun money. Mr. Kirk's other job is President of the North Carolina Citizens for Business & Industry (NCCBI). This is a major-league corporate lobby that pushed quite strongly for passage of the ABCs. You may want to read their position paper published in February of 2001 where they urge NC lawmakers to "stay the course" on the ABCs. Further, the report states "NCCBI recommends that ALL policy makers exercise patience, while simultaneously expecting improvements from these initiatives, until adequate experience and data is obtained to effectively judge the necessary adjustments that might be necessary or desired."
Clearly, Mr. Kirk and his fellow business lobbyists believe that it is fine to give the ABCs a chance - a program that so far has been accountable to no one and has received no independently-contracted outside review. Teachers, parents, and principals are being asked this year to retain low-performing fifth graders ("We've been patient with you long enough, Timmy, now we're going to be patient with Mr. Kirk and his buddies.")
Does being asked to be patient while the state conducts an experiment in high-stakes testing and retention bother you? Does it concern you that this experiment is being conducted at the behest of corporate lobbyists who also have a seat of the head of our education system?
NCCDS is not anti-business and industry. Business creates a tremendous part of the tax-base that provides the revenue for public education. NCCDS's complaint is the haphazard use of and mis-application of standard business practices in the arena of public education.
A number of alarming consequences result when for-profit management practices, using standardized tests as management tools, are applied to public schools:
(1) As indicated in the NC School Psychology Report on Standardized Tests in NC , the tests lack validity when applied to individuals rather than schools or school districts for which the tests were originally validated. Managing students "by the numbers" in the parlance of business, is a dubious strategy in almost any book. But if one chooses to manage an individual student, by the numbers, then the numbers better be right. Neither the state nor any independent source has validated EOGs or EOCs for measurement and management on an individual level. The numbers aren't right, so the management can't be right. We might as well navigate a ship on the high seas with a magnet stuck to the compass.
(2) The margin of error in the test is tremendous. Again, this margin was deemed acceptable for the rough measurement of schools or districts, not individual students. Mis-management by poor numbers is the outcome again.
(3) The business community generally has one strategy for the consistent low-performer - termination of employment. Would the business mentality advocate the same in the public school arena? Yes. Timmy will first be retained in fifth grade. He will be humiliated and stigmatized because he lives in a broader society that strokes success and condemns failure. Timmy will condemn himself, he will blame himself, and in the end, all too often, he will fire himself. He will quit school.
(4) The business community is above all, competitive. Values of cooperation and work are subordinate to the value placed on success. In the business world there are winners and losers. The norm-referenced tests given by the state of North Carolina guarantee that there will be winners and losers. Reliance on norm-referenced tests means that the winners could be incompetent. It could mean that the "losers" are almost as sharp as the "winners." Since the test, by its very design, guarantees that there will be both categories, extracting meaningful data is a crapshoot. Through constant exposure to business and sports, people are accustomed to the winner/loser model. People are not usually motivated to ask what "winning" and "losing" on a standardized test really means, and thus the business model prevails, unchecked and undaunted.
(5) The business model sees its employees and its products as almost infinitely moldable into whatever managers and engineers desire. That thinking may work in an assembly plant but it is quite out of place in a classroom. Children are not employees and they most certainly are not Silly Putty. They should not be treated as if they are working to get a promotion or a raise. We should not send the message that only a select group will get the promotion or raise. Furthermore, it is utterly inhumane to treat a child like Silly Putty, like a widget. Children develop at different rates and have different learning styles. While a foreman on the line may not have the luxury of tolerating employees that have different abilities or learning styles, humane educational practice has no other choice than to meet the student on her level and exercise patience in order to lift her up. It is wrong and unfruitful to place teachers in the role of Quality Assurance Supervisors making sure the defects are properly labeled and steered toward minimum wage jobs. Stigmatizing a child only serves corporate interests to have the schools sort out their labor pool for them. Negative labels will never serve the child's interest.
We don't have to sever the ties between business and public education. But business should not be at the head of the educational system to operate it for its own ends. Business must be checked by the broader public interest. It is illegal in NC for a teacher to simultaneously serve on a school board for which he or she works. Such a practice is considered a conflict of interest. That's a wise law. Given the undue influence NCCBI has already had on public education in NC (the ABCs are essentially a clone of a program originally proposed by the NCCBI) Mr. Kirk should resign one of his jobs.
Call your representatives today . And call or email Mr. Kirk. Here are both of his contact points:
Phil Kirk's email as President of the North Carolina Citizens for Business and Industry
Phil Kirk's phone number as Chairman of the NC State Board of Education