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Education reform

PROTESTS are flaring up in pockets of the country against the proliferation of standardized tests. For many parents and teachers, school has become little more than a series of workout sessions for the assessment du jour.

Potential 2016 presidential candidate Jeb Bush stood before a packed hall Thursday morning and rallied his education troops, encouraging the crowd to keep fighting the “government-run, unionized and politicized monopolies who trap good teachers, administrators and struggling students in a system nobody can escape.”

Annette “Polly” Williams, a longtime state representative from Milwaukee’s north side who died Nov. 9, was sometimes called the “mother of school choice.” But even that tag doesn’t do her justice.

Since the 1970s we've known of Moore's Law, which states the processing power of computers will double every two years. Forty years later, computers are presumably a million times more powerful.

Just a few years ago, the attendance rate at Davis Middle School was among the worst in the San Antonio Independent School District. Students were falling behind on course work and being held back a grade, saddling teachers with a population tougher to educate and more likely to lose hope that they could regain their academic footing.

Equity. The concept has been a bit of a football lately in public discourse around deeper learning, assessment, and accountability; and by first appearances, civil rights advocates seem to have formed two distinct teams: those for standardization, and those for personalization. Some equity proponents carry their reasoning down the field toward high-quality standardized assessments for all. 

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A state district judge recently ruled that the way Texas funds its schools is “inadequate.” While school districts, teacher organizations and others who directly benefit from proposed funding increases cheered the decision, the rest of us are left to determine what is “adequate.”

I was a teacher five years ago when Pittsburgh Public Schools first launched RISE—its new teacher-evaluation system—and it caused quite a stir. The conflicting reports, mixed with the inevitable rumors about its purpose, had anxiety levels running high.

It’s not an easy thing to say. The Internet is littered with articles about reform that point fingers, assign blame and call names. It’s sad, but I’ve come to expect attacks and hostility from people who must think public shaming will shut me down. They call me “naïve” and suggest I can’t think for myself. When they really want to shut me up they call me “corporate.”

As students file into math teacher John Williams' 6th grade class at Whittemore Park Middle School here, they eye the back wall carefully. That's because their names are displayed there, for all to see, along with what percentage of coursework they've completed. No grades are posted, but each day students can watch their progress toward curriculum completion.