By December 23, 2015 Uncategorized 4 Comments

“Twas the year before the election and all across the nation;

Presidential candidates were plump with feigned indignation.

They were uttering nonsense and acting as buffoons;

And not even Hillary Clinton was fully immune.”

In case you missed it, Ms. Clinton, speaking off the cuff to a gathering of supporters in Iowa yesterday, made this ill-conceived comment while apparently sharing her education plan:

I wouldn’t keep any school open that wasn’t doing a better-than-average job.

She later equated “better-than-average” with “good.”

Listen to her words in this 25-second video clip:

Mercedes Schneider (deutsch29 blog) and Peter Greene (Curmudgucation) jumped on her comments quickly. In Peter’s typically frolicsome style, he evoked imagery from Dr. Seuss:

“She wouldn’t keep any school open that wasn’t doing above average. So… close half the schools? Of course, once you close half the schools, then the average will have to be recalculated, and then you’ll have to close half of those schools. And so on until there is only one school left. Or maybe we close parts of that school. I am suddenly remembering the many hats of Bartholomew Cubbins and imagining a Seussian school at which a sky-reaching stack of students are seated at a single desk.”

To bring this to modern times, maybe this would be a “Simpsonian” school.

While the extended logic of closing “below average” schools is readily apparent, I am more concerned with Ms. Clinton’s mindset that shuttering schools is a valid approach to addressing educational inequity in America.

Isn’t this the same inimical rhetoric we have been hearing from the reform crowd for the past two decades?

To many, the most efficient strategy for improving public education is to identify the crappy schools and lousy teachers and simply close them down or run them off.

However, this is a strategy devoid of reasoning. Should our country also shut down any hospital that is not doing “better than average?” How about cell phone companies, banks, airlines, retail stores, or restaurants?

I could see myself supporting such an initiative if it involved Congress. By eliminating the “below average” senators and representatives, we would eventually be left with only one member of Congress. Based on our criteria, this person would have to go, too, since he or she would now be average.

Hence, the major problem with this line of thinking: What is “average” and who gets to decide?

As Peter says, this is not a picky little thing. How would we do this at the state or federal level?

Even comparing schools within one district can be extremely problematic. Should my district close down the elementary schools that serve the more diverse and high poverty families because their test scores are “below average” for the district? What would we then do with those students and teachers?

And, is the basis for determining average and below average simply based on how students do on big standardized (BS) tests? Again, this is right where the reformers have been trying to move us for years.

By using test-based accountability measures to rank and sort schools, teachers, and students, they can skim off the “above average” to shiny new charter schools or other private school options while leaving the rest behind to be, well . . . below average.

Someday soon, I hope that we can move to a more productive conversation about the very real problem of educational disparities in our country.

And, instead of pandering, I wish our politicians would take the time to engage in the hard work of truly analyzing the challenges in our schools and developing a comprehensive plan for addressing the factors which contribute to “low performing” students and schools.

But this would require politicians who are “better than average.” I’m not sure how many of those we have left in America.

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