Some examples, large and small:
- Our state assessment task force recommended adopting the Smarter Balanced standardized tests without even trying to assess how much the necessary technology would cost—even though that cost is almost certainly enormous. The report simply dwelled (unconvincingly) on all the supposed benefits of the new tests. So no need to assess costs!
- Last year, the state enacted a teacher leadership program that takes experienced teachers out of the classroom to teach other teachers. Don’t worry, they reassured us, the state will pay for the costs. Then this year, it turns out that there’s not enough money for school aid because we spent so much on the teacher leadership program. Couldn’t have seen that coming.
- At a recent school board meeting here, there was a lengthy discussion about setting academic goals for the district. The board decided to focus on raising reading and math scores. Don’t worry, the superintendent assured the board, focusing more on reading and math doesn’t mean we’ll focus less on other subjects. But how is that possible?
- Two years ago, our district adopted specific numerical diversity goals for school attendance areas without any consideration of what it would take to meet those goals. After months and months of effort to produce new attendance area maps, when it became clear what it would take to meet the goals, the board backed off from the goals.
- Six years ago, to get a grant, the district instituted PBIS, a behavior-modification program that emphasizes reflexive compliance with school rules. There was no consideration whatsoever of possible downsides—for example, of whether the program encouraged acquisitiveness, taught mindless obedience, or would have other unintended consequences. We can get grant money = let’s do it!
- The biggie: Everywhere standardized test scores are held up as the measure of educational success. But even if higher test scores are a benefit, the scores tell us nothing about the associated costs. What was dropped from the curriculum to make those scores go up? Did the teaching techniques have harmful effects in other ways? Were the kids deprived of free play time or a decent lunch period to achieve those scores? Did the teaching achieve short-term success at the cost of creating a long-term aversion to the subject matter? Did the school have to start using behavioral control systems that teach authoritarian values? Did the kids also learn that learning is a joyless drudgery to be avoided as soon as they’re free of compulsion? The scores tell us nothing about those things. What good is that kind of partial information?
So why is it the default mode of school policy-making?