Reading & Reacting: Is ASCD Embracing Market-Driven Education Reform?

Photo: Before the Storm

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo by premasagar

By Anthony Cody @ EdWeek‘s Living in Dialogue blog

Over the last year or so it has become abundantly clear to me that any educator not reading Anthony Cody should be. It really is as simple as that. Not only is Cody a skilled writer, he is bold, inquisitive, and a steadfast voice of resistance against edreformers bent on an unproven, market-based ideology, which includes the Common Core.

In this piece from last week, Cody asks a somewhat provocative question which serves as the title for the piece. Considering that ASCD is an organization comprised mainly of administrators in education, the recognized leaders of schools and districts, it is a rather important question for anyone working in a school, particularly non-members of ASCD.

As much as I like Anthony Cody and appreciate his work, on this topic he is decidedly behind the curve. I would submit that this question has unfortunately already been answered and, even more unfortunate, the answer is in the affirmative.

For one, as an organization ASCD did little to fashion any kind of genuine debate or even interrogation of the Common Core before their respective states entered into the devil’s bargain of Race to the Top.

It has been argued that the federal Department of Education really had leverage and the prospects of any state refusing were always going to be unlikely, proven by 45 grabbing the cash and the subsequent strings attached.

Nevertheless, ASCD certainly has a voice and influence. They could have used it at the most critical moment of seismic shifting in the field of K12 education since No Child Left Behind, they chose not to use theirs.

Organizations like ASCD are being directly paid to “support implementation” of Common Core, which in effect converts them into advocates for the controversial standards. These organizations are also directly benefitting from the bonanza associated with professional development and curriculum made necessary by the shift to the Common Core standards. Is the organization capable of taking an independent stance, once it has accepted grants such as these?

Again, an organization of educational leaders, like ASCD, had a chance to at the very least be on record with alternative recommendations, position statements, possibly even warnings of the potential consequences looming in the distance should the Common Core be adopted. Undoubtedly there were individuals that make up that organization that had serious questions, doubts, and fears. Last time I looked there were not a lot of district and building level administrators included in the development of the Common Core.

Simply put, they could have spoken truth to power as an organization but did not, aside from a handful of brave and outspoken individuals. Ultimately, they abdicated that responsibility —  the responsibility to lead.

In reality, however, I suggest that the embrace extends further. Administrators, and on some level their representative organizations, began embracing a market-driven worldview awhile ago, before the Common Core came on the scene. Just like the market-based, corporate world outside of education, gone are the days when administrators commit to more than a few years on the job.

In the market-based economy the average time a person remains in the same job is just shy of four and a half years. School administrators definitely have adopted this  Only 30% of high school principals remain on the job for three years. That number dips to 27% by five years. Additionally the average length of a superintendent is five to six years.

Administrative turnover occurs at a rate that is chasing the corporate world and not far behind it. This continues despite plenty of evidence to suggest that it comes at great cost to student achievement, district tax payers, and more. Yet, why would an administrator worry about long term consequences when there is little chance that they will be around to see them anyway?

This short-timer mentality is operation normal in market-based environments and gaining a significant hold in education administration. Add to that even more suspect alternative administrator certifications, case in point the Broad Foundation, and the idea that administrators should run schools like businesses has already deeply infected public education.

The ASCD’s Legislative agenda is silent on the issue of privatization of public education, or on the expansion of vouchers. It is silent on the spread of low-quality virtual charter schools. It is silent about the expansion of testing that is coming with the new Common Core tests, or the diversion of billions of education dollars into technology these tests will require.

Private and charter schools need administrators too or consultants. An outfit like ASCD has far too much to gain by bucking a bad system, especially when all this turmoil and change will require their expertise to fix it. That is a strategy right out of the financial sector’s playbook in the wake of the economic meltdown. That is probably hyperbole but the similarities are ominous.

Of course, there are extraordinary administrators at all levels, as well as some that are deeply committed to the communities where they work, serving long, stabilizing tenures. I have worked with some. In fact, Cody mentions many ASCD members that have been bold enough to speak out in this tumultuous time. If only more pushed representative organizations, like ASCD, to take stronger stands and stop treating edreformy ways as a foregone conclusion.

It is a “tough conversation” as Anthony Cody highlights. Sadly, I fear the time may already have passed to have it.

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