The Scarlet Number and the Commodifying of Kids
“Perhaps our country has succeeded not because of test scores, but because we encouraged something more important than test scores- the freedom to create, innovate and imagine”
– Diane Ravitch
That scarlet number is AGT in Deasy parlance. For weeks I kept getting these annoying emails from some group called “Battelle for Kids” – get it – a homonym for “battle” as if teachers are not part of the battle and as if a statistical number with a new name will actually reveal anything about my teaching. I refused at first to access my “AGT” because I know it is a fraud – yet those annoying emails kept on showing up in my LAUSD inbox, the last one a slightly sinister one announcing that my “principal now has access to my AGT.”
I’ve got news for Battelle for Kids- my principal was too damn busy planning about 8 field trips over two days for the kids to take on the two day break between quarters. She was too busy running meetings for parents of new students to let them know the expectations of the school. So I’m not worried that she has access to my AGT
But I am concerned that the LA Times may soon have access to it – as an alarming letter authored by Superindent Deasy and sent from Sharon Riley showed up about a month ago in my inbox and I’m sure every other teacher’s inbox regarding the LA Times demand for all teacher’s AGT scores. So this forced me to finally look at the dreaded “data.” What did it show and why did I have to complete a rigged survey before I was able to see my AGT? More on that later Part of the letter stated that the district had released school AGT to the public but not individual teacher scores which are supposed to be “confidential.” Hmm I seem to harken back to a time when we were told our jobs at Fremont would depend on “confidential stuff.” but I digress.
Most of my AGT showed “not enough information for a score” -most likely because last year I was a Community Day School where few kids test and they are cycling in and out all year and in the years prior to that my US History students who were technically 10th graders took the World History test -I did get some type of score- some grey bubble right in the middle of a line- I have no idea what it meant.
But now that I have taken a “beliefs” survey through Local District 7, suddenly the bogus survey asking about my views on AGT before I could access my scores seems part of a wider scenario to pinpoint which teachers won’t go along with the District’s mandates and privatization schemes. I urge all teachers to decline to take any of these surveys for their own protection.
The most pernicious part of all of this is the labeling of kids into narrow categories of “below basic,” basic” etc as if no other skill or talent that they have can be utilized to demonstrate their mastery of history other than a multiple choice test score. Because now our students have been commodified to be used by companies like Battelle for Kids which has even had a book published called the Value Added Book, a little text which purports to take the reader step by step in how to use value added to “improve student achievement.” But where would the market be to make a profit off of such a book, since I doubt a principal on their own would buy this book- most likely districts would be forced to purchase these as parts of the strings attached to Race to the Top funds- all part of a skimming of public money to enrich private companies and their subsidiaries, while bypassing teachers and students in the classroom. The teachers meanwhile have to go begging on websites like Donor’s Choose or pony up the money themselves as teachers like Chuck do.
In fact, at the top of Battelle’s list of services they provide, Race to the Top is number 1, where they are listed as a “Race to the Top” partner. This is followed closely by Teacher Effectiveness and Educator Compensation, seriously intoning that “districts must do all they can to select, reward and retain the best teachers.” Translation: Use AGT which we know changes dramatically from year to year for no particular reason, to pay teachers, knowing that most teachers would stay toward the bottom of any pay scale since their AGT would not consistently rise over time. No longer would teachers be partners with a district through their union to create professional pay scales. How alarming is this? I know from being a Registered Veterinary Technician that if I left one hospital I could take a huge pay cut, it didn’t matter what my skills were- the only thing that mattered was the philosophy of individual veterinary hospitals regarding RVT’s. Some saw us as a necessary expense, others as needed professionals in the veterinary field to improve animal health. Guess which clinics paid better?
Why is all of this bugging me now? Because I have been reading Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine, a brilliant history of how Friedman school of conservative economics is introduced in a society through the transfer of public money to private corporations, and while this can be accomplished partially through democratic elections, generally there is push back, a la Wisconsin and the recall efforts there. For it to be most effectively and totally implemented requires a “shock” a disaster if you will, such as the coup in Chile that installed the dictator Pinochet, who then implemented Chicago School of Economic type reforms such as privatization of formerly public sectors such as education. Two other examples cited by Klein are Hurricane Katrina and 911 in which politicians were ready to take advantage of each disaster to transfer public wealth to private corporations. What might have looked like George Bush’s bumbling and incompetence was actually just the normal reaction of someone who had no intention of rebuilding New Orleans. He planned to give it away. All public school teachers were fired and charter schools replaced nearly all public schools. Only a few younger teachers were rehired at considerably less than their previous salaries. The Shock Doctrine at work. Public housing was bulldozed for million dollar condos.
It can happen here- another riot, a major earthquake with Arne Duncan sitting in the Secretary of Education’s chair demanding certain “reforms” if schools are to be rebuilt with federal money- money that will go not to the Department of Public Works or LAUSD or the DWP, but to private companies. Public tax dollars and reforms which will include paying public workers, including teachers, less and demanding more. This is accomplished while citizens are in the shock stage of a crisis. Once they recover, as in New Orleans, it is too late- they find that housing, public schools and hospitals are closed for good. I don’t want to live in a society where everything is a commodity. I want to live in a society where teachers like Chuck and countless others have the academic freedom to pursue what is best for each student.