Friday, June 20, 2008

New Diploma Requirements

The State Board of Education adopted new diploma requirements yesterday. I saw this coming -- I wrote my column in the current issue of BrainstomNW about it.

I've pasted the column below. Yes, Oregon needed higher credit standards for graduation. But the bureaucrats simply couldn't resist packing the new requirements with a bunch of the elements of the failed CIM/CAM assessments. Here we go again.

And of course, The Funny Paper's article on the new requirements fail to so much as hint that there might be some other viewpoint. Not so much as a whisper that maybe CIM/CAM retreads aren't the best tires to put on the new system.

Column below:

Here we go again

Over eight years writing this column I have chronicled Vera Katz’s “21st Century Schools Act,” the dramatic attempt to restructure the methods and purposes of the public school system in Oregon.

As it took grip of the schools in the late 90’s, the Katz reform scheme metastasized into a bureaucratic nightmare scorned by teachers, parents and students alike. The high school level manifestation of the reform, “CIM/CAM,” was supposed to replace the diploma with a certificate that proved students had acquired a long list of important skills, such as writing, speaking, and critical thinking. The schools were supposed to assess these 21st century skills, and the students had to prove they had mastered them

But the grinding gears of education bureaucracy did its magic. They ensured that the CIM/CAM assessments were so ill-defined, time consuming, subjective, and paperwork heavy that they became a standing joke in Oregon’s high schools. Fewer than one in three high school students bothered to run the gauntlet to get the newfangled certificate.

In 2007, CIM/CAM was finally laid to rest with legislation that once and for all ended this very expensive failure.

Or so we thought.

Idle bureaucrat hands are the devil’s playground. Before the ink of the governor’s signature on the bill that killed CIM/CAM was dry, the education bureaucracy was busy resurrecting the failed experiment, reestablishing many of the elements of the CIM/CAM reform, this time under the pretext of revising Oregon’s diploma.

Oregon’s diploma requirements are among the least rigorous in the nation – in part because the legislature spent 15 years down the CIM/CAM bunny trail instead of focusing on making sure our diploma meant something. Oregon requires only 22 credits to graduate, compared to 24 in most states. We require only two years of math and three years of English, while most states require four years of each.

It’s doubly ironic that for fifteen years the rhetoric of reform told us they were establishing “world class standards” in Oregon while the same folks allowed our graduation requirements to sink to the lowest in the nation.

But it’s not enough to just raise our graduation requirements by adding more math and English. That wouldn’t keep the machinery occupied. No, they also want to establish a list of “Essential Skills,” and “Career-related Learning Standards,” that the schools will have to assess and the students will have to demonstrate that they have mastered.

Sounding familiar? Here we go again. CIM/CAM redux.

Are we ever going to learn? When you let these people define “essential skills,” you are certain to get a list of nice sounding things that are impossible to reliably evaluate and measure. That was the downfall of CIM/CAM, and they are repeating the expensive failure once again.

Here are some of the “essential skills” they are proposing to the State Board of Education. Remember – these are “skills” that the schools would have to assess and students would have to demonstrate in order to get a diploma:

“Think critically and analytically across disciplines.” I’d submit that anyone who could write such an ill-defined sentence has demonstrated he hasn’t himself mastered this so-called skill. How is “critical thinking” different than “logical thinking?” What does it mean to analyze “across disciplines? Gibberish.

“Demonstrate global literacy.” Your guess is as good as mine. They say it includes “knowledge of diverse cultural, linguistic, and artistic expressions,” but this hardly clears it up.

“Demonstrate personal management and teamwork skills.” Another entirely subjective “skill,” and one can only imagine the Orwellian “assessment” they will cook up for it.

Most of the other “Essential Skills” involve content-area knowledge, such as writing, math and reading. These things are already easily assessed by any number of ready-made tests, so there is no need to create another level of bureaucracy to make sure kids learn them.

All this stuff is moving at the speed of, well, bureaucracy. They have formed a slew of “Diploma Implementation Task Forces.” The “Essential Skills Task Force” has more than 40 members – teachers, students, community college employees, and business representatives. They’ve been meeting for almost a year. Their list of skills is already in Version 6.0, and is slated for adoption by the State Board this month.

But the machinery is grinding on toward its inexorable goal, which is to salvage all the elements of CIM/CAM they can possibly cram into the new diploma requirements and in so doing, quietly resurrect the biggest and most expensive failed education experiment of the last century.

The bureaucracy needs another gerbil wheel.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Just another illustration why the schools will never improve as long as these people are in charge.

livin la vida suburbia said...

The kids will graduate and only be qualified to work for the government. Sad.

Anonymous said...

"Think Critically and analytically across disciplines." Sure, it's great to hope kids can have some common sense, but it cannot by forced on them in such a hypocritical way.
If I understand what this jumble of words it trying to say, they have realized what a mess they've made, they are hoping students will criticize and analyze the disciplines they've put in place, and eventually bail them out by calling out their corrupt system for what it is. We can hope right?
"Demonstrate personal management and team work skills." can be roughly translated to, "get your self to school on time, allow yourselves to be herded around like cattle and moo on command, in unison."

Diploma said...

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