Throwing an Invisibility Cloak Over the Classroom to Get to Dewey’s Participatory Social Inquiry

The IHDP report from 2011 laying out the use of education “reforms” all over the world to shift all of us towards Societal Change talks about the need of a “positive vision for the future” to mobilize global society toward a perceived “common good.” And yes it is more along the lines of what Paul Ehrlich will pick than anything you or I would freely choose. Listed motivating possibilities for visions include:

“sustainability technologies (non-fossil fuel automobiles, LED light bulbs, geothermal power), policies (the wide scale introduction of policies to promote renewables, recycling and reuse), new strategies and methods for education that foster understanding and practice for sustainability and equity, or innovative approaches to creating synergy between environmental and economic concerns.”

Boy those do sound familiar, don’t they? Interestingly enough in order to deal with these contemplated “environmental and global change challenges,” schools get called in again– “more inclusive ways of knowing are required to bring together the partial and incomplete perspectives of different actors faced with uncertainty, diversity and change.” The more diverse the group of people who can be brought together to problem solve these “new, emerging and complex issues” the more knowledge, experiences, and values that can go into the consensus developed to impose on everyone.

That would Change the World based on theories first despite uncertain and potentially risky and speculative global or local problems. IHDP seems to grasp that tentativeness and recommends using “emotionally connective forms” of media to get ideas across. I guess that’s because spectacular graphics can trump any uncertainty. Now I have a good idea what is planned for getting to Equity because I have read Jeannie Oakes among others (and getting that diverse group into a classroom may be why most of the no tracking “scholarship” tracks back to her). Oakes laid out precisely how Participatory Social Inquiry in Urban Schools is to work. She points out that “equal terms” education conflicts “deeply with a long history of White supremacy and the fundamental norms and power distribution of democratic capitalism.”

I just want you to appreciate now how Open-Ended Performance Assessments calling for real-life scenarios will come in handy for this Equity agenda. The one that aims to move all of us toward a “democracy in which people of all races and social classes engage “on equal terms” to learn from one another as they make decisions about how to live and work together.”

So if you are in a high poverty school everything wrong gets blamed on capitalism and racism and nothing involves any poor personal behavior. Not a contributing factor at all. More upscale schools should be made to feel guilty about any privilege and there’s always Sustainability and lots of other scenarios to push the need for fundamental changes to everyday behaviors. And with online curricula and online assessments, it will be quite hard to see any of this going on. Perfect way to bring in IB’s Critical Thinking and Barber’s Global Citizenship too. You as parents and taxpayers will not be able to see these changes. Just ask anyone in Texas about the controversies over the C Scope curriculum where school kids were told to draw a flag for an imagined socialist country as a classroom activity. Concerned parents were told the curriculum was private and they had no right to learn what their children were being asked to do or believe in the classroom.

Now I have mentioned that Pearson is involved with the Texas and both Common Core assessments. So the fact¬† that in 2012 Pearson assessment said all of these assessments were actually assessing 21st Century Skills should interest all of us. They say that the US National Research Council says that’s what college and career readiness means. Which would explain why David Conley’s 2007 report reminded me of the 21st century skills push. It also means that our assessments are really just looking for those listed Life Skills from the last post. That’s a low bar and gives all sorts of flexibility for what can go on in the classroom. But wait, it gets even better. One of the skills that will need to be assessed is collaboration. Which implicates Albert Bandura’s Self-efficacy from the last post. I would snark what are the odds but it was checking for a link among Bandura, Pearson, and the Common Core explicitly that turned up this fascinating report.

Here’s what I found so fascinating especially in light of those IHDP aspirations. Pearson wants open-ended tasks to assess 21st century skills in authentic real-world problem contexts. And these tasks are to be done as a group in order to assess collaboration. And if the tasks were “obvious” or “unambiguous” there would be “few opportunities to observe student negotiation because there is nothing about which to disagree.” Tasks “relying on:

“stimulus materials designed to evoke cognitive conflict (ie, that reflected uncertainty, ambiguity, disorganization, and contradiction) better elicited critical thinking skills than tasks that used stimulus materials that were orderly, well-organized, and coherent.”

You know these quotes really are going to take the fun and comfort out of being told your child is doing well at school and has excellent “higher-order skills.” Instead, she may be stewing in frustration with “ill-structured” problems deliberately created because they:

“have no clearly defined parameters, no clear solution strategies, and either more than one correct solution, or multiple ways of arriving at an acceptable solution.”

Are you like me wondering why no one is being honest that these so-called tests are actually just a means of getting to a Social Interaction classroom centered around Social Justice without saying so? The tasks are deliberately laid out to require “knowledge, information, skills, and strategies that no single individual is likely to possess.” Then Norman Webb of the Depth of Knowledge template Florida and Texas and PARCC and SBAC all admit to using is cited as saying “when ill-structured tasks are used, all group members are more likely to participate actively, even in groups featuring a range of student ability.”

And that’s the whole point beyond using the assessment to drive classroom activities to create a perceived need for Global Transformation–politically, economically, and socially starting at the level of the individual student. “Groups featuring a range of student ability” will limit the top-performers from soaring as they were able to do in the transmission of knowledge classroom. They do not get to keep getting mentally stronger. And the able student’s strengths will mask a great deal of weaknesses. Leaving those students free to focus on the injustice and unfairness of it all.

Back in the late 80s and early 90s when these performance assessments were first proposed they were called alternative measures to boost graduation rates and show student “growth” even though there was very little knowledge and most of the changes were values, attitudes, and beliefs. And the university research center that has always pushed for some alternative to normed-standardized testing in the schools going back decades is CRESST at UCLA. The same UCLA where Jeannie Oakes was an education prof when she wrote the book I quoted from above. CRESST has been getting Gates Foundation funding to help prepare Common Core curricula and assessments. How convenient is that?

In January 2013 CRESST released a report “On the Road to Assessing Deeper Learning” on the status of both SBAC and PARCC. This report though was funded by the Hewlett Foundation. That would be the same Hewlett Foundation that has a Deeper Learning initiative to guide the classroom implementation of the Common Core. The one that says Common Core is not about content but new assessments and curricula and classroom interactions. ¬† The same Deeper Learning that is part of that Self-efficacy Equity Framework I mentioned in the last post.

Yet more proof that what is coming to our classrooms everywhere is not what we have been told. Toward the end of the book, Jeannie Oakes mentions:

“we step into utopian realms gingerly, knowing that social movements have the power for good and ill associated with all utopian projects. We are also well aware that some social movement scholars caution that such efforts rarely achieve the virtuous ends they seek. Nevertheless, we believe that, given the current threats to our democracy, these risks are all worth taking.”

Now, that’s mighty presumptuous of her and the other professors and foundations involved in all this. Nobody told us the Common Core was about a Journey to a possible Utopia.