Thursday, December 12, 2013

As Predicted Edison BOE President Gene Maeroff Touts Meaningless PISA Results

On December 5th, a mere six days ago, Professor Christopher H. Tienken, Ed.D of Seton Hall University, predicted that the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results would soon be trumpeted by pseudo-intellectuals pushing the Corporate/Federal “reform” agenda.  Professor Teinken asserted that these PISA results would be deceptively thrust at Public School communities as concrete evidence that America as a nation, not to mention its school system, is in a state of disrepair.  Teinken assured that PISA results would become the popular propaganda tool for the Corporate/Federal takeover of the American Public School.  Right on cue, less than one week later, Gene Maeroff, Edison Board of Education President, sat at his desk and followed the script (Mr. Maeroff’s full message can be viewed at the Edison Public Schools website and I encourage you to read it for yourself).

While Maeroff does not reveal the foundation for his thesis (the PISA report) until the very end, the tenets of the Corporate/Federal agenda he apparently admires are impossible to mistake.

Mr. Maeroff’s playful narrative depicts an almost Utopian vision of the “constructivist” math classroom. Students use “manipulables” (connecting cubes, square tiles, counting chips, etc.) to construct the meaning of addition and subtraction word problems in a concrete fashion, and thus acquire a deeper understanding of the math process.  Mr. Maeroff points to the “Singapore Math” program, a math curriculum which has been purchased and implemented in Edison since he became Board President, as the key ingredient to a math instruction revolution within the Edison Public Schools.  Sounds great, I agree, but hold your applause until the end.

The first problem with Mr. Maeroff’s “Singapore Manifesto” is that Singapore Math was not the first constructivist math program to come to the Edison Public Schools.  At some point between 2000 and 2003 a constructivist math program known as TERC was purchased as an additional resource for elementary teachers.  Mind you, this was back in the days when Edison Teachers were trusted to pull from the appropriate resources at their disposal in order to meet the needs of their students, so TERC instruction was not mandatory - “Singapore Math” is.

TERC headquarters is located up in Cambridge, Massachusettes, right next door to Harvard and MIT, and TERC even has some Harvard and MIT educators on its Board of Directors.  Mind you, this was back when we trusted American educators enough to go to them for American math curriculum; back before we went across the globe to Singapore looking for ways to teach kids in Edison, NJ.   TERC was a great resource and I, along with many of my colleagues, used it with great success.

Problem number two with the Singapore Manifesto: Edison did not need a mandatory constructivist math program (and certainly not one from Singapore).  I have made it clear that big stakes standardized testing is the last thing we should be looking at when we determine how best to educate the whole child.  Still, if administrators and elected school officials are going to use standardized test data, they ought to use it logically and consistently.  Edison’s students were achieving well above the State averages in math.  We had overwhelming numbers of students achieving proficiency and advanced proficiency year after year.  And Edison Teachers had the option, as Professionals, to determine when constructivist math was appropriate and when it was not.

Prior to the purchase of “Singapore Math” I had never been a party to any committee meeting, faculty meeting, in-service workshop, staff development program or administrative directive that expressed any concern over the quality of math instruction taking place in the Edison Public Schools.  Not one administrator ever said, "The only way we will reach these kids is if we force them all to learn math the constructivist way." In fact, many of my administrators and colleagues raised concerns about the extent to which the constructivist approach could consistently and effectively reach all learners in all areas of math instruction.  Most, if not all, Edison Teachers were happy to have options in their math instruction. Comparatively, Mr. Maeroff’s “Singapore Math” initiative is of the mandatory, Corporate/Federal, one-size-fits-all variety. All other options are out the window for Edison Teachers and students.

Math instruction was never broken in Edison, yet when it is all said and done, millions of tax-payer dollars will have been dumped into fixing it with the help of Singapore… math that is.

So if we already had it, and we didn’t really need it, how did Mr. Maeroff pull-off the Singapore Math heist? The same way he continues to convince us of the program today.  Hint: this is where the PISA propaganda comes in.  Since, he couldn’t really claim that Edison was failing at math, and he really wanted to show how cutting-edge and “global” this Board could be, Mr. Maeroff worked off of international assessment results that had no relation to the students in the Edison Public Schools.  And he is still doing it.

Now, why shouldn’t we listen to Mr. Maeroff when he tells us that PISA proves how desperately we, in Edison, need his salvation in the form of “Singapore Math”?  Perhaps because the very company which develops and sells PISA warns us we should not.  PISA’s parent company, The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), warns folks like Mr. Maeroff (emphasis mine), “the results of PISA should not be used to make sweeping indictments of education systems or important policy decisions” (OECD pg. 265, 2013).  PISA is a randomly generated assessment in that it is not aligned to any curriculum. Using PISA to make judgments about Edison school curriculum would be like analyzing global weather data to decide whether or not to carry an umbrella when you walk out of your house tomorrow morning - it is absurd.

PISA results in no way reflect the math proficiency of Edison Public School Students.  Let me say that again, PISA results in no way reflect the math proficiency of Edison Public School Students.  We need to stop this non-sense.  We need to stop trying to scare our citizens into accepting the incredibly expensive Corporate/Federal education “reform” agenda.  We need to stop canonizing International Assessment results when they bear no resemblance to our communities and are NOT a predictor of future success or global competitiveness.

Ironically, Mr. Maeroff’s most recent book is entitled, “School Boards in America: A Flawed Exercise in Democracy” (now you can applaud while I chuckle).  Honestly, I haven’t read the book.  I don’t think Mr. Maeroff is suggesting that School Boards haven't worked in our democracy, and I doubt he wants to ignore the School Board’s inherent democratic ideals, foundations, and responsibilities (although misunderstanding is understandable if we consider the undemocratic way Mr. Maeroff’s Board of Education ignored hundreds of petitioners and voted 9-0 to transfer a Principal in the middle of the school year).  I want to give him the benefit of the doubt.

So, whatever "School Board Flaws" Mr. Maeroff points to in his book, I'd like to suggest he add another chapter to the paperback edition.  This chapter should be entitled: What To Do When Unpopular Corporate/Federal Agendas, Founded in Unproven Meaningless International Standardized Assessment Data, With No Clear Moral or Ethical Foundation, Keep Marching Along in Edison, NJ.  Too clinical and choppy, you say?  Then a romance: "Data Crazy School Boards and the Superintendent's Who Love Them"  

Thanks for taking the time to read.

Yours in education,
Tyler L. Van Pelt

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