Recently I saw a short film on TedTalk by Noah Tavlin, which explained the meaning of Orwellian, and I immediately made the connection between 1984’s Newspeak and “reformspeak,” particularly the language spoken by Dallas journalists and some of our BOT members. According to Tavlin, Orwellian doesn’t mean “authoritarian,” as so many people believe: it means deliberately using language to distort the truth and thus convey distorted messages to the public that soon become equated with fact. Think about that for a moment as we consider the arguments of the reformers that sprang up post No Child Left Behind.
As one premise of NCLB was to point out (brand) schools that failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress as “failing schools,” the “obliging” test-makers developed tests in states that would “raise the bar” on what students must achieve on standardized tests. Urban school districts all over the country were soon branded as “failing,” and draconian measures were called for to remediate students and get them on track. Entire industries sprang up to support these “failing” schools: after school programs; parent involvement groups; remediation testing companies; extra school positions to “support” teachers(Instructional Coaches, Academic Facilitators) and finally “pay for performance” (TEI). In the meantime, school class-sizes grew and teachers had to teach heavier class-loads (185 to 200 students became the high-school norm). Most of the school year became devoted to pre-testing, benchmark testing, ACP testing and practicing for the TAKS and then STARR tests. Some progress was made in DISD but not fast enough for the “reformers,” who clamored for a leader who would “disrupt” the old-guard teachers and principals who were “allegedly” standing in the way of REAL progress.
That disruptor was Floyd Mike Miles, who disrupted everything in DISD. Yet his policies not only produced no gains but actually produced declining scores, particularly at the ACE schools that received extra funds (in the form of more managers of teachers rather than smaller class sizes). Miles was supported all along by a group of reformers who are Orwellian to the core. Anyone who spoke against Miles’ disruption policies and techniques was “more concerned about adults than children,” they said. This “Newspeak” or saying the opposite of the truth has been hurled at Carla Ranger, Bernadette Nutall, and then Joyce Foreman by Jim Schutze of the Observer, Eric Celeste of D Magazine, and the ever-present Todd Williams, who regularly appears in the Dallas Morning News, claiming that people who oppose Dallas’ brand of school reform are “status-quoers more concerned with adult issues than children’s education.” See how Orwellian language masks the truth in DISD? Anyone who questions churning of teachers and principals in favor of hiring brand new, inexperienced folks to run and man the classrooms of DISD is a pariah according to the reformers. Just forget, Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Public, that scores have dropped, new teachers are resigning daily, classroom sizes continue to rise, and administrative positions grow exponentially. Just forget that no other school district in the U. S. uses Miles’ MRS DOLLO as the mandated way of teaching. Just forget, DISD parents, that MRS DOLLO is a very low-level way to assess that learning is taking place and is totally disconnected from the higher order thinking skills required by the STARR tests. In other words, “the beatings will continue until scores improve.”
In addition to the afore-mentioned reformers, we have the words of Solis, Morath, Cowan, Bingham and Flores to remind us that “reform” agenda dissenters are “more concerned with adults than children” and that we don’t need to change anything about the Miles’ agenda. Dissenters are now branded as “those who don’t care about kids” when they oppose spending so much money for “personalized learning, choice schools or a massive expansion of pre-K.” Middle and high school students will be asked to pay the price so that the above programs can flourish. When their scores drop because of reduced spending and continuous churn, the public will probably be told that urban middle and high schools no longer work, and it is time to experiment with “in district charters.”
Note that the DISD “reform” regime reports little to nothing about gains in test scores or improvement in college and/or career readiness because that is NOT occurring. Let me repeat that over the Orwellian din. Miles’ continuing programs are STILL NOT WORKING despite the “reformspeak” of journalists, advisors to the mayor, and BOT members. War is not peace; freedom is not slavery, and DISD’s reform is not working.
Let the new year bring this understanding to the public. Let this understanding bring calls for fewer ancillary administrative positions, fewer DISD departments, lower class sizes for students and teachers, the dissolution of MRS DOLLO, and more financial oversight.
Let us throw out this faux reform and its total focus on flawed, standardized testing. Let us begin to educate our students with real, research-based best practices rather than made-up strategies that have never worked anywhere. Let us begin anew.