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Posted at 02:00 AM ET, 04/08/2011

School reformers’ hypocritical blame game

Cathleen Black blamed “outside forces” for her inability to adequately lead the New York City public school district and her abrupt resignation as chancellor Thursday after a little more than three months. Of course, it couldn’t have been her fault.

In a statement, Black said:

“In the interest of New York City’s 1.1 million school children, it has become increasingly apparent that my ability to serve successfully as the Chancellor of New York City Schools is not possible.

“The outside forces have become so intense that education reform is potentially jeopardized and that will have an impact on the future opportunities for our school children.”

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the man who hired her against a tidal wave of public opposition because she had no educational experience before taking over the biggest public school district in the country, seemed to concur with her about those “outside forces.” When asked whether the media had it in for her, he responded, according to the New York Times, “It is what it is.”

Of course, it couldn’t have been his fault in any way for hiring her against the advice of an expert panel he convened to give a recommendation, or in light of the fact that she needed a waiver from the state education commission (which she received) because she didn’t have the credentials required by law.

The media, presumably, should not have reported on her gaffes, such as the joke she made about birth control when asked about overcrowding in schools, or when she booed back at parents booing at her. It was the media making the spectacle, and helping to cause her approval rating to plummet to 17 percent in a recent poll.

Taking responsibility for problems isn’t exactly high on the agenda of modern school reformers. It’s always someone else causing the problems.

Why, just a few weeks ago, Michelle Rhee said this about a USA Today investigation that suggested that there was cheating on standardized tests in D.C. schools when she was chancellor: “It isn’t surprising that the enemies of school reform once again are trying to argue that the Earth is flat ... ,” though she later took it back.

Of course it had to be her enemies attempting to besmirch her D.C. legacy. It couldn’t possibly be that, perhaps, like in other cities where standardized testing is the focus of school reform, cheating did occur.

But here’s the hypocritical part of this blame game: While reformers like to blame outside forces for their own problems, they still want to hold teachers responsible for outside forces that contribute to a student’s lousy performance on a standardized test.

Today’s school reform is all about using standardized tests to grade schools, students and teachers. It started with former president George Bush’s No Child Left Behind, and has continued with President Obama’s Race to the Top. States are changing laws to make sure that a good part of a teacher’s evaluation and pay is linked directly to how well their students do on the tests, even if the kids come in hungry, or sick, or exhausted, or mentally ill.

What are the chances that reformers might see the hypocrisy in their positions?

As my kids like to say when I ask about the chances that they will clean their rooms: Slim and none.

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By  |  02:00 AM ET, 04/08/2011

 
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