Chicken Little 2: The CRPE is Falling!

Chicken Little Final Version

“If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.” A Nation at Risk, National Commission on Excellence in Education, April, 1983

“…powerful special interest groups, led by the nation’s teachers unions, have largely succeeded in blocking efforts to reform our broken public school system. K-12 education is a $600 billion-a-year industry–and the unions aren’t about to give up any of their market share without a fight.”  Enemies and the Future of American Education, Heritage Foundation, January 15, 2010

“We could lose this thing.”                                                                                 Introduction: A Nations’s Accountability Systems At Risk, Center on Reinventing Public Education, September, 2014

Lovers of children’s literature may feel compelled to read the re-write of the old story, Chicken Little, recently published by The Fordham Institute in cooperation with the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE). Apparently unaware that they were lifting the essential backstory of the fairy tale, the inept authors attempted to capitalize on past successes by suggesting that their tale is a sequel to the 1983 smash hit, A Nation at Risk. In the end, however, neither the new version nor its thirty-year old predecessor adds anything to the original.

Poor Chicken Little. He was a young and simple chick, without much worldly experience, and had the (apparent) misfortune of having his world crash down upon him. His reaction, of course, was to immediately warn his neighbors of imminent danger, stirring a panic which was later found unwarranted. A bit more life experience, a bit more courage, and the danger of a falling acorn might have been understood as minimal.

It would have been wise for the authors of the latest version of the story to discuss their plot line with Diane Ravitch, who was closely associated with the ’83 version through its legal descendant, No Child Left Behind. She has since disavowed the story, and has worked hard to dispel its myths.

Mark Toner and Joe Jones of the Center for Reinventing Children’s Fiction seem to have completely forgotten the basic appeal of Chicken Little as a character. Innocent and naive, what could be expected of him? Chicken Little seems to have been largely written out of the story this time…according to the Toner/Jones retelling, there are only very experienced and world-weary “experts” who intend to spread panic, and for less reason than Chicken Little had. A good reading of the original tale causes the reader to feel like a bystander watching a toddler scream because it has seen its own shadow. You want to comfort and calm Chicken Little, not add your voice to the chaos.

Minus an innocent protagonist, the threat has to be even more overblown than ever for the story to “work.” The CRPE danger pales next to a falling acorn, though. Dr. Jones wants us to fear the end of accountability schemes in education. In essence, Dr. Jones wants to turn a real danger into a victim. He wants us to panic because the very things that have distorted the goals of public education have been effectively challenged. Those of us who have witnessed the damage done to humanistic efforts in education due to excessive standardized testing and Value-Added Measures of teacher effectiveness are hardly likely to accept either as endangered species needing protection.

And what of the moral of the story? Writing out the main character and substituting evil for good has robbed Dr. Jones of any hope for teaching a lesson. I have a suggestion for a re-write, though. Consider casting a first-year teacher as Chicken Little, and drop Dr. Jones’ story on them instead of an acorn. The moral is played out in public schools every day; inexperienced teachers are “held accountable” to ridiculous demands, and learn over time to respond with courage and professional perspective. Now that’s a tale to tell children.

Dr. Jones, it’s clear you and your partners at CRPE read the story of Chicken Little, but it’s equally apparent that you haven’t take its message to heart. You and the rest of your brood ought to buck up, get out of the hutch and enjoy some sunshine. The sky hasn’t fallen yet, and isn’t going to because you may “lose this thing.” The real danger to public education is a continuing reliance on metrics that have little relation to the development of citizens who are prepared to challenge authority and who have the right to demand that schools expand the boundaries of learning beyond the narrow confines of standardized exams.

© David Sudmeier, 2014

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