Why I Do Not Trust Education ‘Reformers’

I’ll leave the precocious progressive pundits and other useful idiots out of the discussion for now. But what’s struck me is that, in most cases, people who have taught or do teach approach the subject with a little more humility than those in the debate who do not. Which leads us to a great comment by Jason Rosenhouse (who does teach; boldface mine):

The simple fact is that as a society we do everything in our power to make teaching as unappealing a profession as possible. In most districts the pay and benefits are laughable compared to other professions. Even worse, there is a deep lack of respect for the work that teachers do. People who haven’t set foot in a classroom since their own, typically undistinguished, academic careers, and who wouldn’t last five minutes if they ever did enter a classroom, seem perfectly happy to give lectures on how easy teachers have it, what with their nine-month school year and workday that ends at 3:05. Teachers are the only one’s blamed for poor student performance. It is never the fault of spineless, unsupportive administrators, or lazy, shiftless students and their irresponsible, enabling parents. The only forces working against all this are the unions, and bless their hearts for doing so.

I teach at a state university, and my course load is three per semester. My heavy teaching days are those on which all three of them meet. I have essentially no discipline problems to deal with, since at the college level students inclined to act up just don’t show up for class. It is rare that I have more than 30 students in a class.

On those heavy days I leave my last class thoroughly exhausted and mostly glad I won’t have to do it again for another two days. And I don’t have to deal with a tenth of the bureaucratic crap that public school teachers deal with, or any of the numerous responsibilities outside the classroom with which they are burdened. Anyone who declares teaching to be an easy job instantly places himself outside the realm of reasonable conversation.

In fact, if you even bring up the welfare of teachers–who might have something to do with that whole teaching thing–you are often accused of not caring about students, as if students and teachers are locked in a zero sum game. It never seems to occur to ‘reformers’ that they might want to help teachers by improving curriculum, pedagogy, and, yes, classroom and school resources.

Because that’s not what reform is based on. Instead, it’s based on the idea that teachers are machine parts, to be discarded when obsolete. Because that’s the only way to explain reformist NYC Mayor Bloomberg’s latest idiocy (boldface mine):

Seven of the 33 schools where the city is seeking to fire half the staff were rated an A or B on their latest city-issued report cards, a review by The Post found.

That means roughly 260 teachers are slated to be cleared out from schools that were just celebrated in the fall for making significant gains.

The mayor plans to close and reopen the schools this summer.

Although the city’s grading system rewards progress more than performance — meaning highly-rated schools aren’t necessarily above average — no A or B school has ever been shuttered.

“When you decided that you would close a school that got an A on your own bloody school progress reports…you lost all legitimacy in the eyes of the people of New York,” a fiery Leo Casey, vice president of the United Federation of Teachers, testified at last week’s Panel for Educational Policy meeting in Fort Greene….

Last week, Mayor Bloomberg announced that the 33 schools would be shifted to a federal program that’s never been tried here – one that doesn’t require an evaluation agreement but that mandates the staff replacements.

The move was viewed as falling somewhere between political payback toward a defiant union and a necessary purge of sub-par educators….

Yet documents the DOE submitted in June 2010 to get some of the schools into the initial three-year program show officials did not necessarily see poor teaching as the culprit.

Global Studies is fortunate to have a staff that is committed, strong, dedicated, and hard-working,” the DOE gushed over the Brooklyn School for Global Studies in Cobble Hill, which catapulted from an F grade in 2010 to a B in 2011.

For IS 136 in Sunset Park, the DOE identified a number of factors outside the staff’s control – but within the DOE’s responsibility – that were contributing to its low performance.

”The lack of maintenance and an inadequate electrical supply has a negative effect on the school’s ability to continuously improve the quality of student learning,” city officials wrote last year.

In Brockton, MA, where teachers weren’t viewed as the enemy, and were viewed as part of the solution, curricular reform was enacted and scores improved. As long as ‘reformers’ continue to view teachers as the problem, not part of any solution, I don’t really trust them.

An aside: ‘Reformers’ also completely lose legitimacy in my book by not fighting for science in classrooms. Obviously, busting unions is more important than teaching science.

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