August 4, 2020

Don’t expect teachers to reimagine public education

School reform gets teachers hot

If you listen to the ceaselessly grieving employees of public schools, education is just fine and needs few changes.

Teachers are beyond effective, the technology they use is on the vanguard, schools can divine student achievement without assessments, and that student achievement is so high there is no need for objective academic standards.

They want you, the reformers or reformsters or deformers or disrupters or political busybodies, to know it’s all good homie. Keep it moving.

They tell a single simple story about the supposedly baseless push for rethinking schooling: it’s that technocrats and facile politicians lack a heart and mind for the glorious pure purpose of education, which is clearly to accept uncritically whatever public employees and their unions tell us that purpose is.

Today, they say that purpose is to raise money, fund teachers, reduce class sizes, and hire increasing numbers of non-teaching staff to support teachers in their quest to do whatever they please behind classroom doors.

Your job as a citizen, taxpayer, parent, and capable thinker is to sit down, shut up, speak when spoken to, provide baked goods for fundraisers, and squeeze any elected official you come into contact with for greater levels of funding.

If you don’t do that you’re a bad person. You hate teachers and children, and you can’t be trusted with an opinion about education. Heretics be warned. Their mobs are deep and their torches hot.

So, when the governor of New York proclaims an attempt to “reimagine” public education it can’t be good.

Annie Abrams, a NYC teacher writing for the New Republic says it’s yet another misguided “privatization” conspiracy (which is her profession’s code for “any agenda teachers’ unions did not create”), and basically one more attempt of plutocrats to destroy public education their money and ignorance.

She says:

[New York Governor Andrew] Cuomo’s question about whether we need physical classrooms anymore indicates an impulse to redefine not only the shape but the purpose of education. Historically, for the Gates Foundation, notions like growth, agency, and connection have come second to producing data.

This is Gates Foundation that invested big time in smaller, more personalized schools that were panned after not returning immediate results, but were vindicated later by studies showing these schools boosted college enrollment and persistence, high school graduation, and English test scores.

(this is also the evil Gates Foundation that has ponied up $250 million to fast track science trials in search of a vaccine to address COVID-19 pandemic Bill Gates predicted five years ago).

She continues:

The Gates Foundation’s role [Cuomo’s state council to “reimagine” public education], while still ambiguously defined, raised alarm among many public school teachers because of the organization’s aggressive, mechanical approach to reform, especially its history of pushing Common Core standards, developed for use in every public school classroom across the nation. The goal for these standards is purportedly college and career readiness, but it’s really test prep.

That characterization should worry us about who teaches our children. Not that its points are closed for fair debate, but because its points are too reductionist and facile to enable fair debate. A factual accounting of Gates’s support for Common Core would say it started with educators and democratically elected state officials, not in some remote philanthropic laboratory where capitalists cook up bewitching spells to kill public institutions.

Here’s how the common orginators describe their efforts to develop coherent standards and address the issue of states gaming the system by lowering standards to hide low proficiency levels:

The state-led effort to develop the Common Core State Standards was launched in 2009 by state leaders, including governors and state commissioners of education from 48 states, two territories and the District of Columbia, through their membership in the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). State school chiefs and governors recognized the value of consistent, real-world learning goals and launched this effort to ensure all students, regardless of where they live, are graduating high school prepared for college, career, and life.

I think any real educator would want to point your attention to original sources so that you might think critically, and they would ask you to look at the actual framework of the standards (click here).

Yet, like many “educators,” Abrams sails past thoughtful reason and plain dealing on her way to self-satisfying proselytism. There is one way to see the issue and your worth hangs on a pass/fail system of whether you agree or not.

And, she continues:

…just as implementing these standards risks turning students into mechanical recipients of knowledge, the Gates Foundation model seeks to turn teachers into much the same thing: The organization has supported linking teacher evaluation to standardized test scores, a practice since debunked as a misuse of the data. (Cuomo was an ardent supporter.)

Abrams is accurate in saying research hasn’t been kind to test-driven teacher evaluation, but what’s the counterfactual?

That classroom teaching is unrelated to student achievement?

That when students don’t meet academic goals the only explanations exist outside of schools?

Isn’t it better to study, try, fail, and repeat until workable solutions come into view?

As long as teachers like Abrams are experts on what non-teachers get wrong about teaching, but novices in explaining what teachers get wrong in the classroom every day, reform, reformers, and their funders will be essential to forward progress, even when their efforts, reputations, and motives are slimed by those in the education establishment who profit most from keeping everything as it is.

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