Arrogance and Education Reform
Here is what bugs me about education reform. It is arrogant, ahistorical, and willfully dishonest.
Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee, and any number of millionaires, billionaires, short-time former-teacher-reformers and really just about anybody at all now feels free to opine about what is wrong with American education and how to fix it. (Surprise! Turns out the problem is teachers in districts where hardly anybody knows who their dad is. Just by chance.)
The arrogance of the movement is that a bunch of people who do not work in classrooms somehow know exactly what teachers need to do in order for students to be successful. (And by “successful” we mean performing well on standardized tests. Make no mistake.)
The arrogance manifests itself in many ways. In my school, teachers are told:
1) What their professional goals are;
2) What must hang in their rooms;
3) How many parent contacts must be made per advisory;
4) How, exactly, an objective must be written;
5) What, exactly, an assessment must include;
6) What data to collect (it’s a lot and it is 99.9% useless, but sounds good.)
In the end, it is arrogant because it imposes a template on a group of professionals (though I am inclined to see us more as para-professionals) that tells them how to do their jobs. It is arrogant because a group of on non-teachers with money is now able to direct public policy and define performance benchmarks for a profession in which they have never worked or no longer work. My principal has not taught in a good quarter-century and could not possibly have been doing any of the things she now demands that I do in order to be a merely effective teacher. (I assume she would have to admit that she was a bad teacher since we now know exactly the right way to teach. It’s a science.) In what other profession does this happen?
If I believed everything I have been told about what is necessary to be an effective teacher, then it is likely there was never an effective teacher anywhere in America before about 2003.
Doesn’t that simply have to be true?
Education reform must be done with teachers; not to them. There are over three million of us. If you want to change something, you need to get us on board. History tells us that if teachers have not bought in, the reform won’t happen. The current reform movement is about demonizing teachers and blaming us. 300,000 of us quit every year. I would never, ever suggest to a student or my own child that they think about teaching as a career. In spite of Teach for America, I predict that we will have a deep, deep shortfall in the number of teachers entering the profession as soon as this economy turns around. Can you imagine any smart person who reads the news walking into this guantlet of abuse?
The achievement Gap is not the fault of teachers. How likely is that? Think about it. I mean, what are the chances that all the terrible teachers just randomly ended up in districts and neighborhoods with high rates of:
1) Single, young mothers;
6) No books in the house;
7) Illiterate/unemployed/incarcerated/absentee parents.
I’ve been doing this for six years. Kids like this are hard to teach. It’s not like dropping into a desert and giving people water…where they are all grateful and think you are awesome. It’s more like giving cough medicine to a hysterical three-year old with a fever and diarrhea; they’ll fight it to the death and hate you afterward.
I can’t patch all these holes. I can’t make up for everything my students have so unfairly been denied. And I can’t accept responsibility for what that breeds.
Bill Gates and Michelle Rhee are dishonest for suggesting that if I do things a certain way in my classroom that I can overcome all of this. It’s just not true. And it is disingenuous and unfair to teachers to pretend otherwise.