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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Teaching Reform Debacle

For the past eight years we have seen constant reorganization at the NYC Department of Education all in the name of reform. This is hardly reform. Instead it is a debacle. When I started teaching in NYC in the early 80's the big news was "white flight." As the 90's began the new exodus was "middle class flight." Now we are seeing "public school flight" to charter schools.

Public schools don't have the choices that private or charter schools have. Public schools can't pick or choose who will be in the school. Removing students in a public school is not like private or charter schools. Public school teachers don't have the option of choosing who will be in their class. They can't fire, remove, or trade a student as other schools and businesses can do. Public school teachers have little support when controlling disruptive students. The administration has too few options and have to keep that child in the class and school. There are so many variables involved in how school functions. In other industries we hear about balance, but not in education. The scales of evaluation are always weighted against the teacher.

School reform in NYC is a shell game. The same was true in Houston when Ron Paige was the superintendent and through slippery accounting made his district look good. Arne Duncan did the same manipulating in Chicago. We aren't seeing proper reform nor school improvement in NYC or anywhere else because the federal government is in the way. We are told we have improvement, yet we don't see the proof, the students, the hard evidence. All we see are reports purporting improvements and projecting improvement. Educational reform is a shell game, another version of the Emperor's New Clothes.

Of course it is easy to blame the teachers as we once again see and read in the most recent article in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. Part of the problem is the further erosion of local control of schools by the hostile takeover of education by the federal government and their rich minions like Gates and the Hedge Funds who provide money, a much needed commodity in schools, with so many strings attached, that schools are selling their souls for the money. Too many non educators in policy positions. Watching states scramble for the Race to the Top awards is very sad as only two will get the money and the US government has gotten all the other states with a few exceptions, like Hawaii, ironically which didn't compete, change their local practices to accommodate the federal demands as Race to the Top entrants. There are no rewards for those other states. Who profits? The test makers make lots of money as more and more states are using these untested tests as graduation, accountability, and teacher pay and seniority. It is certainly ironic when we hear politicians speak about making Washington's control over us less, states are giving more local power of education to the federal government. If the argument is heard that the feds can't run health care, what makes them capable of running education?

What will happen to the students who don't make it in non public schools? They will be DUMPED in a public school that has poor teachers, due to the loss of seniority, large classes, and poor facilities. The gap between the haves and the have nots will be wider and in the end undermine communities. The loss of public schools will be one of the most devastating events in education and will be so contrary to what the Founding Fathers envisioned. It will be a huge blow to a diminishing democracy in this country as we become that plutocracy we all fear.

Education is at an all time low in this country because politicians and business leaders are in control and have no clue about how education works. It is not run like a business nor can it be run like a business because we deal with real people not spreadsheets and accountants. Senge's ideas were wrong for education in the 90's and are still wrong. At best they were mediocre for business, just look at the results in the business world. And we want to copy that? MBA = Mediocre But Arrogant. Schools have to work with the resources and customers without options like trading, firing, or moving to another location. What students need is consistency and the current trend in educational reform is not to create consistency, but instead to create chaos.

I'm not too sure I can get very excited about the feds regulating education. When I look at their track record with banks, the energy regulators who inspect coal mines, oil rigs, and other energy industries; I'm not encouraged nor confident they can do a good job let alone reform anything. As we examine who is in charge of overseeing an industry we learn how that person has so little experience in that industry. This is not the case in the legal or medical industries. Education is not overseen by educators. It is run by politicians, lawyers, and business leaders, BUT not by educators. From what we are learning, government oversight is a sham, a joke, and a debacle. We've already seen the failure of Bush and Paige and Spelling. Nothing seems to be changing for the better with Obama and Duncan. In fact it is getting worse, especially with this new Race to the Top. Exactly what is at the Top anyway? Federal Government control and no improved education. I'm with those states not engaged in The Race to the Top, don't even bother to get in the race, it is fixed or it ain't worth it. The federal government has no business in guiding educational policy in the states.

I can only rest assured that my own children are now beyond the grasp of the dying public schools and I have had a good 35 year run as a teacher. My only regret is the state of public education today and bleak future it has as reflected in the mindless, headless, leaderless course it is on right now.

1 comment:

TeachMoore said...

I'm just seeing this, but it's great. Your summary of the debacle in NYC is also an allergory for the larger national ed reform efforts. Have you checked out the Teacher Letters to Obama group on Facebook? We are having some very useful discussions, informational webinars, with the hope of getting a more grassroots, classroom grounded approach ed policy. Would love to have your thoughts.