The political landscape of Education is ablaze with an intensity and heat that has not been felt in previous decades. It is true that education is constantly a hot button issue; it is inherently political because education carries with it covert and overt moral lessons and acts as not only the first constant interactions children have with government and society, but also as the agent of conditioning them to the society. It is reasonable that people would get fired up over what happens in public schools.
The latest incendiary issue to hit the conflagration is the turmoil surrounding the recent ruling in California against tenure, the copycat law suits currently underway in New York, and the cover of Time Magazine portraying teachers as bad apples. It seems the public institution is under attack and losing the publicity war against powerful and well financed private interests who are either entirely misguided or wholly subversive to the field of “capital E “Education and are generally ignorant of the process of education as a phenomenon.
Following on the heels of Judge Treu in Los Angeles, who stated in his ruling that bad teachers undermine a student’s right to an education citing the difficulty in firing these teachers, the so-called reformers around the nation have taken the fight against tenure to a whole new level. In addition to a grave misunderstanding of tenure provides for public school educators—the right to due process—the evidence provided in the ruling is also steeped in the legislative definitions of good teaching, but not the practical or actual definitions of them.
The proposed definitions of good teaching rely heavily on standardized exams for abstract concepts and individualized processes in Mathematics and English Language Arts specifically. These high stakes tests have been the measure du jour in our country since the passing of the Orwellian double-speak titled “No Child Left Behind Act” which essentially and fundamentally changed the way education is regulated and teachers are certified in this country (while additionally stepping on the toes of States, who’s bailiwick education has traditionally fallen in). Reliance on these exams to test seven to ten year olds, or even teenagers is dangerous and antithetical to the notion that education is an individual process, that learning is a personal experience, and the students are people rather than end products.
The reality of standardized tests is that they don’t prove much of anything in regards to what teachers are able to do. They are limiting to the potential of the child as they pigeonhole not only skills but spheres of knowledge for students. Drill and Kill, Teach to the Test tactics become employed in order for teachers to rate highly based on their student’s performance on tests—practices which are encouraged by school administrations and districts in order to raise their own ratings. These practices do little other than teach students how to take tests and have very little practical or theoretical application for the student.
Teachers are hostilely encouraged to log and provide evidence of their work, rather than working and are falling into the endless void of paperwork and confounding metrics known as Big Data.
Teachers (and schools, and districts, and States) are now spending so much time collecting data, aggregating data, and curating or capturing data in their classroom that they never get to the business of teaching—only an endless stream of tests that somehow measure skills. At a certain point an thoughtful and observant educator will tell you that education under this definition has in fact become test training. The only thing we are is teaching students to excel in is examinations and we are not providing otherwise useful skills for students that they can they deploy and employ for gainful professional lives. Unless of course, their jobs will be entirely composed of filling out Venn Diagrams and darkening alphabetic circles.
The dangers of Big Data are glaringly apparent in public schools today as the unwieldy amount of data that has to be collected and reported on concrete timetables leaves no time for analysis and standards-driven boxed curriculum leaves no opportunity for redirection, reteaching, differentiation, or reflective practice. Classroom educators are told to solider on; in essence we are ordered to save them all, and then told we can’t save them all and get ‘em next time.
While the Public Systems are all under fire, the alternative in Charters are being applauded. Private industry will save the day, they say. Treating students as definable, concrete end products just as standardized as the assessments they take is not only impossible, but unethical, and likely inhumane. The numbers on Charters—the supposed last great hope of education in the country, and the savior of trampled parents and families—are no better than the numbers on public schools in terms of efficacy, success, and closings. The difference is that the Charter movement in general is given infinite mulligans to open within, replace, take over, and shut down public institutions.
Meanwhile, those that are successful in staying open, tend to have numerous improprieties as contributing factors to their success. For example, many of these schools—such as Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academies—have allegations against them for discriminating against students with special needs and refuse to backfill their rosters. Others have claims against them for cheating, such as Flanner House in Indianapolis. It is easy to fool statistics, not as easy to fool results.
The issue with results–real results–is that they are not politically expedient or measurable before the next mid-term election. Real results and successes from schools occur in an ongoing fashion as students begin to potentiate their knowledge and skills throughout their lives. Students who become successful people, contributors, authorities, innovators, or at least economically mobile and self-reliant people are the results of successful schooling and effective teaching. Tests in April, May, and June don’t measure that, and are unfair to our late bloomers, our students with multiple intelligences, and our students that are brilliant but not academically inclined but have great potential.
While the morality of lessons in school is the immediate spark that sets the blaze of education going, it is the economic implications that training generation after generation of children holds that keeps it politically relevant. Testing year-to-year how students read and calculate numbers is, of course, important and it provides practical base-line data and some information about what happens in classrooms, but it is hardly the full picture. Moreover, from a truly practical perspective, neither the force-fed practices, the non-educator standards, or the brilliant minds that willfully destroy the levying force of economic opportunity in this country are pushing for applied sciences, mathematics, or arts.
Our educational perspective is so heavily skewed towards ivory tower academics that we forget that all skills don’t exist in a vacuum and are not taught for their own sake. Every lesson buildings into greater dimensions: the knowledge of self in the world and the application of talent and skills to occupation and profession. No real indicators of personal success are measured in these exams and their results determine teaching practices.
There are educators who would advocate—and do advocate—against these practices. They are protected by their tenure in their, which ensures their First Amendment rights to speak up for their students, speak out against measures and standards developed by non-educators, and to generally be allowed to be conscientious, and thoughtful. We are dooming this country. We blame the “bad” teachers now and we’ll blame the “bad” teachers later. It is easy to blame teachers, but who do you blame after their ability to advocate for students is removed? With tenure teachers can focus on doing their jobs, rather than keeping it.
There’s no money to be made in that—not for tech companies interested in creating educational products that need to be maintained, replaced, and redeveloped ad infinitum, and not for publishing interests that want to control the level of choice and content in classrooms…all without research or teacher feedback. Those are the main proponents of these changes, which is why they attack teachers and teachers Unions. These cases always chase back to those sources—such is true in the case of the Time article writer Haley Sweetland Edwards (she is married to a Charter School so-and-so) as it is true for Campbell Brown (who’s husband sits on the board for Michelle Rhee’s Student First New York affiliate), as it is true for the entire process of developing the Common Core Standards (and the blackmail of the States with race to the top). Unions and tenure guarantee these private interests won’t be able to run roughshod over the education of children just for profit and control, so they’ve become target number one.
The fire isn’t bound to be quelled any time soon—nor should it be. Education should always be the foremost concern to the continuance of a society. We can’t expect to have a future if we don’t invest in it. However, teachers are not the enemy. Like in any professions you have effective, talented, mediocre, and even “bad” teachers—and there are processes to remove them. The issue people seem to have is that the so-called “bad” ones can’t be removed fast enough for political or monetary gains—financial quarters and elections show up like clockwork after all.
As always, follow the money and see who benefits. Will students benefit? Charters without tenure and unions open and close at the same rate as public schools. Will teachers benefit? The teaching force is already hundreds of thousands of qualified bodies low, while overcrowded schools skyrocket. Will the politicians who make short term, short sighted changes look “proactive” despite the long term benefits? Look at the incumbency rate in Congress. Will the executive and shareholders who back Charters and write exams and curriculum profit? They most certainly will…and already are.
Until we redefine education as a driving economic force, and treat it like one, and evaluate students as individuals, and treat them as such our system will be based on failing premises. Until we fully fund our schools and give them equitable tools and resources we will be dooming significant portions of the student populations to failure. Until we stop attacking teachers and start supporting them as the agents of education, and acquiesce that the investment in schools is far better handled by the public than by profiteering private interests we will be failing our students, our children, and our society.