Friday, August 27, 2010

Education Reform Roundup in the Seattle Times

For the past couple weeks it seems that the Seattle Times editorial page has been given over to discussion of Education Reform. Lots of "guest columns" and editorials, most on the side of Reform (but without every saying how these reform-inspired changes will actually improve student outcomes), but some trying to bring the focus back to the real work.

Here's a recap:

Time for Seattle Public Schools and teachers to partner in steps toward reform
This is just dreadful. The District and the union had partnered on an evaluation - then the District threw it out. They are not good partners.

Seattle, speak up for children as Seattle Public Schools contract negotiations go on by Norm Rice. He doesn't say, however, to whom people should speak up. He is also really focused on the teachers' contract and pays no mind to how students are taught or even the principals' contract. Definitely pro-reform, and pretty thoughtless. Mr. Rice writes: "What's at stake in this year's talks are the policies at the heart of education reform in our country." I would agree. For some reason, the Education Reform proponents think that student outcomes can be improved through the teachers' contract instead of through teaching.

Want more school funding? Bring more transparency by Lynne Varner. I'm not entirely sure what Ms Varner is saying here. She seems to say that supplemental levies would get more votes if people knew what the districts are going to do with the money and what the districts did with the money they already have. Nothing could be farther from the truth. If people knew how districts spent their money and how districts intended to spend the supplemental levy, they would reject it, not approve it. The story of district spending is not a good story and it won't win votes. The districts are politically astute to keep their spending obscured from the public's eye and understanding.

Why teach in a system that rewards test scores rather than passion? by Wayne Grytting. A teacher's explanation that the best teachers are motivated by things other than student test scores and cash, so Education Reform has chosen measures and incentives that mean nothing to the best teachers.

Washington state sank to near the bottom in Race to The Top byt he Times Editorial Board. The Times says that the state's application for RttT cash was hobbled by "a ponderous application lacking credible and specific plans". Wow! That sounds EXACTLY like the Education Reform crowd here in Washington. They are the kings and queens of Edu-babble. The State didn't get the teachers' unions on board. Wow! That sounds EXACTLY like the Education Reform crowd here in Washington who only know how to push people and don't know how to pull them. "Goals around increasing the numbers of teachers in mathematics, science, special education and other hard-to-staff subjects were dismissed as weak because they included no steps for achieving them or benchmarks by which progress could be measured." Wow! That sounds EXACTLY like the Education Reform crowd here in Washington - goals without plans or metrics are what they do best. Let's remember that this failed application was written by the local Education Reform crowd. They alone are responsible for it.

I guess the Times suddenly caught Education Reform fever because the teachers' contract is being negotiated and teacher contracts, for some completely inexplicable reason, are at the heart of Education Reform efforts. It is all a tempest in a teapot, of course. The teachers' contract will not be negotiated in the newspaper or by any of the people who have written about it. The Times, like Norm Rice, wants to speak up, but no one who matters is listening.

8 comments:

Josh Hayes said...

Speaking of teacher contracts -- does anyone have any insight into how the negotiations are going? Do I need to stock up on math texts so I can teach my kids while the strike is going on?

BTW, we did get our transportation letters a couple of days back, so if you HAVEN'T gotten one and you're expecting it, call the transportation department and ask about it.

Anonymous said...

SPS and SEA met for 15 hours yesterday and started again at 9AM today. I believe that there are still significant differences but the goal is to have a tentative agreement by the 31st.

-stijockey

Charlie Mas said...

In another thread, Rosie referenced this paragraph from Mr. Grytting's guest column:

"That is why the world's top education systems focus on recruiting the best teachers they can find. For example, in South Korea teachers are coming from the top 5 percent of college graduates, while in Finland, teachers are coming from the top 10 percent. But in the United States, according to the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, 'We are now recruiting our teachers from the bottom third of high-school students going to college.'"

Rosie wrote: "We're usually way too politically correct to come out and acknowledge this fact but I think it's critically important and something we should never let get far off the radar screen. And that's why I think it's so critical that we don't just keep doing more of the same and expecting different results. We're no longer reliably getting the best and the brightest in the teaching profession to start with. SO while we all have example of terrific teachers we know, value, adore, there's a lot of dross out there too."

Let's confront this.

There are people, wonderfully gifted people, who teach because it is a calling. They are drawn to it as artists are drawn to oils, actors to the stage, and the clergy to the pulpit. These folks could make more money in other walks of life, but they choose to follow their calling. Bless them.

There are other people who could be brilliant teachers, but who are not willing to make the personal sacrifices (financial and otherwise) that come with a teaching career. I don't blame them.

Prior to about 1970 there were not a lot of career options for women. They could be nurses, but not doctors, secretaries, but not executives. The professional career options for women back then were pretty limited: nurse, secretary, or teacher. Some truly amazing women were stuck in these pink collar ghettos. Schools districts were able to recruit breathtakingly talented women as teachers and pay them peanuts. After all, women only worked until they got married, or their income was a sort of surplus in addition to the real wage that their husband's earned. It didn't have to be enough to support a family.

Then the traditional gender roles in work started to break down and there were new career options for these women. Suddenly school districts couldn't recruit astonishingly overqualified women anymore. Unfortunately, the 1970's also brought us the popular tax revolt, so the school districts didn't have the cash to bid for the best. As a result, the districts had to other other consideration: mostly benefits and job security.

This is all ancient history now, except for those of us who came through schools that still had these women working in them. Our expectations may be a bit skewed by our experience from a completely different job market.

Can we really get these sorts of people back?

I think the Education Reform crowd doesn't want them back. They want to convert teaching from an art to a craft. That way it will be more managable. They want to commodify it. They want people who are merely competent, not the gifted. They don't want teachers doing their own thing, being innovative and inventive, responding to the unique needs of their students with improvisation. I think they want this because it is all positive for them:

cheaper
shorter training period
standardized

it is a business model, but it won't work. It won't work because each student presents a unique set of preparation, home pressures, motivations, and learning abilities. A single standard won't work.

Then what will the reformers do?

Charlie Mas said...

Have you seen the movie Food Inc.?

Every innovation in the food production business in the last century has been to make it bigger, faster, or cheaper. There has not, however, been any notable effort to make it better.

That is the business model that Education Reformers want to bring to our public schools. They want to commodify teaching and learning. They want it standardized for easy management. They want the teachers to be interchangable parts in an education machine. That's why their focus is on the teachers' contract instead of on what happens in the classrooms. The lesson plan will be provided by the central administration where is can be made more efficiently and distributed. No teacher who approaches their work as art would accept that, so those teachers have to go. In their place we can hire temps who can deliver the standard product with limited training. Sure, they will burn out early, so we'll make that part of the design. Also, that way they won't gain seniority with the higher costs that are associated with it. In fact, let's remove all of the benefits of seniority so no one will even want it anymore.

In a world that is moving away from the industrial model to a post-industrial model, they want to super-industrialize education.

Instead, they should be going the other way - making education post-industrial by giving teachers the tools they need to tailor instruction for individual students and classes.

The model for the Education Reform school is an egg factory - chickens living their whole lives in tiny cages, getting unwholesome food full of chemicals, and sent to slaughter when their production drops.

dan dempsey said...

Charlie,

Great job with the above two comments. It should be noted that little if any of RttT, the Value Added Models or the Charter School proposals contain positive substantive evidence.

The unwary public is buried in an avalanche of "hype".

The current SEA - SPS contract negotiations are likely thus far largely devoid of argument based on "Evidence".

Note the Times sets up RttT and Ed Reform compliance as the goal, but there is no evidence that this supposed goal is worthwhile.

It seems that (editorial department) "Free Press" in the Seattle Times is aligned with powerful forces not evidence.

karyn king said...

And don't fortget that those factory-farmed eggs give people salmonella! What will factory education give us?

Dorothy Neville said...

I really should save this for an open thread, but I think Mel is traveling and thus didn't start one today?

Anyway, the Onion has a video report on standardized testing and biases against certain student groups. Not Safe for Work or in front of the little children.

MathTeacher42 said...

Charlie -
You SHOULD bill the NEA / WEA for doing their jobs.

It is amazing what 2 days at Mount Rainier with wife does for ya - listening to the White River & watching the fire & going for a hike ...

Shouldn't EVERYONE who works have a chance at some decent recharging R&R?

Charlie - I am NOT knocking your efforts OR your products - both are outstanding

BUT

Shouldn't the NEA / WEA be on top of the lies coming out of our local right wing rag?

For 30 years the wreck the community crowd have been staggeringly effective at wrecking the community, AND, those hired to be leaders against the wreckers couldn't have been more politically incompetent or pathetic as opponents.

I've only been "active" in the SEA for less than a year - is there any way we can pass a resolution to get Charlie paid ???

Bob Murphy