I had an epiphany today.
I suddenly realized why the Education Reform movement is so focused on the teacher contract. Their Vision for education is a highly commodified product with a standardized delivery. They want to reduce teaching from an art to a craft - no, a skill. All signs point here: to the super-industrialization of public education.
Let's start with the teachers - just like the Reformers. Instead of people who are responding to the unique set of factors presented by each student with an improvisation based in knowledge, experience, expertise, art, and passion, the Reformers want functionaries who will deliver the lesson as planned and written by the central administration with fidelity of implementation. Since no real art is required, the training can be radically shortened to the crash course provided to Teach for America volunteers. Also, since no experience is needed (or desired), and since senior employees would expect higher salaries, the Reform agenda is to remove all benefits from seniority. This will discourage anyone from continuing in the job for more than a few years and keep all salaries low. A few mentor teachers will be retained an paid a pittance more to provide the on-the-job training for the revolving door of the bulk of the teaching staff. They will instruct the newbies in the handful of tricks and techniques needed to navigate the lesson scripts and the bureaucracy.
These untrained teachers won't be able to create their own lesson plans, but the Reformers don't want them to anyway. That would be non-standard. The central administration will write the lessons; the teachers are just supposed to deliver them as written. Not only is that more efficient - why keep re-inventing the wheel over and over in every classroom? - but this standardization will assure equity and curricular alignment. You never have to worry that students in some other school are getting better lessons than your student. Both the teachers and the students will be interchangable parts in the education machine. Any teacher or student could be dropped into any class and find the same activity and lesson for the day.
The incentives for teachers wouldn't work for the career teachers now on the job - the ones with creativity and passion - but they will work perfectly for the instructors envisioned by the Reform movement. These people aren't applying any art, just delivering the product.
Have you noticed how, in the business world, the onus for service is shifting from the business to the customer? Instead of going to a teller you use an ATM, essentially doing the teller's work for yourself. You check yourself in for your flight. When you buy things online you fill out the order slip yourself. That post-modern oxymoron, self-service, is showing up everywhere. Now it has come to education. In constructivist math class, the students teach themselves. In Writer's Workshop they teach themselves. In Project Based Learning, they teach themselves. When de-skilling the teachers, it is necessary to move the work onto the students.
So here's the thing. This can't possibly work, can it? How can de-skilling the teacher corps and commodifying the lessons improve outcomes for students? We can pretend it does by instituting AP-for-all rules and setting ever-higher graduation requirements, but who is going to help the kids who show up in the classroom completely unprepared for the lesson? How will this address the needs of students working two or three grade levels below Standards? How can the super-indutrialization of education and the hyper-institutionalization of schools improve outcomes for students? I just don't see it. What am I missing here?
Sure, affluent communities that value education will be okay. They will definitely be poorer for this, but they will be okay so long as they have that peer group and the parental forces. A lot of things have been done to diminish Roosevelt, for example, but the students there continue to achieve at an acceptable level, and it will continue to look good - relative to other public high schools. Motivated students should find a way no matter where they are enrolled. There is no school so bad that a motivated student can't wrestle an education away from it.
But what about the unmotivated and the unsupported? How is this better for them? I'm not seeing it. How will they be served when they are getting a standard fifth grade curriculum in the fifth grade - delivered with near-perfect fidelity of implementation and curricular alignment - when they are working at a third-grade level and just aren't ready or able to engage the lesson or do the work? Won't they act out? And really, the same question for the student who is working at the seventh grade level.
Or could it be that this something much more sinister and cynical? Is the plan to just dramatically reduce the cost of public education to ease the burden on tax-payers? Is the plan to totally ruin public education so that families seek private alternatives? Is it to ruin public education so that the community runs to Charters seeking rescue?