Monday, December 16, 2013

It's about the money

Here is a comment, pulled out as the start of a new thread.

My review of the proposals made by Education Reform Organizations shows that all of their efforts, in the end, are either about reducing the costs of education - and therefore keeping a few tax dollars in their pockets - or about directing some of those tax dollars into their friends' pockets. It's all about their money, not the students. I wish someone could prove me wrong about that.

Teach for America - While Teach for America is a wonderful service for regions of the country with teacher shortages, TfA is now moving into areas, like Seattle, where there are plenty of certified teachers available. The use of TfA Corps members in these areas de-professionalizes teaching, promotes the idea of teaching as a temp job done for a few years (without climbing the pay scale), and promotes teacher turnover. It worsens educational opportunities for students but reduces payroll costs for school districts thereby reducing taxes.

End of seniority - Reformers want to replace seniority with performance evaluation order for ordering lay-offs in times of budget cut-backs. Bear in mind that this only matters when budgets are being cut and budget cuts do not help students. Second, remember that all of the teachers with poor performance evaluations are already getting fired - with or without cut-backs and lay-offs, so this is a question of which of the good teachers gets laid off first. This idea allows the dismissal of higher salary teachers thereby reducing payroll, makes teaching a less attractive career, promotes the idea of teaching as a temp job rather than a career. All of these worsen education for students but reduce taxes.

You will notice that the end of seniority for determining lay-offs doesn't come with a companion proposal to end the use of seniority in the pay scale. You'll notice that the proponents of the idea that newer teachers could be as good as experienced teachers don't suggest paying the newer teachers the same as the experienced teachers. That, while still a bad idea, would increase payrolls, and that is antithetical to the goal.

Pricipal authority to hire and fire - Reformers are very keen on putting more authority in the hands of principals, at the same time that they are trying to take authority away from teachers. They have a lot of faith in these middle-managers. They want to give principals the authority to hire and fire teachers for their school. Let's remember that it was the abuse of exactly this authority that caused teachers to organize and collectively bargain in the first place. This plan does not come with any protections, limitations, oversight or accountability that would mitigate the return of the worst kind of abuse. This idea allows the principals to fire some senior teachers and take their larger salaries off the payroll. It makes teaching a less attractive career and comes with no oversight or accountability.

Blended education/online education - This is the idea of having kids get their instruction partly or mostly from software rather than people. It directs money to private interests - hardware and software companies - reduces payroll, and de-professionalizes teaching

Charter schools - Charter schools are privately owned and operated schools funded by public money. While charter schools are typically freed from much of the regulation that governs schools and have the freedom to innovate, there is no concurrent and commensurate effort to free public schools from those regulations. Instead, Education Reformers pile more regulation on public schools in the name of accountability. And while charter schools have the freedom to innovate, they rarely operate much differently from traditional public schools. Meanwhile there are plenty of opportunities for public schools to innovate. Charter schools have not proven to be a reform that improves education. Charter schools are also renown for hiring un-certified teachers and for a lot of teacher turnover. This idea directs money to private interests, de-professionalizes teaching, reduces payroll, promotes the idea of teaching as a temp job rather than a career

Testing, testing, testing - Education Reformers promote a lot of testing in the name of accountability. Then they work very hard to convince people that the test results mean something other than they were ever intended to mean. The focus on testing diminishes education to test prep. Any curricula that is not tested at risk of dropping from the syllabus. This idea directs money to private interests, de-professionalizes teaching

Accountability - Education Reformers talk a lot about accountability, but not for everyone. Oddly they hold the least responsible people accountable while refusing to appy any accountability to the most responsible people. They apply accountability from the bottom up rather than the top down. The first people held accountable, the students, are the people with the least power to change the system. The second people held accountable, the teachers, are the people with the second-least power to change the system. The people who control the system and really drive the outcomes are never held accountable. Where are the accountability and consequences for the state officials and the district officials? Nowhere. This idea worsens education by narrowing the curriculum, de-motivating students, de-professionalizing teachers, and making teaching a less attractive career.

It's clear to me that the real focus of Education Reform is money, not education.


Anonymous said...

I agree with most of your points, and would add that elements of the ed reform movement are very much in line with the "Crisis Capitalism" that emerged in the GWB years---declare a state of emergency and use the opportunity to privatize, siphon public funds, or expand a shadow industry.

Along with that is the companion idea that the more an organization looks and behaves like a corporate structure, the more effective it is. This is of course espoused by people who have been hugely successful in corporate structures. So the only solutions they can recognize involve moving toward those patterns, including outsourcing, automation, cost containment, internal competition, and empowering management.

I believe the dirty secret of ed reform is that the outcome they really hope for is not a less costly educational system, but a more profitable educational system. If that happens to cost more overall than what we do today, it won't bother them too much, because those costs will be structured in a way that they recognize. At that point their boundless faith in free market economics takes over.


carmaig said...

Charlie, I really appreciate how you connected specific so-called education reform measures to the end result of devaluing teachers and the teaching profession. You have clarified and unified several issues for me.

I appreciate ChillyPilly's response as well, and hope to see this thread generate further discussion.

And being relatively new to this issue, I'd love it if Charlie or someone would name the major "ed reform" players by name. Various names do pop up in various threads but it'd be great to have a list. Please?

...and in any case, thank you.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Carmaig, do you want national, state or local or all of them? It's a long list.

I had asked Charlie to pull these thoughts he had from another thread and put them in their own thread. I thought this was that good.

Ragweed said...

I think Chilly Pilly is on the right track.

The issues is not just money. Yes, there are some players in the whole game that see a lot of profit opportunity (especially testing, textbook and school management corporations) and they hold some say in the movement.

But people like Bill Gates are not in it for the money. They made their money, and now they are looking to make their mark on society. And since they were successful in running a big corporation using corporate principles, they assume that a private-sector framework is what is needed to improve the school system. All of the things mentioned are practices used in a company like Microsoft - embracing new technology as the solution to everything; running a privatized, temp-work filled work-force where employees are evaluated on their productivity and can be dismissed at will, etc. etc. It is less to do with greed than the framework and assumptions.

You see some similar things in development and other charities. Some Silicon-valley type makes a few tens of millions with some innovative new technology, and decides that he is the smartest guy in the room. He comes up with some hokey new techno-fix for world poverty (oh, poor people like to play soccer, how about a soccer ball that generates light!) and then uses his bucks to try to implement it, without listening to the actual experts who have been doing development work for ages. Sound familiar?

Jon said...

This is a great post, Charlie. Absolutely agree, it's all about the money.

Jon said...

Ragweed, I think it's less about technology and more about politics. Jeff Raikes (CEO of the Gates Foundation), Steve Ballmer, and others hold strong libertarian beliefs and their donations and actions push for limited government, lower taxes, and limited help for the poor.

I agree that these people think they are the smartest guy in the room, but it is more that they have just enough knowledge about economics to be dangerous and not enough to know how little they know, so they tend to believe simple things like just let everyone pay for their own education and everything will work out fine.

Anonymous said...

Oh I totally think the ultimate goal is not better education but a more profitable venture and then, as Ragweed suggests, a lasting legacy or more simply "glory".

What has interested me of late is the beginnings of successful backlash - not just hosts of people saying "I hate X" or the conspiracy theorists who frankly, are often scarier then "reformers". I'm thinking of the recent rash of stories about inBloom getting in trouble over privacy issues (and getting kicked to the curb as a result) and more recently, ed software giant Pearson getting dinged in court for misusing philanthropic funds to generate profit for their testing products.

The more one sees behind the curtain, the better off we'll all be.

Anonymous said...

Carmaig, might you be looking for something like this?

Diagram of the Lines of Influence

Ann D

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, my post didn't work out correctly. I must have misformatted something.

The Lines of Influence in Education Reform

Diagram of the Lines of Influence

Ann D.

carmaig said...

Melissa (@ 7:48 AM)
Yes, it was that good. And thanks for asking Charlie to pull it out for its own thread. I probably would have missed it otherwise. I'm liking the subsequent comments and hold out hope that what reader47 noted were "the beginnings of successful backlash" continue to grow.

As for a list of names, I guess I'd like to at least know who the local players are. But any or all would be appreciated. If you or another poster can name some names that would be great, but please don't make making such a list a priority -- I know you have too many already.

Perhaps I could find the names of teaching-profession-devaluing "reform" organizations on the web? In any case, now that I can look at this issue through the lens Charlie provided here, I'm sure I won't have trouble catching up to who the players are.

Thanks again,

carmaig said...

Thanks Ann. Can't read it on my phone, but I'll look forward to checking it out later.

Charlie Mas said...

I have another reform to add to the list:

Standardized Curriculum - Reformers push the idea of standardized curricula, not only across classrooms within a school, but across schools within a district, across districts within a state, and, with the Common Core, across all states in the country. Standardized Curricula leads directly to standardized instruction - teachers essentially working off a script and pacing guide and being judged on their "fidelity of implementation". This boils down to every classroom in the country being on page 56 on the same day. This includes the ideas of vertical and horizontal articulation. Not only does this rob teachers of their autonomy and thereby de-professionalize teaching, but it is antithetical to differentiated instruction and therefore it worsens education for students. This is the first step towards delivering teaching through some process other than face-to-face contact between a teacher and a student who have a relationship.

A lot of Education Reform is focused on the idea of increasing productivity. The productivity cap is created by the requirement of a student-teacher relationship. The ony way to increase productivity is to by-pass that relationship.

But that relationship is essential to learning. Teaching is a creative, improvisational act that is driven by the dynamic and unpredictable interaction between two real, live human beings. The students respond to the teacher and the teacher then responds to each student in an ongoing back-and-forth. This dialog can - and does - follow a myriad of paths that cannot be predicted or pre-programmed. It is like the universe of all possible chess games. Teachers get better over time because they have more experience and learn what moves to make in response to the students moves.

Anyway, standardized curricula de-professionalizes teaching and is a step on the path to replace teachers with machines. It worsens education but promises savings.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Charlie, I have a thread on just that point.

carmaig said...

Ann D.
Those links (@ 12/17 11:49) worked great and provided just the sort of information and analysis I was looking for.

PS to other readers: if you know of other sources of info or analysis of who the ed "reform" players are and how they work, please share them here.

Anonymous said...

Try viewing the Common Core map on Muckety and then expand the connections from the Governors Association, ALEC, and the Gates Foundation. It only takes a few clicks and the web is overwelming.

Ann D.