Ed Reform as Viewed by a Teacher

Via Diane Ravitch's blog, comes this piece from teacher Matt Mandel, a national board certified teacher in Philadelphia public schools.   From Diane:

He has figured out reform.
He explains it here for those who were puzzled.
The most important thing you need to know is this:
“It’s not about the children.”
The reason reformers keep saying that it is “for the children,” is because it’s not.
They say that to confuse people.
Read Matt Mandel and learn what it would look like if it were really “about the children.”

What does Mr. Manel say? 
  • If it were about children, each and every public school would be awash in resources and technology. A licensed school nurse would be in each and every building so that the health and safety of kids were not compromised. All schools would have these necessities, not just “experimental” and privately-managed schools who are flooded these and then labeled a success.
  • If it were about children, students in the poorest neighborhoods—those most at-risk—would step into vibrant learning environments each morning—schools that met their intellectual, artistic, and athletic needs and inclinations.  
  • Schools would not be turned into grim test-prep facilities, with a curriculum narrowed to core, state-tested subjects. Children would be given a reason to be excited about coming to school, aside from making AYP.
  • If it were about children, we wouldn’t value differentiated instruction, then test children all the same way.
  • If it were about children, those who cut funding for vital family services would realize the inextricable link between childhood poverty and educational outcomes.
  • If it were about children, in Philadelphia, a state takeover charged with both improving financial management and educational outcomes would be put to rest as a failed experiment. A district’s management team wouldn’t be able to run a district into insolvency, say they are sorry, and then move on to lucrative consultant positions. Reformists like Michelle Rhee and Arlene Ackerman—who help to cultivate a culture of testing “irregularities”—wouldn’t be allowed to exit with a golden parachute before being held accountable for the results under their leadership.
  • If it were about children, boisterous, spotlight-seeking politicians who wax poetic about school vouchers as an elixir for what ills public schools would be required to do their own homework and examine research that compellingly indicates that vouchers don’t work.  
  • These same politicians would also be too embarrassed to call the fight for vouchers in Pennsylvania “the Civil Rights battle of our generation.” Our nation’s true Civil Rights leaders died trying to create greater opportunities for those without.
  • They wouldn’t be allowed to get away with deceiving families with the notion of “choice” when such choice belongs solely to the schools, not to the students and their families.
  • If it were about children, no Federal mandates could exist unless they were adequately funded.
  • f it were about children, big money philanthropy wouldn’t be the driving force in education reform; it would be research instead . As in the field of Medicine, what works in the field of Education would be replicated in schools and districts throughout the country.  
  • If it were about children, teachers would be held in the highest regard. Those politicians who were bullies with a microphone when I debated them at Bright Hope Baptist Church wouldn’t be allowed to posture that they are the ones “fighting for children.” They are not in classrooms, every day—knee to knee, often amid poor conditions and with inadequate resources—advocating for our youngest and most at-risk. 
  • And if it were about children, teachers would be respected partners in any dialogue on necessary reforms. In what other profession are practitioners in the field given so little respect for their knowledge, insights, and contributions?
None of the above is an apology for what improvements are necessary. No self-respecting professional believes he or she can’t do better and that things don’t need to improve.

But I choose to believe that a state that can build billion-dollar stadiums, raise millions to save works of art from being relocated, and create impenetrable bubbles of security around visiting dignitaries (in a country that can allocate trillions of dollars in resources to fight with such gallantry and precision in foreign lands) can surely have the ability to effect change that works for all children.

Education reform, here and elsewhere, is about a lot of things. It’s about access to billions of public dollars. It’s about politics and kickbacks for friends and donors. It’s about retaliation and retribution. It’s about religion, right-wing values, and anti-unionism. It’s about creating more, but for fewer, and to hell with the rest. It is, in effect, a form of child abuse in a digestible political wrapper.

But it certainly isn’t about children.

A wise person once said to me, "Assume good intentions."  I have tried and tried but have been burned so many times that I am careful to assume anything.  Data, proof and results - that's what really should matter but oftentimes doesn't.   That's what I think Mr. Mandel has experienced.  


WonderingWilla said…
Outside of WEA is there any organized opposition to I-1240? I googled it and there doesn't seem to be so.
Anonymous said…
when I was a kid in the 60's there was this phrase "those people" ... it wasn't about white people. sometimes it meant any non Catholic people.

Jack had written about 2 different kinds of people in the ed deform camp - honchos and dupes?

if I could wave a magic wand, everyone would be calling the honchos "those people". assume the worst, assume they're venal, assume they're selfish, assume they'll add zip to really solving problems in the buildings, assume they'll come out of it all with a real fat paycheck - assume all that negative stuff, and you won't be disappointed!

Dorothy Neville said…
WonderingWilla, the answer is yes. We are still getting the ducks in a row, but we've officially registered with the PDC and will have a website soon.

Until then, find us on FaceBook as
Jack Whelan said…
Slight correction to ItBeatsHOPE: I think he's referring to one of my comments from a couple of weeks ago in which I talked about three types: (1) hacks--those who know that a cynical game is being played but play their part knowingly usually because they're paid well to do so, (2) naifs--people, usually young idealists, who innocently believe the cover story prepared in the promotional literature which hides the real agenda, and (3) fools--those who have been presented with evidence that the game is being played cynically, but refuse to believe it for whatever reason: cognitive dissonance, personal loyalties, group value affinities, inconvenience, fear, confusion, etc.

TFA is one of the institutional pillars of corporate reform. Many of the kids who join TFA, the ones who aren't in it primarily to pad their resumes, are in the second category, naifs. I could see myself as a 22 year old being attracted to it as the naif I was at the time. But it's hard for me to see how anyone could stay with the organization after a couple of years without migrating into the first or third categories. I'm sure there are exceptions, there always are.

Corporate education reform is a cynical game. The evidence to support that assertion is pretty overwhelming, but that doesn't mean that a lot of the people who promote it aren't sincere inhabitants of categories 2 and 3. But they're not running the show, and you don't get to run the show unless you are in category 1. So I think it's safe to assume bad intentions for anyone who fits well there.
WonderingWilla said…
Dorothy Neville, cool, I joined the FB group. Happy to throw up a yard sign or whatever.
WonderingWilla, there will be lots to do and we will appreciate any and all support. More news to come.

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