Sunday, December 12, 2010

Making Enemies of ED Reform Allies

Alienating “ed reform” allies seems to be a counter-intuitive strategy, but one that “common-sense teachers” rely on more and more frequently. Anthony Cody summarizes the platforms of both “parties” in his biased Teacher Common Sense takes on Education "Reform" Nonsense
But it is not like he did not give fair warning of his slant towards the “common sense teachers” party.

The past decade we have seen drastic changes affecting our schools, and many of these changes defy what we know as teachers and parents to be in the best interests of our children. We have allowed technocrats to drive our schools with data. It is high time for teachers and parents and students to challenge the reform nonsense that holds sway.

While he makes many valid points about poverty, teacher experience, tenure, test scores and data, I was hoping for an even-handed summary of the education reform conflict and the myriad ways the teachers' voices are ignored. What I see instead is subtle and not-so-subtle mocking of "ed reform" by using easy-to-demolish phrasing. The article also makes enemies of potential allies by redefining education reform as a political stance.

Plenty of experienced teachers and other stakeholders are passionate about education in America and want to see it reformed. If they make the mistake of calling themselves “education reformers”, by Mr. Cody's lights, they automatically oppose "common sense" teachers. We need to flee these sorts of useless and destructive either-or dichotomies when discussing issues as complicated and with as many self-interested stakeholders as education.

For example, ed reformers do not believe that “Class size does not matter.” It does matter in certain situations, but in most educational contexts, the research has not supported universally smaller classes. In fact, there are countries with normal class sizes of 45, even in the primary grades, where students consistently rank at the top of international standings. Even more telling, their below average students out perform our best students. Before someone rushes to defend American performance by discounting the achievement of these students, we must remember that like so much in education, international comparisons are complex.

It will not do to rely on tired defensive excuses. For example, claiming that our average kids have to compete against their superior kids obfuscates more than it clarifies. There are any number of opposing unexamined cultural assumptions operating within both the American education system and the systems of other countries that make it appear obvious that class size should be important. Appearances are deceiving. I will name just one American education axiom that may not necessarily be true: Children, by definition, seek attention from their teachers.

In another example, the statement "Large amounts of public funds should not be diverted to privately controlled institutions" promotes education partisanship and perpetuates charter school misconceptions. The premise ("So by the measure chosen by the reformers, (charter schools) fail") has merit, The implied conclusion does not follow. Charter schools are not "privately controlled institutions." They are a species of public school subject to most of the education code, and answerable to their public sponsor, generally a district or county education board.

The argument implies that by the "ed reformers" own criteria, charters are no better or worse than traditional public schools. Fair enough. Then let's do something about "bad" charters, instead of using them to excuse "bad" traditional public schools. Let "good" charters flourish alongside "good" traditional public schools. Furthermore, sponsoring public education entities actually profit by charter schools since they retain 15% of the charter's state funding. The charter school must meet its expenses with 85% of the funding. Some charters are cash cows for their public school sponsors, such as Hickman, which has hundreds more students in its charter school than in its sponsoring traditional public school.

We who are passionate about education must do more than reach across the aisle. We must rearrange the furniture, eliminate the aisle, and mingle.

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