Why A New Generation of Teachers is Angry at Self-Styled Education ‘Reformers’

This is an excellent essay at Medium that I learned about from Peter Greene of Curmudgucation. I copy and paste it in its entirety in case you don’t like signing into Medium.

Why New Educators Resent “Reformers”

Let’s consider why so many young educators today are in open rebellion.

How did we lose patience with politicians and policymakers who dominated nearly every education reform debate for more than a generation?

Recall first that both political parties called us “a nation at risk,” fretted endlessly that we “leave no child behind,” and required us to compete in their “race to the top.”

They told us our problems could be solved if we “teach for America,” introduce “disruptive technology,” and ditch the textbook to become “real world,” 21st century, “college and career ready.”

They condemned community public schools for not letting parents “choose,” but promptly mandated a top-down “common core” curriculum. They flooded us with standardized tests guaranteeing “accountability.” They fetishized choice, chopped up high schools, and re-stigmatized racial integration.

They blamed students who lacked “grit,” teachers who sought tenure, and parents who knew too much. They declared school funding isn’t the problem, an elected school board is an obstacle, and philanthropists know best.

They told us the same public schools that once inspired great poetry, art, and music, put us on the moon, and initiated several civil rights movements needed to be split, gutted, or shuttered.

They invented new school names like “Green Renaissance College-Prep Academy for Character, the Arts, and Scientific Careers” and “Hope-Horizon Enterprise Charter Preparatory School for New STEM Futures.” They replaced the district superintendent with the “Chief Educational Officer.”

They published self-fulfilling prophecies connecting zip-coded school ratings, teacher performance scores, and real estate values. They viewed Brown v. Board as skin-deep and sentimental, instead of an essential mandate for democracy.

They implied “critical thinking” was possible without the Humanities, that STEM alone makes us vocationally relevant, and that “coding” should replace recess time. They cut teacher pay, lowered employment qualifications, and peddled the myth anyone can teach.

They celebrated school recycling programs that left consumption unquestioned, gave lip-service to “student-centered civic engagement” while stifling protest, and talked up “multiple intelligences” while defunding the arts.

They instructed critics to look past poverty, inequality, residential segregation, mass incarceration, homelessness, and college debt to focus on a few heartwarming (and yes, legitimate) stories of student resilience and pluck.

They expected us to believe that a lazy public-school teacher whose students fail to make “adequate yearly progress” was endemic but that an administrator bilking an online academy or for-profit charter school was “one bad apple.”

They designed education conferences on “data-driven instruction,” “rigorous assessment,” and “differentiated learning” but showed little patience for studies that correlate student performance with poverty, trauma, a school-to-prison pipeline, and the decimation of community schools.

They promised new classroom technology to bridge the “digital divide” between rich, poor, urban, and rural, while consolidating corporate headquarters in a few elite cities. They advertised now-debunked “value-added” standardized testing for stockholder gain as teacher salaries stagnated.

They preached “cooperative learning” while sending their own kids to private schools. They saw alma mater endowments balloon while donating little to the places most Americans earn degrees. They published op-eds to end affirmative action but still checked the legacy box on college applications.

They were legitimately surprised when thousands of teachers in the reddest, least unionized states walked out of class last year.

Meanwhile……

The No Child Left Behind generation continues to bear the fullest weight of this malpractice, paying a steep price for today’s parallel rise in ignorance and intolerance.

We are the children of the education reformer’s empty promises. We watched the few decide for the many how schools should operate. We saw celebrated new technologies outpace civic capacity and moral imagination. We have reason to doubt.

We are are the inheritors of “alternative facts” and “fake news.” We have watched democratic institutions crumble, conspiracies normalized, and authoritarianism mainstreamed. We have seen climate change denied at the highest levels of government.

We still see too many of our black brothers and sisters targeted by law enforcement. We watched as our neighbor’s promised DACA protections were rescinded and saw the deporters break down their doors. We see basic human rights for our LGBTQ peers refused in the name of “science.”

We have seen the “Southern strategy” deprive rural red state voters of educational opportunity before dividing, exploiting, and dog whistling. We hear climate science mocked and watch women’s freedom erode. We hear mental health discussed only after school shootings.

We’ve seen two endless wars and watched deployed family members and friends miss out on college. Even the battles we don’t see remind us that that bombs inevitably fall on schools. And we know war imposes a deadly opportunity tax on the youngest of civilians and female teachers.

Against this backdrop we recall how reformers caricatured our teachers as overpaid, summer-loving, and entitled. We resent how our hard-working mentors were demoralized and forced into resignation or early retirement.

Our collective experience is precisely why we aren’t ideologues. We know the issues are complex. And unlike the reformers, we don’t claim to have the answers. We simply believe that education can and must be more humane than this. We plan to make it so.

We learned most from the warrior educators who saw through the reform facade. Our heroes breathed life into institutions, energized our classrooms, reminded us what we are worth, and pointed us in new directions. We plan to become these educators too.

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Jay Mathews’ Fawning Column

I had no idea that was coming; in fact, it looked as though the lame-stream media had decided to ignore the entire matter.

Mathews makes entirely too much of my researching abilities. It was Ed Harris (thanks!) who alerted me to that report. My understanding of statistics is of an entirely elementary nature.

Unlike some folks (eg MR or leaders of certain religious groups) I make no claim to making miracles happen, to omniscience, or to inerrancy. I like to think I had some successes in the classroom, and I know for sure that I had some failures. Some kids and their parents liked my approach, and some hated my guts. I tried (with some success, occasionally) to show how math was useful in real life. Like most teachers, I worked hard, but always found that the amount of work required was at least double the amount of time I had available and could possibly provide.

Whenever I tried to do any statistical stuff with my own students’ accomplishments on final exams, on standardized tests, or even letter grades, after a year with me,  I was consistently mystified: nothing ever seemed to correlate with anything, or if they did, the correlation coefficients were extremely low. My personal experience in this regard leads me to suspect that there is so much unexplained, seemingly random, variation in human performance, desires, and so on that any sort of ‘value-added’ measurement is going to be bogus.
For the record, since Rhee and her colleague team-taught the entire 3rd grade class at Harlem Park during her last year, then, if you believe the rhetoric of Hanushek, Rhee, and others, then she and her co-teacher were responsible for the growth (or not) of the entire cohort. (BTW: who was that other ‘miracle’-worker? Evidently someone a lot less arrogant and prone to self-promotion than Rhee!)
To quote one of my posts:

“The cohort that started the first grade at Harlem Park in 1992-1993 had 84 students, probably 3 or 4 distinct classes.

“When they arrived in the second grade in 1993-1994 and endured Michelle Rhee’s second failed year of teaching, they still had 83 students – probably 3 or 4 classes again.

“But when this cohort arrived in the third grade in 1994-1995, Rhee’s “miracle year”, their numbers dropped by nearly half, to only 44 students. I doubt strongly that so many students dropped dead. I can’t prove it, but I would not be surprised if the school (and Rhee) ‘counseled out’ the ones who were doing poorly, and kept the ones who had high test scores.”

So, even though half of the students ‘disappeared’, the most that miracle-worker Rhee could do is to get the rest up to somewhere near the 50th percentile.

How do we organize in FAVOR of improved public education?

All those in favor of promoting and improving free, public, integrated, comprehensive, universal public education are fighting against a very well-organized, heavily funded, and powerful opposition.

We have all of the right-wing think tanks and major media editorial boards against us. (Don’t believe me? See an article by the late Milton Friedman, in the Washington Post, from 15 years ago. )  NCLB was planned and implemented precisely to destroy the public schools, and is working quite well. We have both the national Republican and Democratic parties vilifying teachers and trying to eliminate free, comprehensive, universal, public education. Public schools appear to be more and more racially segregated, and the charter schools are even worse. We have “philanthopists” representing untold billions in private wealth (essentially stolen from the public) who are trying to privatize public education, and to eliminate some of the few remaining areas of union organization left in the US.

But what are WE going to do about it?

Well, we can do some research to point out the lies and distortions put out by the pro-privatization side. My blogs have mostly been research articles, in which I have been attempting to use facts and statistics to refute the lies peddled by the pro-privatization, anti-public-education, anti-union crowd that is exemplified by Rhee. I have used data from the websites of NAEP, OSSE/DCPS/NCLB,  S.H.A.P.P.E. and the 21st Century School Fund among others. The American Federation of Teachers employs some well-intentioned professional researchers and statisticians who have come up with some very interesting and useful data over the last decade or so.

But don’t expect any union leadership these days to actually be on the side of the rank-and-file. The term “sellout” is still a correct description of the vast majority of union leaders. For example, the current and past leadership of the Washington Teachers Union  have been a pretty sorry lot. Some of them have been too busy lining their own pockets (and hiding this from the teachers) to fight for reform, no matter what they proclaimed publicly.

(Of course, the theft of a few million dollars by Bullock and company didn’t bring down the entire economy, unlike the thefts by CEOs at ENRON, AIG, Bank of America, and so on.  But it did severely weaken the labor movement by showing how corrupt our leadership can be, giving ammunition to the right-wing anti-union crowd.)

George Parker was so far inside Rhee’s corner, for quite a long time, and had drunk so much of her Kool-Aid, that he actually thought that teachers would buy the Red-Green plan, until he found out, probably much to his surprise, that the vast majority of them wanted no part of it. At which point he had to change his tune and his ostensible direction by almost 180 degrees. But don’t depend on him to actually DO anything about it. Notice that Parker has apparently had no executive board meetings or membership meetings for several months – and this at a time when teachers (and the public) should be very actively organizing to oppose the plans of Rhee, of the WaPo editorial board, and all of the billionaires who want to eliminate comprehensive, universal, free, rational public education.

The skills needed to research and analyze that material, to comb the public record for lies by the educational privatization crowd, and to write coherent articles about that, are quite different from the skills needed to actually organize large numbers of people into a cohesive, well-organized, progressive, social movement that achieves positive gains. Having both types of skills is useful, but they are rare in the same person.

(Don’t look at me. I like to think I write OK,  I have experience doing research, and I know a little math, but I know from bitter experience that I suck at organizing, am pessimistic by nature, can’t plan a successful course of public action, am not a good public speaker, and can’t think on my feet.)

Plus, time spent in library stacks or on-line looking up data is time that is NOT spent telephoning or meeting with people to make plans for demonstrations or whatever other type of effective public action is needed. There are only so many hours in a day; and there are very few hours available for any of that stuff if you happen to be employed. And if you are a teacher in the DCPS, why, then, virtually every single one of your waking hours needs to be devoted to the mostly useless rigamarole and BS that is required of you under IMPACT, if you hope to keep your job. (I only have time to do this column because I retired last June!)

We really need to be an active organization in FAVOR of improving public education that has the potential to organize masses of peple. I wish there was one, but I am not aware of any. The Democratic Party, nationally and locally, seems to spout the same line as the privatizers (look at Adrian Fenty and Arne Duncan, for example). Barack Obama has got to be a severe disappointment to anybody who actually believed he was going to make a difference. The various microscopic left-wing splinter groups haven’t amounted to anything for about three decades.

The saying: “The people, united, will never be defeated” is still true. But the “united” part is very hard to attain. If anybody has solid suggestions or plans, or knows of an effective, real-life organization that has potential, I am all ears. We need to find a way out of this crisis.
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