"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be...nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." – Thomas Jefferson

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Don't be an educator

You want to make a difference in education? You want to effect society and how students learn on a large scale? You want to be an education reformer? Take the advice of Gregory Michie, who teaches in the Department of Foundations, Social, Policy and Research at Concordia University Chicago. Don't be an educator!
In the current upside-down world of education policy, there's one foolproof strategy for being taken seriously as a reformer: Make sure you're not an educator.

Urban districts nationwide, with Chicago leading the way, have hired those with business or legal backgrounds to head their school systems. Major voices in the reform conversation such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and philanthropist Eli Broad have never been teachers. And when Oprah wants to talk about schools, she invites Bill Gates or Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg -- all the while reminding her audience how much she loves teachers.
Michie didn't mention Arne Duncan, the current Secretary of Education, but of course, he has no education credentials either.

Michie, on the other hand, does have education credentials. He spent 10 years teaching in Chicago...and is now an Education Professor. Those qualifications won't get him time on the Oprah show, but they will give what he has to say some real meaning.

Read his article about "Performance Counts," the Illinois legislation which focuses on what teachers "should" do. The problem, according to the "reformers" is bad teaching.
A big part of the problem is that the conversation has been hijacked by corporate leaders who think they know best how to improve our schools. I'll concede that some of these "new reformers" may have good intentions. But their arrogance is astounding, and their lack of interest in the wisdom of those who spend their days in classrooms speaks volumes.

The thing is, it's tough to understand the complexity of teaching if you've never done it. Sure, it's possible to come up with catchy slogans like "performance counts." But what exactly is teacher performance? For most of the business-minded reformers, it means raising student test scores. They may nod toward multiple measures of assessing teachers, but they're really looking at "the data," the bottom line.

During the decade I spent teaching in Chicago, I came to understand that being a good teacher is about far more than that. It's taking time after school hours to get to know the community in which you teach. It's figuring out how to create an opportunity for learning when one of your students uses racist or homophobic language in class. It's effectively planning research projects when your classroom has just two computers for 31 kids. How does "performance count" in situations like these?
The "reformers" don't talk about poverty except to say that it shouldn't be an excuse. They all know (or they should by this time) that there is an established, direct correlation between poverty and achievement, but they say, since our society won't deal with poverty, we need to focus on improving teaching and schools.

There's some truth in that...Our society doesn't deal well with poverty. It's been up and down over the years like a yo-yo. No permanent solution has been found.
In the late 1950s, the poverty rate for all Americans was 22.4 percent, or 39.5 million individuals. These numbers declined steadily throughout the 1960s, reaching a low of 11.1 percent, or 22.9 million individuals, in 1973. Over the next decade, the poverty rate fluctuated between 11.1 and 12.6 percent, but it began to rise steadily again in 1980. By 1983, the number of poor individuals had risen to 35.3 million individuals, or 15.2 percent.

For the next ten years, the poverty rate remained above 12.8 percent, increasing to 15.1 percent, or 39.3 million individuals, by 1993. The rate declined for the remainder of the decade, to 11.3 percent by 2000. From 2000 to 2004 it rose each year to 12.7 in 2004.
Today, the poverty rate for children in America is 20.7 percent (for 2009). One fifth of our children. We can't solve all the problems which come with poverty by getting better teachers.
Duncan gives the impression that "overcoming poverty" happens all the time under his administration. There is no real evidence that it happens at all.

There is no evidence that extensive testing does a better job than teacher evaluation done by professionals who deal with children daily.

There is no evidence that there is a crisis in teacher quality, no evidence that teacher quality has declined.
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