Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Educators May be Taking Charge of Their Profession

This recent article in The Guardian suggests a promising new activism by the members of the teaching profession. Up until the surprising recent job actions by teachers in several states I had assumed that teachers would continue to be bullied and blamed for problems in education with new waves of recrimination and reform while public funding for schools continued to be reduced to finance tax cuts for huge corporations.

But the author of the Guardian article, Thomas Frank, believes that teachers are achieving a new level of respect and support from the public and even the politicians who have been bashing teachers in recent years. Here is his account of this apparent change in attitude of teachers:

"For decades we have been told that the way to fix education is to fire people but red-shirted marchers across the country have shown the power of solidarity.

What I like best about the wave of teachers’ strikes that have swept America these last few months is how they punch so brutally and so directly in the face of the number one neoliberal educational fantasy of the last decade: that all we need to do to fix public education is fire people.

Fire teachers, specifically. They need to learn fear and discipline. That’s what education “reformers” have told us for years. If only, the fantasy goes, we could slay the foot-dragging unions and the red-tape rules that keep mediocre teachers in their jobs, then things would be different. If only some nice “tech millionaires” would step in and help us fire people! If only we could get a thousand clones of Michelle Rhee, the former DC schools chancellor who fired so many people she even once fired someone on TV! "

Here is an interesting reform fact: The idea of value added evaluations (VAM) and the accompaning "stack ranking" of teachers' evaluations based upon the standardized test scores of their students came from a similar evaluation program that was developed at Microsoft Corp. (you know, Bill Gates' company). The idea was to fire the bottom 5 or 10 percent of the employees and give merit pay to the top 5 or 10 percent. Microsoft abandoned the evaluation system after only a couple of years because they found out that it damaged collaboration between employees and actually resulted in lower overall productivity. The value added system in Louisiana education has had the same negative result, but our big business bosses at LABI have refused to admit it was a mistake and still instruct their puppets in the legislature to keep VAM (as a reduced percentage of the teacher evaluation). 

The Guardian article continues:
"Now just look at what’s happened. We’ve seen enormous teacher protests in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arizona, with more on the way. Actions that look very much like strikes by people who, in some of these states, are legally forbidden to strike. It was the perfect opportunity for education “reformers” to fire people, and fire them en masse. It was the politicians’ chance to show us what a tough-minded boss could do."

And in most cases, it was state governments that capitulated. It was hard-hearted believers in tax cuts and austerity and discipline who caved, lest they themselves get fired by voters at the next opportunity. 

Only a short while ago it looked as though organized labor was in deep trouble, with Republican governors declaring war on public employees and a supreme court case threatening to defund public-sector unions. 
Now, in a beautiful reversal, it is the shibboleths of the conservative era that are shaking. Not because the DC punditburo has changed its mind about things, of course. It’s happening because vast throngs of people in red T-shirts have gone marching through the streets of their red-state towns to let the world know they’ve had enough."
Now that the non-educators have had free rein to experiment with students and teachers for almost 20 years resulting in stagnation of test scores and a total demoralization of teachers, maybe we should give professional educators a chance.

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