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Who Are the Real Reformers?

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Dear Deborah,

Now we know that President-elect Barack Obama has chosen Arne Duncan as his secretary of education. This must be a relief to Linda Darling-Hammond, who heads Obama's transition team for education policy, because now the attacks on her can cease. I have been shocked by the editorial onslaught directed at Darling-Hammond in major newspapers and magazines. After you wrote your column, I read a few more editorials (most recently in The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, and The New Republic) drawing a distinction between LDH and "reformers" like Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee. I have been withholding judgment on Rhee until I see some results or learn what her educational plans are. But I seem to be the only person in the United States who is doing that. The media—Newsweek, Time, PBS, and many others—have already decided that she is very likely going to "save" the public schools of Washington, D.C., and possibly even save the public schools of the United States. I find this media frenzy bizarre in light of the fact that she has been on the job only 18 months and that what she is celebrated for consists of fighting the union, firing people, and closing schools.

Maybe I am a softy, but it seems to me that the head of the school system should see herself as the leader of the troops and should not be firing on them. It may be that Rhee can recruit some bright, young college graduates, which she did when she ran the New Teacher Project, but there is no guarantee that all these new teachers will be good (let alone "great" teachers). And surely they will benefit by having experienced teachers to advise them. I recall that some years ago Rudy Crew developed an approach in New York City to help failing schools (he put them into "the Chancellor's District," which was saturated with extra resources and services), instead of shuttering them. The Council of the Great City Schools wrote a report identifying that district as one of four national models for urban education. Of course, successful though it was, it was dismantled in 2003 by Joel Klein's Department of Education.

Many years ago, Linda Darling-Hammond and I were colleagues at Teachers College. We sometimes crossed swords over issues, but I always found her to be smart, thoughtful, and deeply devoted to the well-being of teachers and children. I don't think that makes her a leader of the "status quo" crowd. I have always thought that she is above all interested in improving schools, helping teachers, and doing right by kids. What's wrong with that?

As for the new breed of superintendents who are supposedly going to "save" American education, I have a very different take on them from the editorialists. They say they are Democrats, but their policies are truly the Republican agenda. The Republican education experts and conservative think tanks have always wanted more accountability, more choice, merit pay, and a tough anti-union stance. Thus, it is one of the amusing ironies of our time that the people who now espouse this agenda call themselves "reformers" and are acclaimed as such by the national media. They are reformers indeed, but the reforms they are advocating and implementing come right out of the Republican playbook.

Diane

25 Comments

Diane,

Why are teachers so unlike every other profession? Why do you feel so strongly that perennial collective bargaining, entrenched union resistance, rigid stepped pay scales, and 250 page contracts will work so much better for teachers and kids than they do in almost any other segment of society requiring thoughtful, curious, agile professionals?

I'd really like for you to write a column specifying why teachers are so unlike every other knowledge-based professional.

Meanwhile, firing is what you do when you need to wake people up. George Washington was not opposed to having troops shot or whipped, so desperate was he to establish self-discipline, unit-cohesiveness, and esprit d'corps.

DC's schools seem to be in such dire straights. That doesn't mean firings are the long term or even middle-term solution. It just means that sometimes you must start fresh on a large scale, and make sure the staff you have understands that employees are second to customers.

Especially when the clients are young children with just one chance.

Bold. Kids first.

Diane,
I have enjoyed reading your dialogue with Deborah Meier.

Urban education has become big business and is very political, unfortunately. I taught on the Lower Eastside of Manhattan through the 70's - I wish I knew and had the support of fine educators such as Deborah and yourself then. Parental involvement was practically non-existent, nor a sense of a collaborative community. The understanding of pre-natal care, nutrition, and play were not of primary concern to help healthfully develop our children. The lives of parents, students and teachers were fraught with day to day survival.
Before leaving NYC education, I did teach for one year in a Chancellor school, but the Principal had a very different concept of education. I have many fond memories of that year as well. I smile thinking of asking the children to go to their next class when the bell rang and they remained seated. The next class was lined up at the door. We were at an exciting point reading Steinbeck’s, The Red Pony!
I too hope that our new administration calls upon some of the well-seasoned, talented educators to mentor and guide new educators. A college degree with honors does not necessarily guarantee a talented educator. Teaching is an art, and it can be developed, but we need to recognize this talent, as we do great sports people. I did have the wonderful experience of working with some extraordinarily talented and devoted teachers and parents.
I must admit, I was offended by the TIME cover of Michelle Rhee. My initial reaction was to associate the image with the wicked witch or Darth Veda. Instilling fear certainly does not foster creativity and support the talented educators, but yes, let’s see….
I remain hopeful that Arne Duncan will help develop a broader, richer, healthier, education experience for our nation’s children.
Marcia

I am finally reading Measuring Up, by Daniel Koretz. I hope that the new education secretary reads it, too, particularly Chapter 10 on "Inflated Test Scores." His point is that all test scores which have consequences soon become inflated. This does not mean that they are useless, but they must be interpreted with caution.

I am finally reading Measuring Up, by Daniel Koretz. I hope that the new education secretary reads it, too, particularly Chapter 10 on "Inflated Test Scores." His point is that all test scores which have consequences soon become inflated. This does not mean that they are useless, but they must be interpreted with caution.

possibly a sad day for children, parents and democratic educators. certainly a happy one for the modern ceo superintendency. milton friedman remains alive and well in the ideology of american public schooling. bless our hearts.

I have lived here long enough now to have witnessed long list of failed attempts to improve DC schools. I, like Diane, will reserve judgement on Michelle Rhee until we see what she can accomplish. Aspects of her personality really rub me the wrong way--but I would kneel and kiss her feet if she can make a difference for the kids trapped in that dysfunctional system. I knew one of the previous superintendents, a very fine, and nice, man. But he failed utterly to change this system.

Not all of the best leaders in any field, government, business, non-profits, are really "nice" people. I would settle for "effective."

I was involved in an effort in one of the DC magnet high schools. There were five teachers in the department with which we worked. One, the chairperson, was a real star. Great command of the subject, inspired teacher, natural leader. Sadly the other four were "dead wood" in various states of decay. The worst, Dr. X, displayed a hissing contempt for his own students at every chance. Our project paired the faculty from this department with the faculty from a suburban school that had proved very effective at marshaling local resources to support their student's learning. Well the "dead wood" refused to participate until their "professional honoraria" issue was settled. In the end the suburban faculty did most of the work on the project the "dead wood's" chairperson did 95% of his school's part of the project. The chairperson announced, at the end of the summer, that he was taking a job in the suburban system. Aaugh!

Would the "dead wood" ever volunteer for Michelle Rhee's proposed exchange of a professional income for a temporary loss of tenure. Not in my opinion. In spite of the fuss made over their need to be compensated for "professional services", I suspect that each of these four knew that any rational supervisor, with the ability, would fire them in a heartbeat.

An observer here told me that teacher's have not yet really come to a consensus about what they want. Many clearly desire the respect, and compensation, available to the professions--while craving the contractual job security more typical of a longshoreman.

I do not know what the answer is. I think that, in general, our education system is so poorly organized now that even very good teachers struggle to be effective. However, I have also seen cases in which even the best system would fail because of the caliber of the teachers in the classroom. Teaching positions should never become the kind political patronage jobs which suck the life out of many provincial schools in India. But neither should they become guaranteed jobs-for-life disconnected from the quality of service provided to students.

I know nothing about Arne Duncan, but I will pray that he is granted the wisdom of Solomom. He will need it in his new job.

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Diane,

Thank you for calling for humane treatment of others. It occurs to me that the competition for the title of "reformer" has been more aggressive and vicious than the contention for the very position of Secretary of Education (a position I wouldn't wish on anyone, though I do wish a good, experienced, and wise person on the country).

Just about everyone wants to be called a "reformer." Consequently, terms like "conservative," "establishment," "traditionalists," and "status quo" become putdowns, especially the latter three.

Under what circumstances would people find "status quo" a desirable state? Why has stasis lost its status?

For any change to be effective, it needs to be combined with constancy of some kind. In music, a theme with variations presupposes the invariability of the theme. In teaching, one adopts a routine so that one can adjust, vary, and expand upon it. Why, then, is change glorified at the exclusion of the very stasis upon which it depends?

We want to improve schools. How can we do this if we create continual teacher turnover, dizzy ourselves with fads, and tout change as an end in itself? How can change be an end when, taken as an end, it never ends?

Thus, when an educator is accused of being "status quo," he or she should not respond, "No, I'm the real reformer. You're status quo." Instead, the reply should be, "Thank you for the compliment. This means that I am the very foundation of progress."

Diana Senechal

I have taught English in innercity South Carolina for five years now. I have dealt with gangs, murdered family memebers, pregnant teens, and drug dealers and users.

The American school system is like the American car industry. We can throw money into the schools all day, but until we truly understand why we are failing and take proper steps to really fix the problem, we might as well take that money and watch it burn.

School must become flexible. School must be seen as a place to find skills--thinking skills, reading skills, writing skills, math and science skills. We must become flexible; not in just what we teach; but how we teach it.

Changing school takes more guts than firing teachers and closing schools. It takes the guts to scrap an entire system,and begin something new and totally different.

Am I totally skeptical this man will bring real change? Yes I am. Over the years I have been teaching, there has never been true reform in the American education system;we add new labels, put a new spin, make more busy work for teachers, but never actually change a system that doesn't work.

I am not sure anyone, from D.C. to local school boards, has the foresight or guts to do what really needs to be done. We need a total scraping of the system, and it's not going to happen. No matter who is in charge.

Research into Duncan's "success" from fairtest:

http://www.fairtest.org/ChicagoReportExecSum2007.html

Diane,

Well, toward what ends is the Republican playbook meant to pursue? As always, it is privatization (at all costs).

Education is one of the largest industries in America run by government. But there is too much money to be made by the profiteers to leave it that way without a pitched battle. There are hundreds of billions of dollars to be disbursed if only they could pry the industry open. And it is this new breed of superintendents, almost none of whom has any serious educational qualifications, who are pursuing these ends at the behest of their masters in the corporate world. And with the support of their friends in the corporate media. The same media who championed previous deregulations, irrespective of the need for the Depression-era regulations that were put in place for a reason.

To do this, they start with a slow but methodical approach that uses vouchers, charter schools, union-busting, merit-pay, etc., etc., etc. All the things that those who've worked in the classroom for any appreciable amount of time know are not only NOT the answers, but are antithetical to a quality and egalitarian education.

Compare it to the deregulation (with strong support of the Democrats, such as with NCLB) of the banking, airline and other industries where the wealthy few made off with the money and the consumers and workers are getting hosed. We can see by our current economy where that has lead us, and why the idea of running a school system like a business is just utter nonsense.

Unlike most people, I will not take the politically correct view that though we disagree with most of these big-city superintendents' policy prescriptions, these people have nothing but the best of intentions. Hogwash! Unless these people are naive and/or stupid, which I certainly don't think they are, then it becomes clear that their agenda is different than yours and mine. Mainly, they are using the dire circumstances of education in the inner-cities to further their own interests and those of their friends, and selling it to the rest of us as reform. Repugnant! And to think, they are truly setting back real reform for generations unless they can be stopped.

I mean, let's be fair. Are they doing this in the suburbs? Of course not. The parents there would never let them close schools (one of the most hostile policies ever taken against sitting students - remember, first do no harm), narrow the curriculum, ignore special needs students, etc. The simple fact is these students aren't "their" children. They are picking on the powerless, and getting away with it.

No wonder they spend all their time blaming the teachers and the unions that represent them. We are the only ones willing to stand up and stop them from making off with the profits at everyone else's expense.

Even I have some grudging respect for LDH of educational leaders she is one of the most sensible; she knows curriculum and is no narrow fool. Ad hominem attacks on her are iditotic and ill-informed.

I have heard LDH give seminars and have read many of her articles. She was a teacher’s teacher. She listens to opposing points of view. She loves kids. She believes in education. Upon the whole I think she has very good qualifications.

QUOTE and possibly even save the public schools of the United States. I find this media frenzy bizarre in light of the fact that she has been on the job only 18 months and that what she is celebrated for consists of fighting the union, firing people, and closing schools END QUOTE

VERY WISE, DIANE

DR Maybe I am a softy, but it seems to me that the head of the school system should see herself as the leader of the troops and should not be firing on them.END QUOTE
Diane this proves you have not only a clear head but a caring heart an absolute must for any teacher. Gillbert Highet -he was my uncle's teacher at Columbia he also studied under Jacques Barzun- said YOU MUST LOVE the students. If you don't you should get out of education. You have to LOVE, sometimes with tough love but be prepared to forgive and start ALL OVER AGAIN every day with any student who WANTS it. I will never turn away ANY KID who wants help after school, during lunch or before school.
Most teachers are experienced and know their subject material. They are just abused and shell-shocked and underpaid and asked to do impossible tasks under extremely stressful situations. The head of a school system should

1) be a leader and substitute in class IN EVERY SCHOOL in his charge. (all administrators should substitute at least five periods a year in my opinion. Also no one should be an administrator or counselor without out at least five years classroom experience (I would prefer seven).

2) It is easy to level fire squads at front line troops; it is HARD to INSPIRE them , ENCOURAGE THEM and CREATE a TEAM or REGIMENTAL SPIRIT. Good schools are happy schools where teachers and staff help each other and are united. Good schools have a culture of learning , caring and helping where peers encourage and HELP TEACHERS KEEP DISCIPLINE and see that THEFT, SABOTAGE and VANDALISM are at a minimum. I man my classes with volunteer Adult age and student aides WHO WORK FOR ME and are an extra set of eyes. They tidy up and report on usual activities (such as taking out cell phones to photocopy tests!!!! And EMAIL them to every one they can!!!!)

But much of my success is due to
1) helpful and involved school board
2) good leadership at the Superintendant level
3) great parents who care about their kids
4) good department chairs and a unified faculty
5) helpful administrators who care about TEACHERS, EDUCATION, and KIDS and make sure I have the best materials and cleanest and most secure classroom possible.

RM

Diane,

Well, toward what ends is the Republican playbook meant to pursue? As always, it is privatization (at all costs).

Education is one of the largest industries in America run by government. But there is too much money to be made by the profiteers to leave it that way without a pitched battle. There are hundreds of billions of dollars to be disbursed if only they could pry the industry open. And it is this new breed of superintendents, almost none of whom has any serious educational qualifications, who are pursuing these ends at the behest of their masters in the corporate world. And with the support of their friends in the corporate media. The same media who championed previous deregulations, irrespective of the need for the Depression-era regulations that were put in place for a reason.

To do this, they start with a slow but methodical approach that uses vouchers, charter schools, union-busting, merit-pay, etc., etc., etc. All the things that those who've worked in the classroom for any appreciable amount of time know are not only NOT the answers, but are antithetical to a quality and egalitarian education.

Compare it to the deregulation (with strong support of the Democrats, such as with NCLB) of the banking, airline and other industries where the wealthy few made off with the money and the consumers and workers are getting hosed. We can see by our current economy where that has lead us, and why the idea of running a school system like a business is just utter nonsense.

Unlike most people, I will not take the politically correct view that though we disagree with most of these big-city superintendents' policy prescriptions, these people have nothing but the best of intentions. Hogwash! Unless these people are naive and/or stupid, which I certainly don't think they are, then it becomes clear that their agenda is different than yours and mine. Mainly, they are using the dire circumstances of education in the inner-cities to further their own interests and those of their friends, and selling it to the rest of us as reform. Repugnant! And to think, they are truly setting back real reform for generations unless they can be stopped.

I mean, let's be fair. Are they doing this in the suburbs? Of course not. The parents there would never let them close schools (one of the most hostile policies ever taken against sitting students - remember, first do no harm), narrow the curriculum, ignore special needs students, etc. The simple fact is these students aren't "their" children. They are picking on the powerless, and getting away with it.

No wonder they spend all their time blaming the teachers and the unions that represent them. We are the only ones willing to stand up and stop them from making off with the profits at everyone else's expense, lest anyone forget that it is the teachers who have chosen to spend their life's work on educating children, not those who love to criticize us from their perches in the ivory towers, or those who work for private profit, or just anyone espousing opinions without knowing what teachers really do on an everyday basis, and without fairly considering educational issues within the context of society.

Ed Jones - Michelle Rhee isn't putting "kids first" - she just says she is - and says it so convincingly to the national press that they believe it.

The recent press in DC is not so favorable (for that matter, the Time article, was not very favorable either).

Rhee rules by fear and intimidation and has disdain for the teachers and the city that she serves. Here are some recent quotes of hers:

Saying at the Aspen Institute: “I think if there is one thing I have learned over the last 15 months it’s that cooperation, collaboration and consensus-building are way overrated,”

Calling herself a “benevolent dictator” on PBS.

Completely denying the impact of factors outside teachers’ control, when she says in an Atlantic article: “As a teacher in this system, you have to be willing to take personal responsibility for ensuring your children are successful despite obstacles…You can’t say, ‘My students didn’t get any breakfast today,’ or ‘No one put them to bed last night,’ or ‘Their electricity got cut off in the house, so they couldn’t do their homework.”

Referring in a fastcompany article to testifying before the City Council as being beneath her: “There's this crazy dynamic where every agency head is kowtowing. They sit there and get beat down. I'm not going to sit on public TV and take a beating I don't deserve. I don't take that crap.”

What kind of an example is that for the children?

Wow--lots of meat to this discussion. But I, for one, am weary of a need to place people into camps--particularly when there seem to be only two, regardless of the issue.

Many years ago I had the opportunity to visit Cuba. Exposure to a foreign culture is almost always an eye-opening experience that invites reflection in one's own. Among the things that struck me were that they were fervent believers in labor unions, and management were union members. This was one we never really got our heads around, but it did raise for me questions regarding the things that I had previously accepted regarding the roles of labor and management. The other thing was their fervent belief in democracy AND the single party system.

Again--I don't pretend to understand or support their belief in their system--but it did lead me to look at our two party system differently. Why two parties, why not three, four or five (and then it starts to remind me of an old Steve Martin sketch on SNL)? And more importantly--what comes along with a belief in a two party system that we have so long accepted that we no longer see it?

One thing is this tendency to divide all worlds of belief into two competing systems. Either democrat or republican. Either reform or tradition, phonics or whole language, new math or old math (I'm sure there are some better technical terms for that one), nature or nurture, pro-abortion or pro-life. And if you throw in modern marketing strategy--which suggests that rather than developing a polar opposite to a successful product, one should develop one with the least discernable difference in order to pull customers away--we end up with a cluster somewhere around the middle--with a line drawn through it. And like a metronome we vacillate back and forth from one to the other, without ever fully understanding all of the vast sea of possibilities or how we might use them.

I can say that I'm a liberal who strongly believes in the social responsibility to provide education to an upcoming generation and have long viewed the government as the appropriate vehical to ensure this happens. But I have kids in school and I am long past fighting that fight in an absolutist way. When it comes down to realizing that not only are there qualitative differences (or the illusion of qualitative differences) but the essential difference in whether my kid receives a diploma or not, then yes, I will accede to education from a for-profit entity sufficiently eager to get the government's dime that they will ensure that my kid makes it through. Does that make me a republican? a lapsed liberal? or just a tired parent who has lost too many battles with the public schools?

I feel some attraction to the views of Susan and Govt Bureaucrat that we need systemic change. I am not of the school that thinks we would do better to scrap everything and build anew. New Orleans has had this opportuntity--with some changes, but many more similarities. They have more independent charters--and perhaps a greater sense of competition. But they still place kids in grades by age, study discrete content areas (in English), adhere to roughly the same calendar and day. This is all just to say that while the system tends to perpetuate itself, we are products of that system and even when given the chance, we tend to stick close to the familiar.

The familiar, BTW, includes, superficial and rapid application of "new ideas," that are never fully understood, studied and evaluated, adhered to or developed. Hence the metronome from punitive to non; phonics to whole language, memorizing math facts to understanding concepts.

I know nothing about Arne Duncan, and only a bit about Linda Darling-Hammond (enough to know that we agree on some things but not others and to admire the depth of her knowledge). But I know a lot more about the inability of a polarized camp to pick up and move together. Maybe, as Jason suggests, there is a vast conspiracy to suck the dollars out of public education. Or maybe there are just always plenty of opportunistic folks willing to become whatever you want them to be for a buck. Seems more important to work on building consensus on what we want.

Susan B.,

I admire your gumption. When you stated, "We need a total scraping of the system," did you have anything specific in mind? Do you have any "...new and totally different..." idea(s) about how to operate our schools that you'd be willing to share with “Bridging Differences” readers/contributors? I'm sure most folks would be interested to hear your thoughts.

I very much relate to Diana Senechal's comment above. I have long said that variety may be the spice of life, but routine is the meat and potatoes.

I am aghast that anyone in education would want the label of "reformer". Haven't we had a long century of "reform" than was nothing more than wishful thinking and good intentions, but with little or no substance? Don't the majority of teachers everywhere look with caution, and sometimes disdain, on their colleagues who are quick to adopt the latest educational rhetoric and fads? And aren't those fad adopters usually a small minority? And is it not true that most teachers teach in conventional ways because conventional ways work? Are not most reforms resisted because they fail to work?

I am not against reforms that are actually beneficial. But I have certainly become sensitized to faddish reforms. Anyone who supports a particular reform ought to spell it out very clearly just what is is they support, and explain why they believe that their particular reform would be, on balance, more beneficial than harmful.

I am sadly aware that in politics a lot of votes are to be gained by promising "change" in the abstract. Good intentions, apparently, can be very attractive. I suppose that principle has been operating here in the selection of the new Secretary of Education, but it shouldn't be. Educators ought to be above it. Educators ought to be educated, not swayed by "change" for its own sake. I know nothing about our new secretary of education, but I certainly hope he is not a "reformer". I hope he is an able adminstrator. I hope he exercises good judgment, not empty rhetoric.

Wow, the report on fairtest is bogus:
"Recommendation 4. CPS must improve curriculum and instruction and foster high-quality professional development:

• Eliminate scripted curricula and move away from “teaching the test.” "

Exactly how is scripted curriculum and teaching to the test in the same sentence. There is no such thing. The problem with scripted curriculum (AKA SRA Direct Instruction curriculum) is that it tends to not be aligned with crummy state tests.

Of course you see how they show research indicates this fact (no, it is based on some guys book, A Guide
to Authentic Instruction and Assessment: Vision, Standards and Scoring.) Whatever. Because it is in a report it must be true.

Jason,

Public unions are a protection racket even if on occasion they check the power of administrative authority. Union actions result in extorting taxpayers, parents and children. In the private market place, unions tend to create unemployment by forcing demands above market rates. In government, unions hide some of these negative effects by lobbying for more taxation. Of course, state licensing and other factors add further protections.

Unions hate freedom of association.

RE: Banking. Check the facts again. It has been one of the most regulated industries. Maybe start with the multi-trillion dollar gorilla sitting on your wallet: the Federal Reserve System. This government creation enables fiat currency, and the control of interest rates and the money supply. Hence, this cartel is not a market institution. Its manipulation of the money supply, which creates artificially low interest rates, was the main factor producing the Great Depression and all subsequent booms and busts. Hoover and FDR only prolonged and worsened it. The Fed is also the same entity enabling the criminal bailouts of Wall Street, AIG and the Big 3.

In a market no entity would have the power to rob the vast majority of Americans for the gain of an elite few.

But the Fed Reserve and teacher unions do share this parasitical power in common.

I belong to a public workers union, and I like it. My union is the California Faculty Association at the California State University. I do not have much to do with them on a personal level (I am not an activist or representative of any sort), but I am really glad that they are there to arm wrestle with the university when it comes time to negotiate working conditions, salary, and benefit.

I don’t see the union as being any more or less parasitical than the administration. And the reason the union agreement is so lengthy is that every time a rule is made, the administration thinks up a new way to take advantage of the faculty., and the next thing you know there is a 250 page collective bargaining agreement. This is neither the union nor administration’s fault, but embedded in the nature of the labor market which so many union bashers otherwise revere.

Personally, I do not like the idea of bargaining myself for my own wages in benefits, and I suspect that I am not that good at it. I much prefer the teaching and research which is at the center of my job description. I did not haggle over an extra thousand dollars when first hired ten years ago (some new faculty do), and have let the union deal with the collective bargaining agreement ever since. I will take a transparent salary scale over end-runs to the Dean by people good at selling themselves any day. The union agreement helps keep such unfairness under control.

Do we have deadwood? Undoubtedly. But then so does (or did) Wall Street where self-promotion is (or was) developed to a high art. Our deadwood are the faculty who go to class late, show too many movies, use Scantron too much, don’t answer email promptly, cancel class frequently, grade easy, have dropped any research program, are disorganized, etc. Wall Street’s deadwood are the guys who gave us the current financial crisis. No system is perfect, but such imperfections are not the fault of collective bargaining by public workers unions.

Sometimes I disagree with the union, but that’s democracy. In particular, I find their approach too whiney particularly when it comes to state politics here in California. But the administration can be whiney, too, so I guess that this is just part of the process. At least I don’t have to whine myself—a skill that I hope that I’m not too good at, even though I know that “the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” as so many teachers have told me.

In particular, I cannot see why unions are subject to more opprobrium than others who are responsible for the schools. After all, it takes two to negotiate a labor agreement. And the unions are not responsible for the wealth of regulations that come out of Congress, the Legislature, Board of Trustees, accreditation agencies, or whatever.

Firing a bad teacher or two might make someone feel better, but it is unlikely to improve teaching any more than changing the unrealistic expectations embedded in the laws and regulations created by Congress, Legislatures, etc. Eliminating employment protections for all teachers—both good and bad—will also have the adverse effect of making the remaining (presumably good) teachers more vulnerable to the threats made by parents unsatisfied with a grade, local business interests seeking control of the schools, and the wide range of other pressures that administrators will always be tempted to give in to.

Well Margo/Mom, I find your feelings about powerlessness, unfortunately, all too common in the education field, from so many sides. Teachers, parents, people interested in reform that works for students and not a larger agenda, etc.

And I would argue that the teachers unions that Tony Waters so eloquently defends, as well as the parent associations (another diabolical sort of union, Reason?! - funny name, that), are the only true checks on the actions of the powerful few. And that is so because we are closest to the students, and choose to educate or have children because we care about and for THEM, not only ourselves and our pocketbooks. For all the nonsense about teacher unions putting the interests of their members before those of the students, just remember that a teacher's working condition is a student's learning condition. The constant teacher-bashing is like saying one should put the interests of the child ahead of the interests of the mother. And what of the many students who may choose to become teachers? Are we showing them that the profession has no personal significance? Why would they want to ever become teachers under such circumstances? Why would they even bother to listen to us now? These are not just theoretical questions to ponder. The lack of respect for teachers in many schools and school districts is well-documented, and doesn't happen in a vacuum.

So while I feel it is natural to want to give in after such futility, the long-term ramifications of that are schools that are even worse, and a privatized system that necessarily creates winners and losers, the very definition of competition. It's nice when your kid gets to be one of the winners, but in good conscience I can't let that be without fighting for however long it takes. I want to build a consensus of the many, not the few.

As for Reason, your ideas sound a lot like anarchy. Monopolies - to the spoils go the riches, the rest are now subjugates - are the natural order of unfettered free markets and they must be regulated. However poor governments may act at times, they have developed over the centuries to put some order to human actions. Every man for himself is no way to live a life.

Tony,

Try not to encourage the "troll" using the antipodal name "Reason." He is grieving over the (long overdue) death of libertarianism...

http://www.slate.com/id/2202489/

Loss of weltenschauung can be very disorienting. Give him space as he flails about, seeking a new way to make sense (or nonsense) of the world.

Jason,

Teacher unions are that sort of monopoly you say you are against. Like almost all monopolies, teacher unions are government creations. Collective bargaining necessarily means restriction of output or output at a greater cost.

The reality is that high school teachers are not some kind of persecuted bunch, financially speaking. (Since they are shielded from the market there isn't any rational means for determining compensation anyway.) If the average teacher gets $50k, full bennies, a job-for-life, a guaranteed pension, and all this while not even doing a full year's work- that puts them square in the middle class and then some. Their jobs may not be easy, but their pay is.

Any entity that does not have to compete in the market remains unaccountable, no matter how much care for the children teachers' profess to have.

Why do unions actively work against homeschooling if they care about kids so much? Stats show that the homeschooled totally outperform the government schooled on all the tests! So much for your 'accountability' charade.

There are many other preceding comments that ought to be replied to. But for now, enough.

That some readers on this site resort to ad hominem attacks is another way of admitting that they do not have reasonable arguments. It is also indicative of the way privileged folk condescend.


Govt. Bureaucrat,

If all you ever read is Weisberg's article on the supposed death of libertarianism then you probably would consider those calling themselves libertarian to be one big blob of immature Catoite Randroids. (although some of this label has merit but not in the way that Weisberg sees it).

But instead of going line-for-line in refutation of Weisberg's piece, I will address a giant issue that Weisberg does not. Why he does not may evidence his ignorance or willful omission.

The central bank. Many libertarians, at least those schooled in "Austrian economics", have pointed out the inherent destructiveness of the Fed. Only the Austrians predicted the housing and financial crash and tied it directly to the Fed's inflationary policies. Google Ron Paul on the crisis, or Murray Rothbard and Ludwig von Mises on the Austrian Business Cycle.

Maybe you should get educated in libertarian thought before jumping to conclusions. I read Marx, Albert (the parecon), Chomsky, Krugman, Keynes, National Review and many others with whom I disagree with- including the links you placed here. It challenges my position and enriches my perspective.

Brian,

You state, "...is it not true that most teachers teach in conventional ways because conventional ways work? Are not most reforms resisted because they fail to work?" I’m not defending many of these faux reforms because many have been questionable, even abysmal. But why did they really fail?

Educational reforms fail for a number of reasons. Some reforms are simply change for the sake of change and therefore easily challenged. They’re not worth the teacher’s efforts. These reforms are resisted by many teachers on this ground alone. Other reforms are resisted as a power struggle by the classroom teacher versus the administration, a form of civil disobedience. For good reason they cherish their academic freedom and no one is going to tell them how to operate their classroom.

Many teachers also realize reforms can be avoided through perseverance. They realize the administrator pushing the reform will probably be gone in a short while and therefore put in only a token effort, if any at all, to satisfy the fleeting reform. As soon as the transitional administrator leaves, they immediately abandon his/her reform and return to business as usual.

This systemic inertia is perhaps the primary reason teachers still stand at the front of the class and announce to the (entire) class, “OK, everyone take out your math book and turn to page 147. Today we’re going to start our unit on number theory.” The EVERYONE on the same page/lesson is the aspect of this picture I have problems with, take objection to, and find fault with and it’s the pronoun in contemporary pedagogy that causes me great concern.


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