I suppose there are some bad teachers out there but from my observation in the five schools I have worked in, the phenomena of bad teachers is NOT plaguing public education. This is another one of those canards along with failing schools that are being used to ruin the reputation of public schools in America. Four of the five schools I have worked in are labeled failures by the federal government but I observed that all four “failing” schools had well trained excellent staff members who did their job and produced many gifted students who matriculated to America’s most highly regarded universities. These “failing” schools were not performing well on standardized tests because they were one of the few functional institutions in failed communities.
The attack on public education and teachers in America is mind boggling. Of course education can be improved and should be, but the only viable path to improved education, which is education that develops a whole morally correct creative individual who loves learning, is by professionalizing teaching and relying on those professionals. How to improve teaching practices and react to the external environment should be informed by a peer-reviewed process led by professional educators. Politicians and billionaires are not professional educators and have not deeply studied the process.
National and state standards de-professionalize teaching, ossify curriculum and severely inhibit differentiated instruction. Narrowed curriculums based on faulty testing regimes stifle creativity and undermine the student’s intellectual need. Standards lead to students viewing learning by seeing themselves as the recipient of knowledge and not a creator. High standards should be established but only by the professional in the classroom based on authentic observation of the needs of the students. Common core is another terrible idea that is going to drive more great teachers out of teaching and destroy the creativity of more students.
Recently Joel Klein and Condoleezza Rice released a report that calls for increased standards, accountability and school choice -- charter schools and vouchers -- to increase America's international educational standing. Echoing 1983’s “Nation at Risk” this report hysterically claims that America’s very survival is at stake if these reforms are not implemented. It also mirrors the 1983 report in that it is not peer-reviewed and has little input from creditable professional educators.
Our experience of the last 10 years tells us that every reform they are touting is bad for education. Charter schools like the KIPP schools are the worst kind of authoritarian schools that destroy the love of learning. Vouchers are a way to get public money into corporate America’s hands which does not improve public education at all. Accountability seems to mean testing students on curriculum that teachers have had no input in but had to present against their own best judgments with poorly designed expensive assessments and then blaming teachers for the predictable “failing” results. All of these "reforms" hurt education, America's children and the future. It is time for proven failures like Joel Klein, who destroyed the New York public school system, be exposed as absolute education frauds. It is time for peer-reviewed professionalism to be the primary path of education improvement.
In the last decade, organizations like ALEC, the Gates Foundation and the Broad Foundation recognized that they could not institute their proposed type of “education reform” if local citizens controlled their schools. They needed a strong Mayor to have czar like powers over huge school systems because once local people saw the damage to their schools they would not stand for it. LA is a classic example of “reform” in America. Over the past decade, the Broad foundation took over the administration in LA Unified and instituted the ideology of attacking teachers and closing schools to replace them with privately operated charters. They chose to focus their reform efforts in LA once mayoral control over LA Unified was established. It appears that Mayor Villaraigosa is just doing the job they pay him to do. This one time teacher’s union lawyer is now leading the attack on the teacher’s union. Teachers need to stop giving support to Democrats, who sell us out with their RTTT, support of VAM (value added measures) and devaluing the teaching profession.
I find that most students want to do well. However, standards based education precludes teachers from creating lessons based on the needs of their students. Instead the student, their school and their teachers are labeled as failures if that 9th grader cannot master algebra. The students are forced into classes that they are not ready to take and they give up. A student with no hope is a behavior problem. Trying to run classrooms from DC or Sacramento is a plan for manifesting bad pedagogy and alienated children.
Common Core is an emerging national nightmare. There are reasons people like John Dewey warned against standardized education but why do non-professionals like Rice love them? Multiple choice testing is the least reliable and effective form of assessment there is. 3000 factors besides the classroom instructor influence results. Data out of context gives no reliable information about the quality of teaching. It would be wonderful for micro-managers if this data were reliable but it is not. That is the illusion of today’s reform, some call it deform.
The “reformers” that hold sway in education today want to use the results of standardized testing to evaluate teachers. These VAM evaluations have no more validity that a lottery. There are too many variables making it impossible to create a reliable model and the tests these models are based on are not all that meaningful. The only reliable way to evaluate teachers is to have an engaged professional observe and interview them. Testing data may well be part of that professional’s evaluation methodology but the data will be used in context. My personal opinion is that all teacher evaluation systems are fraught with problems; personal bias, economic considerations (new hires are cheaper) and the like. Therefore, seniority rights should be respected as human rights and are especially important in a politicized environment like education. As odd as this might seem to some people, teacher experience is very important!
Jonah Edelman (Stand for Children) and Michelle Rhee (Students First) are two powerful voices in education “reform” in America. They both are very involved both politically and financially in modern education “reform.” They have literally hundreds of millions of dollars to use for the advancement of charter schools, vouchers and standards. It is very important to understand that these bad ideas in education will not die easily because the general public has very little chance to learn the truth of the situation. Just ask the educators in Illinois. For 15 years, bad education reform has been imposed on Chicago. There has been no improvement or at least not the pace of improvement that most other areas of the country experienced during the same time frame. So, consistent with one of the definitions of insanity, the response is to keep up the “reform” agenda under the new Czar, Rahm Emmanuel only make it longer stronger and meaner.