Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Exposing the Man Behind the Curtain Part Two

Exposing the Man Behind the Curtain: What's Behind "Education Reform"? Part 2 of 3

In the Wizard of Oz, the Great and Powerful Oz would huff and puff and go to great lengths to demean Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion. He did this to hide the fact that he was an ineffective wizard. The current wave of "education reformers" are no different. They continuously blame the teachers for the problems in public education, blame our unions, and pronounce themselves all powerful so that we bend to their will. Not so fast. Let's look behind the curtain.

Last month we looked at the recommendations for teacher assignment proposed in the recent document published by the National Council on Teacher Quality after their "analysis" of the Boston Public Schools. This month let's take a look at how they see building an effective teaching corps.

One good thing the NCTQ does find in the Boston Public Schools is the mentoring program. According to their survey over 70% of new teachers attribute at least part of their success to their mentor. Boston has a highly educated teaching force from which these mentors are recruited.

What the document does not tell us is that it took years of struggle and ultimately a lawsuit to force the district into developing a year round mentoring program. That would not have happened without our union.

Teacher evaluation gets prominent play within this document, as it should. It is important that we have an effective method for evaluating teachers. The document of course misses the boat. Evaluations should be a collaborative process in which the goal should be improvement of a teacher's practice. Teaching is a complex art. None of us are ever perfect and all of us can improve. But the document focuses little on how to make this process collaborative. Rather it calls for more top-down authoritative outcomes.

The document is adamant. Boston principals do not appear to be evaluating teachers as required by state law. More central office staff should be brought in to evaluate teachers. Use standardized tests as a measure of teacher performance. And oh yes, let's also use evaluations to separate out the best teachers from their peers.

If the goal is to improve the teaching force then these recommendations fall far short. Fear, intimidation, and rankings may be a corporate approach to improvement (and of course I would argue a poor approach in any realm), but in schools it will do nothing to build the type of learning community where people feel safe to talk about their practice. We will learn very little about our practice through drive-by evaluations from central administrators who know very little about our particular schools, or the particular children we teach, or the particularities of what we do every day in the classroom. The goal seems to be to compartmentalize education, rather than empowering those who do the day to day work every day to make rationale, thoughtful change.

Most of what is being proposed is based on standardized test scores, with very little analysis as to whether or not this is right. But the prescription is clear. Replace teacher after teacher that fails to meet these arbitrary goals. And make it easy to do so. NCTQ has the audacity to state that a firing rate is too low...since after all...the test scores are too low. AFT President Randi Weingarten hit the nail on the head when she said that this type of thinking places, "100% of the responsibility on teachers with 0% authority."

When Dorothy finally saw the wizard for who he truly was she realized that she had the power all along. As a union we need to stand up to this corporate top down approach to education being proposed by those behind the curtain. The answers for how to improve public education must come from the teachers and staff in a true professional collaboration with the administrators in our buildings. Our power is in our union, but too few schools have active faculty senates. We need to change this. If the union is our home, then let's click are heels together and keep repeating...There's no place like home.

Garret Virchick

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