Tag Archives: ed policy

In Need of (Real) Dialogue

Finally, I’m diving into this topic, now that the strike’s over — in part on purpose, actually, because I’m always a little afraid to comment mid-stream, as things are unfolding and changing so quickly. I needed time to ruminate and absorb.

Sometimes, I worry that I’m too much of a cynic when it comes to charter schools and the privatization of education in this country. I hear condemnations of teachers’ unions as a bunch of whiners who have no actual solution to the problem, and I worry — is that true? Is that me? I don’t want to be a whiner — I want to inspire and support positive change. Thus, such rhetoric has always made me pause, always made me listen to both sides, always made me check myself at the door and question my own beliefs.

So I clicked on a link to an op-ed piece entitled “Unions are an Impediment to Change.” I wanted to hear the other side of the story, and what I got instead was an assumption-laden condemnation of how unions are standing in the way of “real change.” An excerpt, so you can see what I mean:

The evidence of this “solution-phobia” is on full display this week in Chicago, where the local union has already won considerable concessions from the city, including generous raises and other protections. In return, the city has asked for reasonable and necessary reforms that benefit children, like the implementation of a teacher evaluation system that would help identify whether teachers are actually succeeding at elevating student achievement. The union balked and took to the picket lines.

The assumptions abound: 1) that the union was after money to begin with, 2) that the reforms asked for by the city are indeed “reasonable” and “necessary” and “benefit children,” 3) that the evaluation system actually evaluates quality teaching, 4) that the union finds reform of any kind something to “balk at.” My bet: none of these assumptions are valid. Here’s a shocker: the writer is the CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools in NYC.

A little peeved, I clicked around some more and found a response critiquing the existing power struggle between business-based models and education. Lipman, professor of educational policy studies at UIC, points out that the charter system has not shown any particularly impressive results, and that business models are promoting the very top-down models that education doesn’t need — not when the ones at the bottom are the ones who are most knowledgeable about what students need. She closes with:

After absorbing 15 punishing years of these policies, they have had enough. Compensation is not their biggest concern. They are fighting for respect and for a vision of public education that is grounded in equity, respect for teachers, a rich well-rounded education for all students, and the financing priorities to realize it.

Here’s a link to Lipman’s entire piece, if you want to read it: “A Battle Between Education and Business Goals”.

I come away from these two pieces exceedingly disheartened. I was watching Rock Center earlier this week and Brian Williams spent an entire segment pointing out the extreme partisan BS that happens on cable news shows. Well, it happens in the written/online news media, too, and as Williams pointed out, it doesn’t get us anywhere. No one is listening to anyone on the other side, and these two pieces are evidence of that. Do I agree with Lipman? You betcha. But neither Lipman nor Moskowitz are taking what the other believes to heart, or reconsidering/revising their stances or their approaches to the problem. Which gets us nowhere but into this deadlock, wherein there’s a “dialogue” NYT’s website between these people, but there’s no real talking going on.

I’d love to see some real dialogue — teachers sitting down with our country’s educational leaders, everyone with open ears and open minds. Too much to hope for? Probably.

This Nauseated Me

Which shouldn’t have surprised me, because the title of Ravitch’s post is literally, “Read This and Share my Nausea,” but still. Read it. Misery loves company. Or don’t, and spare yourself.

I spend a lot of time and thought trying to find ways to stick up for the knowledge veteran teachers bring to the classroom through my actions, my research, and my work with pre-service teachers. We have much to learn from teachers who have dedicated their lives to becoming lifelong learners. I know they know their… well, you know. I know this because I spent the few short years I was blessed to have in the classroom learning from teachers who had a lot more experience working with teens than I did. I learned more about who I was as a teacher from my colleagues, which sometimes meant learning about things I might choose not to do. Many times, though, I piggy-backed on experimental unit plans, asked for advice when I just didn’t know how to teach poetry (I suck at all things poetry), or brainstormed with a colleague during passing periods. I spent a lot of time talking to people who knew more than me about our chosen profession, hungry to be a better teacher every day. Most teachers share that hunger, regardless of how many years they’ve been in the classroom.

I don’t really have time for a lengthy commentary tonight… I’m tired, and I Ravitch’s post just made me a little more tired. Tomorrow’s goal: find something a little less depressing to post.

Teachers Aren’t to Blame

Thanks again, Paper Graders, for a fabulous find, this article from a journalist not far up the road from me in Flint, arguing that maybe the teacher-bashing rhetoric of our political machine could probably be pointed in other directions (say, at said political machine).

Heller (click here to read his piece) argues that on the one hand, we acknowledge the importance of teaching as an essential and noble profession in our society, but on the other hand, (sorry for the lengthy quote, but I couldn’t decide what to cut out):

All you hear these days – particularly from politicians who know an easy target when they see one — is how teachers are paid too much, do too little, aren’t smart enough and need more training.

And that’s when people are being nice. The worst among us lump them all in one boat and call them lazy, greedy louts who are draining the public coffers dry at a time when we can least afford it, all while getting the summers off. How dare they!

Then a week later a new study will come out saying kids in China, Japan or Botswana are miles ahead of American kids, and we cry, “Fix that! … oh, but do it for less money with more students in increasingly substandard buildings, all while we yell at you and test you to make sure you’re up to snuff.”

That’s nuts. And hypocritical. You can’t say teachers are vital then turn around and cut their salaries and benefits. Just can’t do it.

It is nuts. It is hypocritical. The binary (saint/devil) keeps the general public from understanding, seeing, or needing to acknowledge the complexity that is teaching. This is a binary I have analyzed, argued against, and now conduct research on in an attempt to combat, and it’s good to hear others argue that the binary makes absolutely zero sense. How can we acknowledge the importance of teachers and at the same time continue poking holes in every aspect of their profession?

Thanks to Heller, and TPG, for the link and the reminder that just because politicians are attacking an “easy target” doesn’t mean everyone takes what they say at face value.


Fired up on a Sunday

I should really unsubscribe from the Schools of Thought blog. All it does is rile me up. I tell myself I’m going to post on something from somewhere else and yet I still get drawn to the headlines in my RSS feed, click, and it’s downhill from there.

This story about Chicago Public School’s recent decision to extend the school day for students but not for teachers makes teachers sound lazy because they don’t want to stay at work for another few hours every day. Both parties “got their way” — the teachers don’t have to stay for an extra few hours, and the school day got extended. What bothers me isn’t the decision — it makes sense to me. None of the teachers I’ve ever known have days that start at 8 and end at 3 — teachers work at home, plan at home, and occasionally wind up in the classroom on a weekend. I certainly did. And that “vacation” in the summer isn’t a paid vacation, nor is it usually much of a vacation. Adding one more class period to my day? No way. That’s another 30 papers to read, AND it takes away an hour’s worth of time to get that assessment done! No, what bothers me about this post is the rhetoric. The headline, “In Chicago, Longer School Day for Students, but Not for Teachers” somehow makes the decision sound “unfair” to students, or “too lenient” for teachers.

Later in the post:

The school board president says the increased hiring could cost the district between $40 and $50 million per year, but neither the board nor the mayor’s office has yet to determine where the additional funds will come from.

This decision would cost the district that amount ANYWAY, because teachers aren’t going to do extra work for free. It’s literally illegal to ask them to do that. This makes it sound as though the teachers, by asking the school board to honor their contracts and compensate them for extra work or not give them the extra work to begin with, are making the district spend an extra $40-$50 million that they don’t have. Keeping kids in school for an extra few hours necessitates spending extra money, no matter how you slice it.

It shouldn’t bother me this much. Or should it? Maybe it should bother more people…

Computers Need Curriculum

This post from Diane Ravitch about a school that is spending money on computers — namely, iPads — for students caught my attention today.

It reminds me of the money TFA spends on new recruits — they each get a new iPad upon deciding to become under-prepared and overwhelmed teachers for our nation’s most vulnerable populations. As the TFA teachers in my seminar last year might attest, those iPads do not, in fact, make them better teachers.

Nor will new iPads make these Alabama students better students.

Computers, their software, their capabilities, must be accompanied by smart curriculum, teacher training and support, and some sort of justification for spending money –money that could easily be spent elsewhere — on something that is wildly overpriced (sorry, Apple lovers).

Do I love computers? Yes.

Do I think they can be transformative? No. Only teachers and students can accomplish that.

It’s Sunday. I shouldn’t be blogging. But I wanted to share.