Tag Archives: privitization

NCTE 2012 Reflections: The Corporatization of the American Classroom

I went to a session this morning that featured Linda Christensen (chair), Troy Hicks, Jory Brass, and Allen Webb, entitled “School TM: Teacher Decision Making in the Era of the (For-Profit) Corporate Classroom.” The conversation got heated and emotional very quickly, and I want to use this space to make the comments that I was going to make in the session (but we ran out of time).

Before I reflect, though, here is a link to a wiki the panelists set up describing the corporate invasion taking place in America’s schools. As one of the panelists noted today, if you enter at any point in the corporate network, you’re basically talking to the same group of people; Pearson meets Gates meets ETS… it’s all one big beast.

Click here to see their Wiki and learn more about the corporate culture of American schooling.

Click here to view the backchannel that the panelists set up on TodaysMeet.com.

Now for my two cents…

I wonder about the impact of this corporatization on teacher education and how we can fight back against it. It came up briefly during the discussion, but then fizzled. However, I see some of the effects of this corporatization, though delayed (as always), starting to trickle into our teacher education classrooms as students become concerned about whether or not they are going to be “good enough” at teaching. This pressing question isn’t problematic (it has haunted the minds of pre-service teachers for centuries, I’m sure)… at least, not until “good enough” comes to mean their students’ scores on standardized tests are “good enough” for them to keep their jobs. My pre-service students worry about test scores in the same way juniors in high school have increasingly worried about their scores on the SAT and ACT over the past few years. And I can’t blame them. These early career teachers are receiving very mixed messages about the role of tests and corporate-sponsored technologies and texts in their teaching.

At one point during the session, someone noted that it is the express goal of these corporate networks to decrease enrollment in teacher education in the coming years by something on the order of 30%. Well, it’s working; I’m starting to see the impact in my own school of education. Our last three cohorts have totaled 27 students (this is down from years when we would have multiple cohorts of 18+). This, I believe, is the compounded result of many factors, not least of which include negative portrayals of teaching in the media and the recent upswing in TFA recruits from our university. Each of these things are products of this corporatization of American schooling. Don’t believe me? Read the arguments on the panelists’ wiki.

I left this session fired up. Frustrated. Shaking a little bit (though that could’ve been the double-shot latte I downed beforehand). Which one participant argued was exactly what we should be feeling — angry. Angry that our system is so heavily influenced by people who know nothing about education or the important role of differentiation (not sameness) in educational equity.

But anger never got me very far, so here, I’m trying to consider ways in which to respond positively and productively to this discussion. I think step number one, at least as far as teacher education is concerned, is to make visible to our pre-service teachers the role that corporatization is likely to play in their professional lives such that they can resist it by relying on their (and others’) professional knowledge. Knowledge gained from working with kids, with other teachers, and with individuals who understand what is best for our nation’s schools.

More reflections to come, I’m sure, as I wrap up my weekend in Vegas.

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.

Waiting for Waiting for Superman

I finally watched it. I had been waiting to watch Waiting for Superman.

Waiting for what? Not sure. I knew it would “angry up my blood” (the words of my partner as he hit play last night). Waiting until I had adequately prepared myself? Waiting until I could try to watch it with an open mind? Waiting until I had a pen and pad of paper nearby so that I could write down every false statement made about teachers, teachers’ unions, and the role of context in schooling? This is the problem with research that has anything to do with popular media — your brain never shuts off.

What sticks in my memory from watching the film last night, though, aren’t the baldfaced lies about teachers and their work (though there were many), the misinterpretations of the charter system and its false promises (though these were countable), or the uncritical comments about what counts as “achievement” for students or “success” for teachers (though these were rampant). What sticks out in my memory? I watched the movie with my partner-in-crime, my husband of five years. He was able on more than one occasion to point out how the producers made correlational claims sound causal, how the film would argue something about the role of teachers without taking into account context and resources, and how the documentarist often contradicted himself. Without knowing who all of the featured “reformers” were (I knew all of the ones he interviewed by name prior to watching), without being part of the educational system (aside from knowing me), and without having children, he was able to poke holes in the film’s argument about public education in our nation from start to finish.

This gives me hope. Hope that perhaps others, others who are also not educators but are smart people capable of looking at many sides of an issue, haven’t watched this film and immediately blamed “bad teachers” for our nation’s “educational issues” (which I happen to believe are more than a little overinflated by propagandistic media like this). That perhaps not everyone believes that high test scores equal intelligence, that teaching kids how to memorize facts via cute little rhymes doesn’t actually help them become better thinkers, or that teachers care about their students and need support from the administration in order to be the best professionals they can be.

What did I like about the film? Very little. It wasn’t worth the wait. But there was one message (not the primary one, mind you) that I did appreciate — kids want to learn. I’ve been chanting this from the rooftops since I started teaching. It gets easy sometimes — I know I was guilty of this more than once — to blame the kids for not studying, to blame parents for not encouraging studying, to blame everyone but ourselves as teachers for students’ disengagement. While I hate the media chant that “bad teachers” are to blame for “bad results” because the “results” are poor measures to begin with, I do believe that teachers and administrators should be introspective about their role in making learning worth it for our students. One thing I learned during my few years of teaching was that students do want to learn. They crave knowledge about the world, how it works, and how and where they fit within it. They crave challenge. On those occasions when teaching gets tough because kids are disengaged, disinterested, or disempowered to learn, it’s time for teachers and administrators to look to the curriculum and look to the systems in their own schools to find ways to make learning matter for their students. This message did not ring loud and clear through the film, but it was there as an undercurrent, which I appreciated.

Done waiting to watch Waiting for Superman. Now I’m just waiting for the day our media decides to cut the crisis rhetoric.


Point, Counterpoint — Teacher Eval Based on Test Scores

This comes to me courtesy of The Paper Graders, who got it from a colleague and posted it yesterday. Thank TPG!

Up and at ’em early this morning, both in an effort to get a start on my homework and because I wanted to have the time to blog about this article, Should Student Test Scores be Used to Evaluate Teachers, which was published on the Wall Street Journal’s website in late June.

To begin with, three cheers for The Wall Street Journal for hearing both sides, and a big thank you to Thomas Kane and Linda Darling-Hammond for being willing to speak both sides. What I would really love to see are their reactions to each other’s ideas, because they were published here as two separate pieces. However, this is a big step in the right direction — too much media is only publishing one side of this argument, and it’s often the uncritical pro-test, pro value-added side.

That said, you all probably know where I fall on this issue. Should student test scores be used to evaluate teachers? Absolutely not. Here are my reactions to each of their posts. I’ll start with Thomas Kane.

First, my gut reaction after reading one of his first sentences, which read:

Clear evidence for that conclusion comes from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Measures of Effective Teaching project, which I lead.

…is there ANYTHING that the Gates Foundation DOESN’T fund related to high-stakes testing and value-added measures?! Diane Ravitch posted recently about the Gates Foundation, similarly stumped by the forcible hand they have in shaping so much education policy. I feel like I’m seeing the name “Gates” in places where it shouldn’t be appearing more and more often, and I don’t like it.

But now for his actual argument, which has some interesting, though perhaps weak, points. For example:

…despite some fluctuation from year to year, we have found that a teacher’s record of promoting achievement remains the strongest single predictor of the achievement gains of their future students. In such a ratings system, a teacher’s average may vary from year to year, but so do the batting averages of professional baseball players. In each case, the measure provides a glimpse (albeit imperfect) of future performance.

I’ve seen this cited over and over again — the teacher matters. We know this, of course. Teachers, according to many studies in recent years, can inspire students to achieve, can help students overcome obstacles related to their contexts, and can deliver instruction in innovative ways that meet the diverse needs of their students. What concerns me about this, however, is that he not only doesn’t give any of the numbers (“we have found”… okay, but how?), but that he says this as though teachers’ averages actually get treated as such — as averages that fluctuate. The reality right now is that teachers’ averages get treated as absolutes, not as “imperfect glimpses of future performance.” And Darling-Hammond points out just how imperfect these glimpses are:

…at best, teachers’ value-added ratings in one year predict only 25% of the variance in ratings in the next year, leaving 75% or more to be explained by factors such as who is assigned to a teacher’s class and what conditions he or she teaches under. The National Research Council and the Educational Testing Service, among other research organizations, have concluded that ratings of teacher effectiveness based on student test scores are too unreliable—and measure too many things other than the teacher—to be used to make high-stakes decisions… Unfortunately, federally imposed teacher-evaluation policies insist on using state tests that do not measure growth, are poor measures of higher-order thinking skills and penalize teachers of the neediest students.

First of all, way to go Darling-Hammond, who is typically a qualitative researcher, for giving us the numbers that Kane conveniently left out. Second, she’s right. Things like SES are strongly correlated with school funding (duh… anyone who has ever owned a home in a school district with a “good reputation” — or a “bad” one — knows that), and that correlation messes up the numbers, meaning that those “averages” Kane is so fond of above are exceedingly inaccurate measures of teacher “performance.” They’re just as likely to measure how often, on average, the teacher’s students got a good breakfast before they walked out their doors in the morning, or how often they are distracted by the siblings they need to take care of while Mom works second shift to get food on the table. You can “control” for these variables, statistically speaking… but not really, and only sort of. They are always there. They are always part of the statistic.

I need to wrap this up, because homework calls. Suffice it to say that I’m glad WSJ posted this, I’m glad they talked to both sides, and I think Kane’s and Darling-Hammond’s arguments are worth hearing side-by-side. This is the way we should have these conversations.

But if I’m being honest, I think we should have these conversations this way because they point out just how ridiculous our current policy moves are becoming. On the one hand, we have a name-dropping, overgeneralizing argument — on the other, a clear delineation of the previous argument’s flaws. Maybe I’m biased. Who am I kidding, I am biased. But I think the more of these dialogues that we see, the more obvious it should become that the value-added, test-driven road that we’re on is not the logical one.