Tag: educational reform

A Higher Education Fable

Once there was a school on the top of a steep hill. Because it was on a hill, it was called Higher Education.

Everyone who worked at this school had been taught by the teachers in the school down the hill. But because they were now up the hill, they did think a lot about the teachers down the hill. Most of the teachers down the hill were women and most of the teachers up the hill were men.

 

There were several different students who went to the Higher Education school.

The younger students who went there  Continue reading “A Higher Education Fable”

Our Miss Brooks

After the War, teacher self advocacy remained muted but other sectors of the culture ramped up to alter public education as the primary tool for building a modern society, and with it, the public’s perception of what it meant to be a teacher.

 

high-school

The movie movement began in earnest to influence the perception of public education. In 1955 Hollywood chose to highlight violence in “The Blackboard Jungle”. Rather than providing an impetus to problem solving, it became a rationale for criticism and downgrading of public education’s image. On Broadway Continue reading “Our Miss Brooks”

Diane Ravitch…and all the rest of us

Maine Teacher Wins $1 Million Prize, Advises Young People Not to Enter Teaching Because of Common Core and Testing

Nancie Atwell, a teacher of literacy in Maine, won the Varkey Foundation’s $1 million prize as the Global Teacher of the Year. This is like the Nobel prize of teaching. She was interviewed on CNN about teaching, and she talked about encouraging children to read and write, following their interests and passions. She is donating the $1 million to her school, which needs a new furnace and other improvements. When one of the interviewers asked her what she would tell a young person interested in teaching, she said she would tell them to go into the private sector, not into public school teaching. The interviewers were taken aback. Atwell explained that the Common Core and the testing that goes with it had turned teachers into “technicians,” making it hard for them to teach the best they knew how. She would urge them to find an independent school where there is no Common Core and no state testing.”

Nancie Atwell’s comments, which any seasoned teachers and most new ones recognize as absolutely accurate, were then criticized by male teachers as either misguided or irresponsible. As in nursing, a man’s experience in a female profession is not the same, but they feel free to think it is because, well, they have de facto the right to evaluate women’s work.

Ravitch,  a leading contributor to the teacher status debate, articulates perhaps more clearly than most how teaching reflects the cultural resistance to women receiving professional equality. She joins over a hundred years now in the discourse about teachers’ low and undeserved status accompanied by studied determination to keep it that way.

Why is teaching’s low status so intrinsically intractable in our culture? Because it has always been a gendered servant role. Men were only teachers until they could move on. Allowing women to teach was acknowledged as a lower cost alternative early on. We will be looking at the foundational attitudes toward teachers and why, even after severe protests and costly effects of ignoring teachers’ professional wisdom, teachers will remain a servant class.

Not only overt historical development of public education but educational reform movements and research are primarily instituted by men: men in law, men in business, men in legislatures, men in psychology, to name a few of the fields. Most of the time men who have never taught or have never taught at the level they are trying to reform. While anyone can find reams of books, articles and other materials about what should be done in education, very few materials are available on the teacher’s actual experience or on ways for teachers to have professional autonomy and authority. This is because the teacher doesn’t have time to pursue writing books and articles and developing programs because they are teaching. So the reality is not that those who can, do and those who can’t teach; the reality is that those who teach, are; and those who aren’t, study it and mandate the latest “classroom innovation”. This amounts to not much more than hubby coming home and telling wifey how she can do better. A gross simplification? Perhaps. But see if you find very many exceptions to the management of education that do not smack of this attitude.

It has been long understood that the younger the child, the more women are prevalent in their education.  Women became preschool and elementary school principals earlier than at other levels. With each level up, the number of women decreased while the number of men increased, until we have many male professors studying teaching and introducing
“reforms”, which earn the college lots of positive PR, until that comes under attack and the next horse on the carousel comes around.

In subsequent posts, I will list some of the historical milestones, educational reforms, and cultural contradictions and whether or not a woman educator with experience in the classroom was the originator. Hopefully this will help demonstrate that a teacher who thinks there will be an improved status change in our country should look elsewhere for professional fulfillment. This does not negate the influence that women have made; it demonstrates that there is a foundational commitment to keeping women out of any major authority in their profession. Like nurses, we can only dispense medicine if the doctor says so. And when we begin to become doctors, the status and pay in the field decreases and the amount of oversight increases.

My hope is that those who have an opportunity, will stop burying their talents in the ground without demanding proportionate respect, acknowledgement and compensation. And if that means not teaching, it may have to.  History will show that there are as many pressures to remove teachers as there are pleas for them to stay underemployed. A teacher needs to face the fact that she is disposable and will never be acknowledged in any numbers as an autonomous professional; in fact, every attempt will be made to remove her ability to made decisions about using her skills.

Atwell appears to understand this, but she still gave away the million.

The Real Estate Board and Your School

Working in community development for a Midwestern urban government, I had my innocence shattered around the illusion that the school district, as an agent of the state government, was actually operating quasi-independently of other major groups in the city.

I soon learned how the collusion of the real estate board with controlling media outlets affects schools. Here’s how it works:

People like to live in a good neighborhood. A good neighborhood is one that has a good school. People may be very content with their school. However, their home may be getting old. You can’t charge as much to live in an older home as a new one. The real estate board exists to promote the interests of the realtors. Realtors like to sell new homes.

Q: How do you get people to move out of their house often enough to sell enough new homes to keep you going at the level you want?

A: You start trash talking the school, or even the district.

By reporting on problems and not reporting on strengths, the reading and viewing public begin to question the quality of the school. The quality of the school, mind you, may not have deteriorated at all. Or any negative stories about schools in outlying areas are suppressed.

Soon homeowners with children begin to get nervous. “Perhaps we had better begin thinking about moving out to a neighborhood with better schools,” they say.

Glowing reports of the fabulous quality of the school in the developing residential area begin to flood the news. Simultaneously, trouble, trouble, trouble is publicized about the school or district designated for downgrading. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Negative media leads to negative parental and student perceptions leads to more hostility toward the school leads to making the job harder, you get the picture.

I have personal experience with this. I worked and lived in an urban district. I knew firsthand about the skill levels of the teachers, their dedication, the innovative and effective techniques they used, the programs the district had that offered opportunities to the students.

While it was true that students from less affluent families attended, that did not equate with those students being inferior in character, behavior, desire or skill levels. It didn’t mean the teachers didn’t care. It didn’t mean good teaching wasn’t going on. Not yet anyway. But the forces were at work.

Our urban district had had a preschool for decades. An outlying district decided to provide a preschool program. The news media lauded it as the most progressive program to be seen in decades. No mention was made of the older district’s programs or their successes.

Then my coworker moved to a suburb with a “premium” school district. Their security guards did not wear uniforms so the parents didn’t know they had, or needed them, or if they did, they didn’t want the image of needing them. Their student problems never made the news. Their students crashed cars, tore up property, and generally were teenagers, but it wasn’t publicized. The desire was to keep the property values up so the news about the school had to always be stellar.

Before “A Nation at Risk,” the state was pretty much content to let the schools do their job. They did not overtly participate in the campaign. However with pressures increasing, and consulting with business groups including real estate boards, the state legislators and administrators began to pressure  ill-advised and ill- planned “reforms” or “improvements” on the urban districts especially. Most of these were invented by college professors who had not taught in the demographic, not teachers in the district. Each year was a revolving door of a new program when the previous program had not been given a chance to succeed. States were afraid to be seen “behind the times” so whatever educational fad was being touted was enforced. Thus began the instability which the urban school or district was then blamed for and which compromised the educational process itself. This contributed to the attack on older districts as well.

Then, after No Child Left Behind, the state, relying on the merciless and useless testing programs (which also made money for testing and textbook companies by mandating changes every year) the state began to “grade” districts and the schools in them. Of course the urban districts always got the worst grades.In an “add insult to injury” move, they tied the funding formula to this. So districts that were already challenged because the property values of older areas were declining (schools are funded through property taxes) were now doubly beat up by the state.

2015-02-26 17.44.28

 

One urban district decided to fight back. They had good schools, good teachers, and good kids. The parents wanted their kids to get an education. They had motivating programs and activities for the students. In other words, they kept doing a good job. But each testing season showed their ranking declining…and their funding and possible accreditation. Why? Because they were in an older residential area.

They took the state to court for unfair practices…and they won! They challenged them to show how the same measures were not begin applied uniformly. They challenged the evaluations. They challenged the definitions and the formulas. They challenged all these things, not because they were against good education, but because they recognized a political game when they saw one.

Kudos to those who stand up and fight! A home does not depend on the house. Education doesn’t depend on how new the school building is. In both cases, it’s the people inside that make it made with love.

 

The Latest Blame Game: Trump’s Supporters

Recently a Facebook post issued the latest societal ill to be laid at the classroom and therefore the teacher’s door: Trump’s followers. The post asserted that there wouldn’t be as many Trump supporters if education was just doing it’s job. Familiar image of an upset parent poking the teacher in the chest for failing their student who has not attended. The student did not attend because the teacher/school was not “doing it’s job” and by God my taxes pay your salary and if you would just do your job…..

On a recent Colbert show, Stephen estimated that Trump’s voters in the primaries represented about 12% of the voters. Let’s look at what was going on in public education when these supporters were in school.If these voters
are an age range of 30-40, they would have been in high school in the mid 80s to mid 90s. That is, if they went to high school.

Then let’s look at what happened to public education in the mid-80s. Reagan and his party decided to issue a report called “A Nation At Risk”. It claimed that our nation was drowning in the ocean of international competition. This was at a time when the nation’s public schools were doing the most excellent job yet. But a gleam had grown in a monied eye: how about if we can make profit from tax money? How could we do that? We could use educational tax monies through private charter schools and proprietary (for profit) colleges as well as promoting home schooling (it doesn’t cost as much tax money). We can make lots of money by controlling the textbook and testing industries. We can do this if we just destroy people’s confidence in the public education system. Not to mention Reagan’s antiunion movement. The attacks have been relentless and comprehensive, to the point that now no candidate is brave enough to say that education is not broken.

As a counselor in a lower socioeconomic income school, I routinely saw parents remove their students from school if they did not like something. They would pretend they were going to “homeschool” them but they would move to a smaller town. In my state as in many others, there is no monitoring or accountability on homeschoolers. No curriculum plans must be filed; no hourly instruction scheduled; no testing; no validation of instructional credentials. That’s because the state, being the agency constitutionally charged with education, saves a bundle of money if students aren’t in school. They don’t have to pay any ADA (Average Daily Attendance) rates to districts for absent students. To make it even better, the legal age they can drop out is 16 but the district must accept them until they are 21 and keep records on where they go if possible if they leave the previous school. So the district is required by the state for reporting on students that the state says don’t have to be there.

So Trump’s supporters – if they attended, if they earned any credits, if they graduated – were coming through just as this concerted effort to undermine education was getting into full swing. A plethora of media (books, television shows, movies, news reports) emerged about how terrible the system was. And it worked.

Teaching and education is a power vacuum. It depends on community support, both financially and socially. It is a handy political football. Teacher unions lost a lot of leverage. Teaching lost a lot of cooperation and support. Parental anger and frustration found a convenient and close target for their frustrations, be it the economy, joblessness, or other stressors. Not to mention the frustration of being the parent of an adolescent.

Some have said that the conservative movement is reaping the wind from their policies of 15 years ago. If that were true, maybe we would just have a thunderstorm. Their policies began much longer ago, enough for the wind to be a tornado now. So if this is related to education, I’d say it shows that, as usual, educators have done a herculean job in spite of enormous opposition. I’d say we’re lucky if it’s only 12%.

Teachers Anonymous

In 2012 I began a blog by this title but did not pursue it. The name had been inspired by a few of us laboring in an urban high school in a still somewhat posh neighborhood that was hated by the district administrators who remembered getting hand-me-down textbooks from the school. That was in 1986 or 87. We invented our 12 Steps for Recovery. And we made our jokes in order to keep our heads up.

Since then I see the name has caught on. I counted over a dozen Teachers Anonymous sites during a recent web search. I also found an Academics Anonymous for college profs (they are always a separate entity). The erosion of dignity, freedom and respect has reached there too.

There is so much enormous misunderstanding, so much uninformed slander, and so many teachers who just want to know that they are not crazy for thinking what they are going through is real or that they are the only ones, that here I’m letting it all loose!

This blog is for all the outrageous and insulting practices that I suffered in education. And I welcome true stories of other educator’s injustices! The Union didn’t tell the whole story. The legislators and corporations didn’t know the whole story. And the parents and students definitely didn’t know the whole story. With the over 30-year attack on public education, it’s time that teachers stood up here, because they were too demoralized or exhausted to say a word when they leave work at the end of the day!

Here is the record of the progressive erosion of any professional autonomy that I experienced during my 30 years and more of education. I had the responsibility for implementing others’ visions of my classroom but not the authority to teach as I had developed skills for my students.

Feel free to share your experiences of professional powerlessness. From textbooks that boasted they were “teacher proof” to totally structured content delivery and the current movement for standardization, I’m reporting one person’s experience of what it really is like to be in education before you lost your mind. My hope is that, rather than being seen as a rant, it will open others’ understanding to understand who is profiting from the carnage of public education, stop buying the story that it’s our fault, and join those who want to establish teacher control of public education so it can regain its dignity as one of the three essential pillars of our democracy.