Thursday, July 3, 2014

The things they say, the things they don't

 "StudentsFirst has taken the feedback from our membership and dozens of education policy experts and crafted a policy roadmap for lawmakers to consider as the new legislative year begins."
 (Read: "The inner circle of StudentsFirst and some high-powered and wealthy insiders who shall go unnamed have pre-written some strategy, policy, and talking points for those who appear to be "elected" into decision-making positions.")

"Great teachers make a difference for children of all backgrounds. All children deserve great teachers."
(Read: "By saying something simplistic and universally agreeable, we can then hopefully fool you into accepting some of our more ridiculous's the Trojan horse logic offensive!)

These quotes come from a website describing the studentsfirst policy agenda, and they echo the type of quotes commonly heard from ed-reform leaders. The problem with this "our schools  are failing and bad teachers need to be hunted like vampires" focus is not that schools shouldn't be re-tooled to an extent. If freed from state no-bid contract strangle-holds of canned curriculum and standardized cradle-to-grave test-shackles, real dedicated educators could do great things. The problem is who's defining the problem, what their agenda is, and what the likely consequences are. In addition, the refusal of this crop of non-educator education reformers (who are so far removed from the actual profession) to admit that the very real classrooms and the very real students involved are all very different from their rhetorical fantasy land...well, you have to wonder why they've been allowed a platform at all. The fantasy they are selling is one where great teachers and "choice" heal all failing schools and lift all students to achievement-nirvana.

But these reformers avoid inconvenient truths like the plague.

There are elementary school students who don't know for sure whether they will see their fathers or not that day-or that week. Visiting hours at the jail can be unpredictable, and mothers may or may not enforce the orders of protection that are supposed to keep some fathers away. Sometimes Dad might send a child off to live with the very Mom he openly disrespects because he wants some responsibility-free time to move his new girlfriend in (only to move her out and bring the child back a couple weeks later).

Sometimes it isn't even mothers or fathers that are the issue. Many times, grandparents and/or aunts and uncles are the primary caregivers in situations where the actual parents have either given up their rights or had them taken away by family courts. It's hard to imagine what goes through the mind of a young child who entered this life with the natural inclination to view their mother and father as the most important connections they could have: the source of love and information; the model of how to feel about themselves and relate to others; how to relate to and find their way in the world... It's even harder to imagine what goes through that same mind when those things we take for granted are absent or warped.

While it's hard to imagine some of this stuff, those in a growing number of public schools and classrooms don't have to imagine it. It's their reality, or the reality for others in that school or in their classrooms. Peers see it, teachers see it, principals see it, other members of those communities see it.

But "reformers" don't see it. They seem to be able to buy time, buy the conversation, even buy teachers unions to an extent. Maybe even buy policy and court rulings. No, they don't see it, but do they know it? I think so, but it doesn't seem to matter.

It isn't likely that their own children will ever sit in classrooms being more and more filled with classmates that bring those burdens into school from outside the school. It isn't likely that they will see neighbors, parents, children who want for what are considered the basics: running water, electricity, heat, decent meals. Their time outside of the school day and school year is likely spent in a way that seamlessly ushers their own young along the expected paths towards achievement: connecting more exclusive schooling experiences with lifelong social connections and later college and professional connections.

So when they promote "choice": is it really "choice" to separate the students and families with the resources from the students without-or is that "segregation"?

When they attack "tenure", are they really looking to weaken the defenses before the attack?

"Intentional" is the kindest way to describe it. "Calculated" is more truthful. The language of the public school/tenure attack includes insinuations of pedophiles and "bad" teachers lurking in classrooms protected by insurmountable union nepotism and red tape. "The most important IN SCHOOL factor..." is repeated often, with such stress placed on "in school" that this truth becomes clear:

The greatest, most pressing opponent is the greed and inequity that fund policies and fuel exploitation and PR smear campaigns OUTSIDE of the school. And guess which side the "reformers" are on? 


  1. "The most important IN SCHOOL factor..." - you hit the nail on the head. Too bad you buried the lead. Since the Coleman Report ('66) we've known that 2/3 of the factors that are attributable to achievement are found OUTSIDE the school (and anyone that has spent time in a school or classroom can attest to this) yet we are still focusing on the 1/3 of the problem that is in the school. Have we given up on the other 2/3? Or do politicians see no political upside for tackling poverty?

    There is truth to the critique that we spend (and waste) so much money on education and we don't get any improvements. Is it any surprise that no improvements come when you narrowly spend all your resources in 1/3 of an area? Posed another way, if I spent all my money to get the richest most fertile soil in the world for my plant, but then didn't water it and stuck it in the closet... should I expect it to grow?

  2. OR if you spend time and money on the most technologically advanced hydroponic system and well trained programmers/monitors to run the system...but your seed stock is weak and your soil is salted...

  3. Poverty is the biggest issue in education!


Thank you for responding and commenting. All comments will be reviewed, and only vulgarity and off-topic strangeness will be removed.