Saturday, June 14, 2014

Van Roekel Gets Feisty-ish

It has been a noisy week for NEA president Dennis van Roekel. In the face of a great deal of anti-teacher rhetoric (some if it coming from a sitting judge in a major court case), DVR has decided that it's time to finally speak up on behalf of teachers.

First, he opened up in HuffPo, declaring that our accountability system is flunking. He wrote, in part:

The idea that everything will be better if we test students and just "hold teachers accountable" for results is unfair to our students and insulting to those of us who devote our lives to educating kids.

This is right on point, and even though he's at least a year late, at least he finally said it. But like Randi Weingarten and Linda Darling-Hammond, whose lead he appears to be following here, he writes about the high stakes testing as if it is occurring in some sort of vacuum and not as a linked and logically predictable outcome of the Common Core Gates Standards.

He compares the current system to applying for a bank loan and--wait! what? Literally thousands of metaphors have been put out there for this process, but DVR has chosen a terrible one. Our evaluations are like loans given to us by banks? Teaching is like asking someone to give you money that isn't really yours and that you have to prove you deserve?Which you have to pay back with interest?

And he calls for full-system accountability, accountability for politicians and bureaucrats. Accountability that "emphasizes improving professional practice and advancing student learning." Put that together with an earlier quote from the piece: "There are ways that do improve student success, and they involve better preparation for teachers, better support in the classroom, and ensuring that all students have access to qualified teachers and great schools." Oh, look! DVR is testifying for the Vergara plaintiffs!

I get that it's a clever technique to appropriate the language of your opponents. Hell, the reformsters have been kicking our collective ass using that technique. But you have to make clear, at least to your own people, how it means something different when you say it. When DVR says he favors measures of "advancing student learning," I don't know if he means "we need meaningful measures of student growth" or "let's have more VAM!" Ultimately, he doesn't say anything, call for anything specific (like, say, actual teacher involvement) that would cause Arne Duncan or That Woman the slightest disagreement.

Then later in the week, DVR stepped up and actually addressed his members. Specifically, he was addressing the full page USA Today attack ad (everything you need to know about the ad is covered here by Mercedes Schneider, other than saying that this is the sort of thing that leads teachers to conclude that a "mutual cease-fire" is a silly thing to discuss).

DVR opens with a compelling juxtaposition-- an ad comparing students and teachers to garbage coming to his attention while he was dedicating a memorial to teachers who died trying to protect their students. He tells us he's angry-- angry about a system that is misfocused and dominated by corporate interests. And then he addresses the reformsters directly. And this part is good. Really good:

I have a message for those people who would seek to reduce children to a test score and teaching to a technological transaction. 
You are mistaken if you think we will see your attacks and get discouraged, that we will read the headlines and give up.
You may put students in the name of your campaigns but that doesn’t mean you really care about the millions of children in our public schools.
If you did truly care, you would look at the more than half of public-school children who live in poverty and wage your crusades against the inequity in our economy.
If you truly cared, you would look at the deteriorating conditions in schools across this country and aim your fire at politicians who have starved our schools of the resources to succeed and then punished them for their failures.

Sadly, DVR does not stick the landing for the whole speech:

I will continue to fight for them, and for the educators across this country who dedicate themselves to fulfilling the promise of another generation of students.

This would be more compelling if-- well, you cannot "continue" doing something that you have not to date actually done. And while I'm being critical, I recommend you read the text and not watch the video. DVR's "I'm very angry" looks a lot like "I should have not eaten the rest of that garlic hummus."

Look, I'm still pissed at him. I'll admit it. I have not forgiven him for last summer's "Well, if you don't like CCSS, then what do you want to do instead." It was a horrible thing for the head of the NEA to say, embracing the assumption that America's teachers suck and need to be guided out of the vast swamp of suck in which they've gotten lost. Or his prolonged silence-- remember when he criticized the rollout of CCSS, then took it back immediately, then shut up about it entirely until now? So while I appreciate his defense of us now, I'm having a hard time getting past "Where the hell have you been, Dennis?"

But beyond that, DVR still doesn't grasp how complicit in the reformster mess he is, how his support of the Core has fueled much of what he now rails against. When they say we stink, they are saying the proof is that our students do poorly on the high stakes tests that are set up to prove we're teaching the Core. It is hard for DVR to convincingly protest the measuring when he's one of the people who promoted the ruler in the first place.

So I appreciate his jumping in now that we've had a week of severe clobbering. But I'm not going to get excited about it until A) he recognizes and apologizes for his role in creating this atmosphere in the first place and B) he repudiates the whole mess, Core and all. What a great gesture if the NEA gave back the $3.00 it collected from all of us to help promote CCSS (like buying bullets for our own executioners).  I will settle for somebody getting a clue to his most-likely already-selected successor.

1 comment:

  1. I am with you. DVR is one of the giant let-downs/capitulators-maybe even taking the rail and the lead early on-cooperating with the "teachers need to be better and our job is to help them be better" approach. Union leaders are taking political cover, now sorta siding with the profession they should have been defending all along.