Even if you've only read this blog once or twice, you're aware that I am a noisy supporter of traditional public education in this country. But that doesn't mean my loyalty is unquestioning.
As much as it pains me to say it, as much as I hate what modern reformsters have brought us in public education, if I'm being honest, I must admit that we asked for some of it. Well, maybe we didn't ask for it-- but we certainly left the door wide open for it to come waltzing in.
It's worth talking about these things because even if the entire reformster movement dried up and blew away today, tomorrow we would still be facing these issues.
Much of what passes for teacher training is a joke. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is that teacher training is in the hands of not-teachers. How many co-operating teachers help their student teacher stage a fake lesson to make the visiting drive-by supervisor happy? How many future teachers' careers have been decided for good or bad by the random luck of the student teaching draw? How many college hours are wasted studying teaching "techniques" developed but untested by somebody who has no idea what he's talking about? How many college ed programs wouldn't flunk a candidate unless he was caught on video feeding chopped up puppies to orphans?
How many teachers are good teachers in spite of their college training instead of because of it? The door for some foolish program like TFA has always been standing wide open.
Everybody knows that some teachers are better than others. But our line in the profession for decades has been, "That's hard. We aren't going to talk about it."
It's true that assaults on tenure and pushes for stack ranking teachers are all about the money, about making a school a more profitable enterprise for an investor. But those assaults would never have gotten traction if there were not a great untapped well of resentment and frustration out there over a system that doesn't seem to do anything about differentiating or improving when it comes to less-than-awesome teachers.
Equity and Justice
When civil rights groups spoke up last week in favor of keeping a federal testing mandate in ESEA, many folks were shocked and upset. But civil rights groups and community leaders in poor black neighborhoods have been supporting the reformster agenda for years.
Instead of exclaiming "How can they do that" rhetorically, we should be asking, "Why do they do that" critically and sincerely.
The promise of reformsters has been, "We will create a program that gets every kid ready for success, and we will make it federal law that every school in every city must have that program in place. We'll have a test that proves whether that program is in place or not, and we will give exactly the same test to every student, white or black, rich or poor, in this country."
Do not dismiss that promise because it's empty. Recognize that the promise is powerful because our country includes a whole lot of people to whom no such promise has been made before.
Look. If you offer someone a piece of spoiled tofu sculpted to look like a bad piece of fish, and they eat it up quickly, and then you start lecturing them about can't they see it's not really fish and the tofu is actually spoiled and did somebody pay them to eat that awful stuff-- you are missing the most important piece of information. That person was hungry enough to be excited about a bad tofu fish. You can take away the bad tofu fish and feel good about how you're protected that person, but she's still hungry, and until you get her some actual food, you're not helping.
Poor and minority schools need resources and support, the kinds of programs and materials that wealthier schools take for granted. They need support. Their students need to see teachers who look like them in the building (and, I would argue, people who live and grew up in the neighborhood). They need to be in a system that respects their culture and background. They need to be in a system that is neither overtly nor subtly racist.
We can bitch and moan about the reformsters and privateers and charteristas all pretending to care about equity and civil rights as a way to grab some power and money, but we should look in the mirror and ask what it means that Pretending To Care about Equity is enough to make someone stand out these days.
We can sweep the reformsters and their faux solutions away, but unless we're prepared to look for real solutions, we won't be moving forward. We supporters of public education must remember that even if the reformsters are thrown out and shut down, there are still problems in our schools-- problems that nobody was particularly working on when reformsters stepped in to take advantage of real needs. We must always remember that even when the conflict with reformsters is over, there is still work we have to do.