Damn you, internet.
I had no intention of watching Campbell Brown's Edfest stream yesterday, but as it turns out, I mostly did. I missed a big chunk of Bobby Jindal and Scott Walker, so I did not follow up my AM post with a PM one. But the day did crystallize for me some of the huge gaping problems with the narrative that Presidential hopefuls are trying to craft. I'm pretty sure it tells us something when one of the most coherent narratives came from Chris Christie and that it was also the one most completely divorced from reality.
The narrative's basic is Wanting To Have It Both Ways, and that principle is applied in several places.
The theory here is that teachers are awesome and wonderful and the most important people in education. The teachers union, however, is the single biggest obstacle to public education in this country. Great teachers should be paid a ton, and we'll be able to afford that because we will fire all of the terrible teachers in schools, because that's an easy call to make, and great teachers can teach as many students as you like? Also lots of teachers are terrible lazy slackers, and that's what the union is for. But teachers are great. Except for the many, many, many, many terrible ones.
Teachers unions are somehow completely disconnected from their members and the interests and concerns of teachers, according to this story (perhaps teachers unions are run by space aliens), and the irony here is that there is some real disconnect but Exhibit A is the degree to which union leaders have supported reformster programs.
But mostly unions are bad because they make us follow all these rules and pay teachers money and keep teacher job securities in place, and our great teachers don't want any of those obstacles to doing their jobs. We teachers apparently love it when we can be paid whatever and lose our jobs at any time for any reasons. Love it.
Local Control & Choice
GOP pols have the message-- local control is great and the American Way and they totally support it except when they have to take it away from places that suck. Parents should be free to choose from an assortment of great schools, or at least from the assortment of charter schools that we say they should have. And parents who want to exert local control by keeping their community school intact (like, say, the hunger strikers of Chicago or the protesters of Newark)-- well, they can't have it. Jindal gave an impassioned explanation of how parent preference and local control are vital and important; then he gave an impassioned explanation of how even though all the parents and students and teachers and community leaders of New Orleans resisted having their system trashed and privatized, he did it anyway because he knew better than they did.
Parents should have choices, but only the choices we think they should have. But they should have choices. But not those choices. Repeat ad infinitum.
Oh-- unless you stop for the new classic "Local control is union control." Can anybody name a school board anywhere that was bought and paid for by the teachers union? But no-- we can't have local control in some places because those damn teachers--er, that damn teachers union. Only by having the state take over can local voices be empowered.
I suppose it's a small thing, but it's a sign of how much they don't understand. They would like to free schools and teachers from red tape and paperwork etc etc etc-- but they would also like to have complete accountability for everything that teachers and schools do. How they imagine such extensive accountability will happen without tons of reports and data entry and paperwork and red tape I do not know. The definition of red tape is, I guess, "reports about things that I don't care about."
I imagine this is frustrating for fans of Common Core because the GOP is totally for the Common Core, as long as you don't call it Common Core. They want higher standards (whatever those are) and test-based accountability for those standards (because lazy teachers need to be pushed). We are back to the old idea that teachers could teach every child awesomely-- we just choose not to for some reason. Of course, the faith in state takeover also suggests that the states know exactly how to make schools successful, so why are they holding out on us-- but I digress.
So it's bad when the standards come from the feds, but we should totally have those kinds of standards. But not a curriculum. Just standards that insure everyone in the country is teaching the Right Thing. But not Common Core.
And the GOP has taken to expressing a broader, deeper idea about what education should be about, including arts and vocational ed and other Good Things-- without any awareness at all that the current college and career ready standards accountability test and punish system is set up exactly counter to all those high aspirations.
Nostalgia & Status Quo
To be fair, this is not exclusively a GOP problem. A lot of pols are out there making strong arguments against continuing to run classrooms the same way we did in 1963. When they talk about things that need to change, like rote learning and teacher lecture, I don't recognize the world they describe. I suppose it's natural to base your picture of school on what you remember from being a student--oh, wait. It's natural to do that if you have no experience with or knowledge of what goes on in schools today. Some folks are more prone to this problem than others (Jeb Bush yesterday admonished reporters to put away their blackberries).
But if you're going to rail against the status quo, you ought to know what it is. The GOP hopefuls keep blasting the status quo, as if the status quo weren't test driven, common core infected, reformster created mess.
Race and Poverty
Crickets. Only a side reference when we talk about all the things that good teachers with high standards and big expectations can overcome. But so far the GOP seems to believe that dealing with issues of race is on par with dealing with Montana's Yeti infestation problem.
When it comes to public schools, we can't leave a student in a bad one for even a single more day. When it comes to charters, we need to be patient while the charter choice system finds its footing.
Yesterday confirmed what I have suspected, which is that if a GOP candidate talks about education for more than sixty seconds, the raft of self-contradictions come floating in. Standardization is bad, but students should all do the same thing. Local control is great, except when it should be eliminated. Teachers are great. Teachers suck. No federal overreach, but complete accountability for tax dollars.
This is going to be a long primary season. Let's hope the Democrats can do better.