Saturday, April 19, 2014

Broken Trust

Regardless of how the battle for the soul of public education shakes out in the end (or at least in the future-- I don't know that we'll ever see an end), there are things that we have already lost for at least a generation, collateral damage, the china in a shop over-run by a herd of clashing cattle.

Perhaps the biggest casualty is the trust of parents.

It's not just that the last twelve years have produced a steady stream of edu-crap from schools. It's not just that some schools have started to treat students like one more school supply, like bricks or floor wax. It's not just the bombardment of terrible tests, or state and federally mandated educational malpractice.

Teachers have compounded all of that by becoming collaborators or unthinking attack dogs.

The collaborators have tried to convince parents that everything is all right, that the Testy Stuff will be Just Fine and parental units can just relax and Trust Us because, golly bob howdy, this Common Core stuff will be absolutely great. Just as the current leadership of NEA has fixed it so that rank and file members can never easily trust the union any time soon, some current classroom teachers have broken trust with parents. We're supposed to give assurance that we will keep children safe at school, and in some places that's a hard-- if not impossible-- assurance to give. But lying to them is not good.

The unthinking attack dogs have egged the dissenting public on. We have encouraged them to challenge every test, post every aggravating homework assignment on line accompanied by withering take-downs. Many UADs have stood by silently while parents attacked school work that really wasn't a symptom of CCSS at all (looking at you, number line math problem) or that was actually perfectly sound (I see you, argumentative essay about hypothetically rewriting the Bill of Rights).

We've been happy to hand people stones to throw at the CCSS-infused school, and in some cases it's as if we've forgotten that at some point, we will have to go back into the building and work there ourselves.

The opt-out movement has been effective in some areas. It has been necessary and powerful and I have every hope that it will spread and cripple the whole testing arm of the corporate ed establishment. But it also marks a line that we've all crossed, and we can't go back.

We have encouraged parents to examine closely what schools do, and if they don't like it, to look those schools in the face and say, "Not with my child, you don't." And we've been super-comfy with that when Mrs. McActivemom questioned the PARCC test. But I wonder how many teachers will be caught by surprise when Mrs. Activemom wants to have that same conversation about teacher generated assignments and teacher-created tests. We have encouraged parents to never accept something as sound educational practice just because it comes from a school, and many parents have taken that lesson to heart.

It's ironic. The Reformy Crowd has always claimed that they want greater school and education accountability to the public, and some of the most effective resistance to them has come through making them accountable to the public. And most ironic of all, as they have been beaten back, they are actually getting what they said they wanted, and it's not going to go away.

In this one arena, the Reformy Folks have won. As we go forward, we are going to be held more accountable by the public than ever before.

Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I'm going to go with "all of the above."

It's certainly not a bad thing for teachers to be able to make a case for what we teach. We should be accountable to the public and to our students, and any teacher who ever stands in front of a class and says, "We're doing this Because I Said So" is asking for trouble, and deserves all the trouble he gets. If you don't have a good reason for doing what you're doing in your classroom, you should not be there (note: "because the scripted materials say so" and "because it's on the test" are not good reasons).

On the other hand, dealing with a parent whose biases and blind spots are gaping was never fun in the best of times. We all have our version of this. In some areas, you deal with the parent who doesn't see the need for all this way-too-hard fancy book-learning. In other areas, you deal with the parent who is sure his advanced degree in particle physics makes him far more qualified to understand dependent clause construction than you are. And Lord help you if, in some regions, you happen to teach literature with any of those Naughty Words in it.

So accountability comes with its challenges, but at the end of the day, I do believe that we owe a full and clear explanation to our taxpayers for what we do with their money. I also believe they owe us trust for our professional expertise and judgment, but that side of the scale is taking a real hit these days.

I think the change on balance is good, but I'm not sure everyone in the teaching profession has fully realized what's happening. I think many teachers are dreaming of the day when they can go back to their room, close the door, and just quietly do their job again. And while some communities may well go right back to sleep when this storm has passed, I think many of us need to recognize that the last decade has ripped the doors off our classroom and buried them at sea, and it's going to be a long time before teaching is a quiet, private pursuit again.

When you break trust in a relationship, it takes a long time to earn it back. We have got a lot of trust re-earning to do with the parents of American school children.


  1. to be blunt, I dont think I will trust teachers (as a profession) again... I did whatever I could to push back ed reform, opted my kid out, ended up taking him out of school altogether, still working against reform daily even tho now have no personal skin in the game.... and teachers as a profession and individually refused/refuse to step up and do their share of push back - paychecks were/are more important than the principles at stake and our children's wellbeing...

    1. Well, teachers certainly want to have the ability to provide food, clothing and shelter for their family as anyone else. But in some school districts, teachers also have to factor in their ability to stay in the fight. An activist teacher may not be able to do as much for students today as he wants to, but if he is fired, he's definitely not going to be able to do anything for them at all.

      But yes-- in some areas teachers have not put up much of a fight, and that's unfortunate.

  2. I agree with Sahila. It's been very disappointing to see teachers doing absolutely nothing to make parents aware! Most parents still have no clue, and do still trust the teacher's expertise. They buy the propaganda that testing is necessary and their child's progress can be measured. The cries of those who are aware and have tried to take a stand against corporate reforms, fall on deaf ears.

    Parental involvement on committees is but a ruse to make parents believe that their input matters. It does not! I have been an active advocate in my children's schools for almost two decades, even after they were out of the system, and not one thing I ever contributed (supported by real education experts and research) was ever taken into consideration. Public education is an institution with a dark side. Its main goal is to make kids conform and adapt to a world that's run by the global puppet masters. In that sense public schools are already 'corporate' schools.

    Public school is a misnomer as the public has no say in how they should be run! Local school boards are indoctrinated by their state's association of schoolboards and those in turn follow directives of the National Schoolboard Association.

    If the desire was to really improve schools to create better citizens for a better society and world, subjects like philosophy, logic and ethics would have been part of the curriculum long ago. That would have created thinkers and questioners!

    And look at this presentation from 1992. Just the first 30 minutes are eye-opening. Peg Luksik mentions that, "the state is compiling data banks on individual kids at a micro record level...mandated by the federal government for the National Center for education Statistics Common Core of Data"

    All this clearly has been long in the making and is now coming to full fruition with computerized outcome based learning and testing! B.F. Skinner is smiling in his grave!

    1. Many teachers still trust the expertise of their own leaders and bosses, and that has been a tough shell to crack for many of us.

      Sorry to hear that you're in an area with well-indoctrinated school board members. None of the local school boards in my area suffer from that particular problem, and I think that's the case in many locales (though sometimes you also get boards that simply agree with whatever a superintendent says). I suspect the number of non-trainable boards is the reason that one reformy tactic is to get rid of the elected board entirely.