Thursday, July 24, 2014

Mean What You Say

One of the surreal features of the reformster world is the degree to which words simply don't match actions. It's as if someone sold you a can of pop clearly labeled "cola" and when you opened it up, it was filled with furniture polish.

Suppose somebody said, "This is the most important new program we've ever rolled out. It will revolutionize the industry."

Imagine what would come next. Piles of money spent on training. Lots of time and effort preparing your people for the changes. Long strategic planning meetings to figure out how to most effectively roll out the new program. More money and planning devoted to putting the right supports in place, and a review process to catch and adjust any part of the rollout that turns out to have issues on the ground. Think about how a business rolls out a new product, or the work Disney and Pixar put into creating and releasing a new film.

And yet for Common Core, not so much. Instead, a race to get it implemented quickly and quietly, before anyone could stop or slow the adoption. Let's hurry up so we can get to the Corporations Making Money part.

Or imagine somebody said, "We must get great teachers into every classroom."

What would you think they were about to do? Raise great gouts of money so that they could aggressively recruit and retain the very best? Offer good teachers perks like offices and resources-- maybe hire administrative assistants so that teachers could spend less time dong clerical work and making copies. Perhaps offering teachers job security and retention bonuses. Lots of continuing education at no cost to the teacher, allowing her to keep her edge and grow. And an administrative system that focuses on getting those good teachers the tools they need and allowing them autonomy to use their best professional judgment. And you'd want to find highly trained, super-qualified people to hire (not folks who learned how to teach at a month or two of summer camp.0

And yet, the call for good teachers invariably travels hand in hand with a call to reduce teacher job security and let teachers know that we reserve the right to fire them at any time.

Most reformster teacher-related discussion is backwards. "We must give merit bonuses to the best teachers" invariably means "We must pay everyone else less." We pair a search to find and reward teacher greatness with an evaluation system that says nobody is great for more than an occasional spurt. We declare our interest in great teachers, and then we act as if looking for such teachers is an educational snipe hunt.

What if someone said, "We must put the needs of students ahead of the concerns of adults."

Wouldn't you imagine that this person was about to figure out the needs of students actually are? Might they not start by saying, "Damn! Look at how many children live in poverty. We'd better make sure that they are decently fed and clothed. No matter how much adults don't want to pay for it or talk about how to fix it, we are going to get on that."

Would a group that put students first not do things like, say, consult the vast body of research about how students develop and learn and demand--demand!!-- that educational policies reflect what the research tells us about the growth of human cognition and skills in children. Such a group would declare, "Sire, I do not care how much money you have invested in this program. It clearly does not meet the needs of our students, so good day to you, sir. I said, good day."

Would a group so concerned with the needs of students not consult and listen attentively to the groups of adults in this country professionally devoted to meeting the needs of children and working with those same children-- pediatricians, social workers, and, oh yeah, teachers. Would that group not work with parents, and might they not (cray thought) go out and find some actual students and listen to them.

Instead, we have reformsters who start with the assumption that, somehow, teacher needs and student needs are always diametrically opposed; therefor, if you are denying a teacher request, you must be doing something good for students.

Riding in the great clown car of reform is like riding with someone who keeps saying, "We need to turn right now," and then turns left. Eventually, you start to doubt your own understanding of right and left.

Well, don't doubt. One of the central features of the school reformsters is that the repeatedly say "right" and then turn "left." You are not crazy.

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