Friday, June 30, 2017

Why Your ESSA Plan Is Nonsense

At EdWeek, Andrew Ujifusa offers an explanation. In "Here's Why You Can't Understand Your State's New Plan for Education" he points the finger at jargon and offers some rather fun analytics for education argle-bargle. The top four bits of balonial verbage are, in descending order, stakeholder, engagement, professional development, and needs assessment.

Yes, this can only end well
Ujifusa breaks down the nature of the nonsense in your state's ESSA plan, but he doesn't really address the cause. But at this juncture, it's useful to remember why ESSA plans will be just as much jelly-filled fluffernuttery as oh, so, many government-drafted educational master plans before them.

It's not complicated. Master Plans for Education, both Great and Small, are almost always nonsense because they are written by bureaucrats, not educators.

Imagine military strategy and tactics being written by people who have no military training and who have never set foot on a battlefield. Imagine a plan for manufacture and assembly of widgets concocted by someone who has never used, built or worked on a widget. Imagine someone holding the highest office in the land who had no concept of how any of the policies or functions under his control actually work.

That's where we have been with education for decades. On the state and federal level we consistently find bureaucrats overseeing education who don't really know what they're talking about. Their knowledge and understanding of actual education is second, third or fourth hand. Sometimes it's no hands-- just made up out of whatever they come up with in their own little heads.

So they come up with policies that sound good, or that are birthed by the committee process (it's not right, but it's what we could all agree on), or that play well with the legislators who will have to pass them. They include lots of fine-sounding jargonny blather of the type not used by teachers (I won't lie-- we have plenty of jargon of our own) but preferred by policy wonks and thinky tanks and people who are trying to hide empty ideas behind cluttered language. And what merges eventually is policy language that makes classroom teachers roll our eyes and go back to doing our jobs as best we know. Or, if the policies hamstring us badly enough, we get beaten down a bit more.

Your state's ESSA plan is nonsense, just as your state's RttT plan was nonsense, and the NCLB plan before it, and let's not forget the super-nonsense of Common Core. It's nonsense because few-to-none actual educators had a hand in crafting it.

I'm not saying it's an easy fix. We could send teachers to the state capitols, to DC, but while we are educational experts, we are government amateurs. We know about teaching, but we don't know about working on Big Important Commissions or getting things through The Process, and we would probably create excellent policies that died in a dark closet somewhere.

Teachers are occasionally included in the process-- as long as they've been carefully vetted and determined to be agreeable enough to play well with others.

But on the whole things have probably gotten worse over the past decade, as Teach for America has helped create a whole new class of people who believe that since they have spent a year or two in a classroom, they are now legitimate Educational Thought Leaders and Policy Experts.

At any rate, it's important that those of us who do the actual work of education remember that policies like the ones about to be laid out and adopted in ESSA plans have been lovingly crafted by a bunch of educational amateurs. We read these things and invariably some teacher will exclaim, "Do these people know anything about teaching at all?" and it's meant as a half-joke, because as teachers we tend to believe in institutions and of course the People In Charge couldn't be completely ignorant, could they?

Well, yes, they could. We're about to be hit with a whole new wave of nonsense, and we should not be afraid, when we encounter amateur educational nonsense, to call it by its true name.

Well, yes, they could.

1 comment:

  1. I was just thinking along these same lines, of the parallels between the Trump administration and the educational reformsters. What the people involved in both have in common is that they seem to pretty much all be amateurs who are either ideologues who have an ax to grind, operators who want to get rich quick, or narcissists who want to be fawned over. The reformsters don't understand teaching and learning because they've never worked with it much. The Trump administration doesn't understand governance because they've never worked with it much. They don't consult experts because teaching and learning or governance is not their real goal. So we've been taken over by incompetents.