Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Finn And Hess Accidentally Argue For Teacher Tenure

Chester Finn (honcho emeritus, Fordham Institute) and Rick Hess (AEI education guy) are concerned about the threat of rampant wokeness, particularly in the reformster universe. And they are not afraid to exercise some strenuous prose in service of the point:

School reformers have long seen themselves as plucky champions of change. Today, however, as funders and advocacy groups chant from a common hymnal of wokeness, the rules have changed and courage is hard to find. In its place we see cravenness and appeasement from reformers desperate to avoid the all-seeing eye of the progressive mob.

Hess has been particularly alarmed by the ousting of Steven Wilson from the helm of Ascend charter network. Wilson (who is white) has impeccable reformy credentials-- Harvard grad, years with Edison education, Pioneer Institute-- ran into some trouble over a blog post, and in "the progressive-driven culture war that has consumed charter schooling" a petition was raised and Wilson was canned.

Finn, only mostly retired
Hess and Finn list some other areas where the rising tide of progressive wokeness has threatened the charter world. The ultimate effect is "self-styled reformers biting their tongues for fear of alienating funders, angering advocates, or becoming targets themselves."

I'm not here to comment on the issue of wokeness in the reform movement. The break in the social justice- free market partnership that fueled the movement for years has been discussed at length for about three years, and it is as sad as any divorce. They grew apart. They want different things (in fact, have always wanted different things). Now they keep fighting about how to bring up the kids properly. Not news.

But I can't help noticing something else. Here they are, worried that some people are being driven out of schools, or even keeping silent because they are afraid that if they express their political or social beliefs it might cost them their jobs, and I'm thinking if only there were some sort of policy or law that protected educators from that sort of firing. But of course there is-- the due process requirements usually lumped under the shorthand term "tenure."

Hess, as is usually the case, has a somewhat nuanced position on tenure. Finn, on the other hand, would like to take it out behind the shed and shoot it. Both like to imagine a world in which teacher job security is strictly based on the quality of their work (which we don't know how to measure, so we'll just keep using student test scores until we come up with something better), but of course that's not the world we live in, so teaching remains a political act and teachers-- even charter teachers-- continue to answer to several hundred different bosses, any one of whom might have a particular reason for wanting a teacher fired. This should not be news to anyone in the education universe, and yet the obvious solution--due process job protections-- doesn't seem to occur to Hess and Finn. Instead, they close with an impassioned plea for a tone-deaf stand:

There is now a loud, punitive-minded cohort of “reformers” who honestly believe that data is a tool of white oppression and that leaders who champion academic rigor should be fired as bigots. The many of us who abhor their nihilistic doctrine — and believe that improving our children’s schools is far too serious a cause to be undone by their shenanigans — must stand up and be counted.

Finn and Hess might do better to acknowledge that the objections they decry are not manufactured out of thin air, but are rooted in reality. Calling those who bring those concerns to the table "nihilistic" and their concerns "shenanigans" simply proves their point for them-- that what Hess and Finn call "true reformers" don't really care about issues of race and class at all. "Nihilistic Shenanigans" would make a great band name, but it's a lousy way to characterize the behavior of people you claim as your allies, and suggests that they aren't really your allies at all, but just handy props that refuse to stay in their proper place.

In the meantime, I'm not sure what "stand up and be counted" actually entails. Whatever it is, I bet it's easier to do if you don't have to worry about losing your job because of it.

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