Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Klein's Failed American Schools

How I wish I were Joel Klein.  Then perhaps I would get 30 inches in The Atlantic.  Alas, just a classroom teacher.

Like others of his ilk, Klein comes from a business world and sees the situation only through that lens.  Money into education should equal success.  If there hasn't been success then it must be because those recalcitrant teachers have been undermining reform on every front.  If only they would give up their tenure, then we could make progress. 
But success through expenditures depends on where you spend your money.  In the past decade most of the money poured into education has gone into testing.  My purchasing power has been stagnant in that entire period. (How about yours?) Professional development funds have frequently been cut.  So we get the beatings but none of the training.
I disagree with Klein wholeheartedly as he argues for Value Added Measurement of teachers.  There are few in the world of psychometrics who believes that VAM is a reliable tool for measuring student learning.  There are even more pundits who feel that VAM will undermine the good that schools can achieve when teachers collaborate.  VAM ensures that teachers will not share, least their VAM score drop below or behind one of their peers.
The ones who will pay for that reform will be the children.  Klein says in his own article, without apparent irony, that they had to add testing in every grade 3-8 in both English and Math so they could keep track of the teachers.  I wonder how much this costs.  I wonder why the kids are falling farther and farther behind.  Surely it must be the teachers and not his test-heavy system.
He references A Nation at Risk.  Here is what A Nation at Risk recommended in 1983 (I'm old enough to remember).
  • More time in school (still no different from 1983)
  • 11-month contract with higher pay for teachers (ignored)
  • Better training for teachers (if anything, this has been cut over the years.  It's easier than ever to become a teacher.The NBPTS is the only reform I'm aware of that came out of this report.)  Accept the best and brightest into the profession.  (Ed schools are cash cows for universities. They pull in money for PD programs but the quality of undergrad programs is hit or miss. The strongest students are often counseled out of teaching.)
  • Incentives for outstanding young people to enter the profession (grants, loans--today's young teacher starts with a mountain of debt--and then gets the pleasure of paying out of pocket for further training.)
  • Develop career ladders to keep teachers in the profession
Klein, like many others, have ignored every one of those recommendations and are now blaming the teachers.  The new plan--to measure teacher performance and then pay on ability--is a smoke screen.  The real objective for Klein and other business people is to dismantle the last and largest union in the nation: the NEA (even bigger when the AFT is added in).
Regan commissioned the report but then did not like the recommendations.  Regan believed in small government and certainly did not want an army of civil servants in the form of career teachers. It no small coincidence that none of the above bulleted reforms were brought into play in the years since Regan-style government came into vogue.  It is no small coincidence that Klein does not mention any one of these in his "professional" assessment.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Onion Tears

The Onion has stolen my idea: announce what we wish would happen in education as a fait de compli. Of course, this is a joke because doing the right thing is rarely possible any more.
Read it and weep.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day

That's mom on the right.  She taught third grade for seventeen years.  My grandmother, on the left, was a kindergarten teacher.  Ed Policy of the time meant Grammy had to stop work when she married.  Mom had to leave her first teaching job when she became pregnant with my older brother in 1950.  She only returned to the classroom after getting five children launched in school.
That was 1970 and lots had happened to women between mom's first teaching job and the next.
Some things about the world of work for women have changed a great deal since this photo was taken.  For one, most mothers work now.  Often out of necessity if not out of a desire to lead purposeful lives beyond the rearing of children.

But here are things that have not changed since I became a working mother in 1979:

However, women are the warp and woof of the fabric that holds our nation together, still largely responsible for raising and nurturing the generations to come.  Women comprise 90% of registered nurses and 80% of elementary and middle school teachers.  Women still bear the burden of raising the children and maintaining the household even if both partners in a marriage work.

Whether or not you feel women who work is a good idea, the fact remains that those who do not work risk facing a life of poverty in their old age.  Those who earn less in their productive years have less to rely on as they age.  And those who have given over their adult professional lives to working with children are facing the loss of pensions and earnings they anticipated as a safety net in the last years of their lives.

Love your mother. Encourage national policies that reflect your moral principles: Ensure a life of dignity and safety for women and children.