Guest blog entry by The Jersey Jazzman
Let's talk for a minute about "tone," shall we?
For several years now, we teachers have been taking it on the chin. Oh, sure, folks like Michelle Rhee and Bill Gates love to tell us how important we are, how much they respect us, how they just want to give us the "tools" to be better at our jobs. That never translates into policies that increase our pay or protect our pensions or secure our benefits or allow us due process or improve our working conditions...
What they seem to think we crave, instead, is more feedback on how poorly we are performing. Gates, for example, recently told an audience at the TED conference: "Until recently, over 98% of teachers just got one word of feedback: 'Satisfactory.'" That is, of course, a completely false and massively ignorant statement; one which says far more about Gates’ cluelessness than anything about teacher evaluation systems.
Still, he and his reformy acolytes believe we urgently need to implement test-based teacher evaluations, joined with student surveys and many more administrator observations. The premise for all this is that the American teacher just isn't doing all that good of a job; if we can find new and varied ways to let teachers know just how rotten they are, they'll have all sorts of incentives to improve.
For now, let's leave aside the dubious research methods and ignorance of the importance of out-of-school factors found in Gates-funded research such as the Measures of Effective Teaching report. Let's also set aside the issue of how Gates and his staff refuse to offer any serious ideas as to how to pay for all of this, and whether the time spent on a new evaluation scheme is worth it. And we'll also put aside the willing blindness of Gates to labor market forces (firing more teachers doesn't make the job any more attractive, Bill), and the damage an expanded test-based regime will most likely do to both curriculum and instructional practices, which will ultimately harm children.
Let's instead note how, once again, Gates has made the debate about inequity in educational outcomes all about teacher quality. In the wacky world of Gates, Rhee and Jeb! [sic] Bush and Wendy Kopp and Joel Klein all the rest, teachers are the primary reason - if not the sole reason - kids fail or succeed. Somehow, these people have convinced themselves - and want to convince the rest of America - that the teachers in Beverly Hills and Gross Point and Scarsdale are hugely superior to the teachers in South Central and Detroit and the South Bronx.
Poverty? Well, I guess that matters... but all children can learn! And if you say otherwise, you're a racist! So there!
Of course, one of the major flaws in their logic is that if those unionized teachers in the 'burbs are doing so well, it must mean all the prescriptions the reformy-types want - eliminating union contracts, eliminating step guides, merit pay, charter schools, eliminating seniority, eliminating pay bumps for advanced degrees, VAM-based evaluations - aren't going to address the real cause of the variation in outcomes. Because the 'burbs haven't implemented any of these people's policies, and they're still getting far superior test scores than the urban hotbeds of "innovation" the reformy-ists have taken over by disenfranchising local citizens.
So the latest reformy tactic is to bad-mouth the entirety of the American education system. We are supposed to believe that even the very best American public schools are still somehow failing our children, and that it would be worth it to introduce "choice" and "accountability" into the entire system, because it's only mediocre at best.
It's a measure of how desperate the reformy-ists have become that they are stooping to this level. Which gets us back to "tone"...
It often seems that the central complaint against snarky edu-blogging bastards like me is that we shouldn't ever second guess the motivations of those on the other side of the debate. Because it's "simply beneath" the dignity of our refined American discourse to engage in such loutish behavior. The pearl-clutchers fret and stammer that I and my fellow travelers are hurling us into the worst depths barbarianism when we dare to suggest that the reformy-ists may have ulterior motives.
When I make the case that the focus on teacher quality is a distraction to keep us from addressing the real issues - inequity, regressive taxation, a corrupt political system, corporatized media, an entrenched plutocracy, the destruction of civil institutions - they rush for their smelling salts and fall on their fainting couches. How could I dare to say such uncouth things! Have I no shame?!
The answer is to be found in the utter shamelessness of their own arguments. Because no one would ever put forward the poorly thought out, ignorant, innumerate garbage that these reformy types regularly spew - garbage that regularly questions the motivations of teachers and their unions - if they weren't driven either by ideology or blatant self-interest.
We've hit a point in the debate where edu-bloggers and actual journalists have amassed a huge pile of evidence to substantiate this charge. The antics of Pearson, Amplify, TFA, KIPP, Academica, K12 Inc., Uncommon, DFER, StudentsFirst, Stand For Children, the Broad Foundation, Chiefs For Change, and so many others have become the stuff of legends in the "real" reform movement. And the anti-union, plutocratic stance of the Waltons, the Broads, the hedge-fundies and all the other titans of American capitalism is beyond dispute.
How, in the face of this evidence, can anyone ask a teacher to meekly accept the drubbing we've taken from these people? How can anyone ask us to sit silently by while these people make the case repeatedly that our interests are not aligned with the interests of our students - a case that is based almost entirely on fraud? How can anyone agonize about our "tone" when we are being crushed by an agenda whose justifications are built on transparently bad-faith arguments?
We educators have been taking it and taking it and taking it. We've played the stereotypical role of the teacher, mildly bowing our heads in our chalk-stained, irregular-rack cardigans while our betters wag their fingers at us and blame us for problems we've done nothing to create. We've strained to continue to teach our students how to think critically while the most ignorant, illogical, ad hominem nonsense has been lobbed at our heads. We've deferred to the mandarins of American life while our very profession has been trashed in an orgy of palpably idiotic teacher-bashing.
Screw all your worry about "tone."
It's time to be a badass.