Friday, July 5, 2013

Let's Talk About Tone

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.


  1. In Seattle and in my ex-home of MA., senior Democratic leaders who've aligned themselves aggressively, or passively, with the Clinton Obama policies of kissing wall street's ass, kow towing to AHIP & Pharma & other Medical Industrial Complex bandits so that "health" remains a racket, selling out working stiffs with Race To The Bottom market rigging trade and labor laws, ... fight their Democratic NON-Corp-0-RAT opponents with the tone thing, constantly. It is part of the playbook of the sell out wing of the Democratic Party associated with Blue Dogs, Democratic Leadership Council, and the Third Way. Our ed deformer opponents are in lots of pretty photo op pictures, standing next to sell outs, enjoying their chicken sandwich luncheons. TONE is 1 of their favorite weapons.
    25 years ago, when I was 9 buck an hour cook at the Boston Sheraton & Dukakis was running, he was peddled as someone who wouldn't scare the middle and cause us to lose. Jesse Jackson had all those DFH's (dirty f'king hippies) in his camp, and, we all didn't need '68 or '72 again! Remember Gore picking that sell out Lieberman to appeal to the moderates? Remember how Kerry was electable and Dean wasn't electable?
    "TONE" is 1 of The Best methods of social control going, and there are different groups who use it!
    There are the venal string pullers, getting those fat checks from Gate$, Walton, Broad, ... who hire the crafty soundbite double think makers. IF they've spent anytime studying politics, it was to memorize and internalize the WRONG lessons from The Prince and 1984. They get to whisper in the King's ear and wash the King's feet and play catchfart with the other sycophants. Then there is the next group aspiring to venal string puller class.
    THE LARGEST GROUP using the tone argument is the rest of us ... playing our roles as political naifs or dupes. We censor each other and we censor ourselves, we make sure no one calls our catch farts and liars and thieves and sycophants for what they are - and we do NOT get paid 6 figures +++++ a year to do it!
    Don't Be A Tone Naif or A Tone Dupe!


  2. To Math Teacher 42: If you go in a political direction with a political diatribe or screed, you lose the momentum of a new movement such as this.

    Writing for the people in the field should clarify the issues and wrongful directions in the field. Writing for parents should cut through the jargon to the heart of the educational matter. And the focus of both should always be teaching, academics, and the fools in charge and what they do.

    You are exhibiting the syndrome suffered by my union - UFT in NYC. It has become a political group, overly leftist, and rarely puts its muscle into academic issues. When it does concentrate on academics, like obtaining a postponement in teacher evaluations based on the Common Core/standardized tests, it is a wondrous thing. This does not have to do with the medical-industrial complex you speak of.

    Please stay focused.

    NYC Retired English teacher in H.S.
    Writer of articles about education

    1. You're retired, I'm 53. Clearly you and I have lived in different countries, or, on different planets. You're a teacher but you don't see the connections between the corp-0-rat thieving in the all the other sectors of the economy and the b.s. the lying thieves are pulling in education and its $600,000,000,000 honey pot?
      You're an English teacher - did you read Julius Caesar or Richard III as a play or as political commentary? You read 1984 and Brave New World for the plot structure and character development, and missed the political commentary? You've heard of Jonathan Swift? I don't suppose you've read The Prince? I suppose today's fools in charge have zip to do with the fools who've been ridiculed by some of the best writers of the English language?
      You chastise me for jeopardizing the motion of a new movement, and, clearly you missed what happened in the Democratic Party over the last few decades as far as successes for us know no bodies! You missed what was accomplished by the union bosses who were more committed to being suck ups for photo ops than being committed to figuring out how to beat the liars and fools in charge! (hint - that 218 million/ 242 million of us in 2009 with money income under $75,000 a year were deliberately ripped off in income security by destruction of family wage jobs - jobs, which, by the way, buy health care security, retirement security, retraining security, and housing security.)
      How about this? IF you don't chastise me with blame for wrecking a movement, THEN I won't chastise you for being an out of touch naif who has enabled the deliberate thieves and fools!
      Maybe we can work together? I won't tell YOU how to speak or where to stand - and you don't tell me! IF you are going to ostracize and censor me, THEN why the hell should I help you?
      TTFN - I'm off to work against a Bill Gate's suck up in a primary out here in Seattle. What are you doing? Telling people how to hold their pinkies in the Salon so the dilettantes won't get the vapors?

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    Be hard on issues and soft on people.


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