Tuesday, December 27, 2011

More blaming the teachers

"The assumption that teachers are really doing their best for kids is being lost somewhere in there. ... I see these mysterious bad teachers everyone talks about as (teachers who are) overwhelmed, underfunded and unsupported," says high-school teacher Alaina Adams in an AP story on A1 today, echoing a point teachers have been making for decades as the "accountability" meme has infested public policy on education. The stark failure of the ironically named No Child Left Behind program should be an object lesson for us in moving away from result-oriented standard testing and back toward process-oriented teaching and valuing the profession.
    But the infusion of 25 million federal clams coming from the Race to the Top program will instead go to yet more testing and "accountability," and the unnamed Courier editor likes that just fine. From where I sit it's just more of the same going down the administrative-cost crapper. That the Obama administration set up the parameters for this is just disheartening.
   The editor adds another numbskull column by Tom Purcell on the same page that only reinforces the 19th-century ideals of education, adding a religious element. Perhaps the editor thinks of education in those terms, with religious leaders civilizing savages using equal parts propaganda and pain.
    Getting us back on the right track with education -- meaning most kids coming out of school prepared for good, productive lives in the 21st century -- will require that we stop looking at schools as factories that make standardized workers, managed with incentives and disincentives for the factory workers (teachers). If we truly believe that people are individually unique in their talents and potentials, we have to see teachers as research scientists who study their subjects and work with them to maximize those potentials. This can never be easy, cheap or standardized.
    The editor will sit back and watch to see whether the results of Arizona's worker-bee assembly line are any better in three years. I can guarantee they won't, not from this.

 Update, Thursday: In The Atlantic today: What Americans Keep Ignoring about Finland's School Success

Must read: Getting real about class

The new issue of Esquire carries an unsettling piece by Stephen Marche:

There are some truths so hard to face, so ugly and so at odds with how we imagine the world should be, that nobody can accept them. Here's one: It is obvious that a class system has arrived in America — a recent study of the thirty-four countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that only Italy and Great Britain have less social mobility. But nobody wants to admit: If your daddy was rich, you're gonna stay rich, and if your daddy was poor, you're gonna stay poor. Every instinct in the American gut, every institution, every national symbol, runs on the idea that anybody can make it; the only limits are your own limits. Which is an amazing idea, a gift to the world — just no longer true. Culturally, and in their daily lives, Americans continue to glide through a ghostly land of opportunity they can't bear to tell themselves isn't real. It's the most dangerous lie the country tells itself.
This sets out some important principles for how we should be thinking about ourselves as Americans and about how we are generally failing to address reality in our political calculus.

Worth your time: We Are Not All Created Equal