Saturday, March 2, 2013

school reform is antilogic

In Philadelphia, the war on teachers continues. I don't see what the fuss is about. Access to drinking water is a luxury!

Like neoliberalism writ large, the school reform movement is a study in contradictions. As I've written before, the laughable hypocrisy at the heart of school reform is that the self-same movement that constantly calls for quantifiable assessment and accountability totally shirks the same. The empirical metrics for major reform efforts like charter schools, private school vouchers, and merit pay are terrible, in aggregate. If the concept of charter schools was a principal, Michelle Rhee would have fired it long ago. And when you point out the continued failure of these measures to produce statistically verifiable, reliable gains-- absent the rampant cheating that attended Rhee's "progress," I mean-- the no excuses crowd suddenly has a lot of excuses. Unionized public school teachers always need to get the ax now; for nonunion charter schools that perform no better (or even worse), there's nothing but time.

That contradictory logic extends to the nature of teacher compensation, as here. The antilogic of school reform, distilled: our current teachers are not talented, skilled, or hardworking enough, so let's making teaching an immensely less attractive job. Solid thinking, there. If it were true that our current teachers are bad at their jobs, there would still be precious little incentive for better candidates to want to take the job, particularly since the self-same reformers are working tirelessly to make the terms of employment worse. When you point this out to the arch-capitalists who believe that ECON 101 will save our schools, they wax ineffable about how "real teachers" do it for love of education, love of children, love of our society.... In other words, they use the logic of capitalism to justify everything but expect teachers to be economic romantics. To which the only reply is: fuck you. Do you do your job for the love of children? Would you spend the next 30 years of your life in bad working conditions, trying to solve intractable problems, because of some vague commitment to community, while the community has no similar commitment to you?

The typical reply is, well, I support higher salaries for teachers! Which is a promise that, as they know, they have no ability to deliver on. It's just a feint. Tenure and job security are tangible employment benefits that don't cost a lot of money; that's why they're prevalent. Saying "I would pay them more in exchange for making their benefits far worse" is not a responsible claim when you can only deliver on the latter.

And it isn't enough to get them into the job. You have to get them to stay. Teachers leave the profession in droves. Turns out that those Nice White Ladies who take it on themselves to heal the world get tired of it after a couple years in the machine. They're the manifestation of school reform thinking: empty promises, fake commitment, superficial caring, and cruel optimism.


Will Shetterly said...

Okay, I guess I'm becoming the loyal opposition here, 'cause while I laughed at the nice white lady skit back in the day and laughed again today, according to Teach for America, it's all about the bourgie boys and girls:

Note: Totally not an endorsement for Teach For America. Just being fair. They're all kinds of diverse in support of neoliberalism.

kris said...

Great post Freddie,

There are two other (as you have pointed out) illogical contradictions in this disastrous education reform movement.

1. Other countries' students are getting better test scores than ours. And the solution is to make our educational system less like those places. (And yes, we are empiricists who want to go with the solutions that are empirically proven to work!)

2. As a country we will get great things out of overall improved test scores, including more scientific innovation, more economic growth, and more social and economic equality. Of course, we have had better economic growth and more scientific innovation than countries with overall better scores for decades. And our lack of equality, the evidence suggests, is due to a lack of socialism. Yet we should always do what the empirical evidence suggests, which (I guess??) is not to institute more socialism to remove inequality and to leave our educational system as it has been.

3. Everyone needs a math, comp science, or chemical engineering undergraduate degree. That will solve everything, according to the evidence. Though there is no evidence to suggest that will help anything at all.

kris said...

I mean 3 other... hahaha.

In general, the reform movement is supposed to be empirical because they like tests. But we all agree that tests are great, if flawed empirical tools. It is not testing but all of the recommendations and analysis that the reform movement gets wrong: weaken unions, charters and privates work in general, teaching to the test improves education, a teacher can't be doing well unless adding "value" to test scores, etc., etc.

Brett said...

Good post.

1. Rhee and some of the other reformers actually did want to pay high-performing teachers more, and she pushed a merit pay system while she was still D.C. School Chancellor. More generally, they wanted to get away from seniority-based pay, which is a good idea (one of their few good ideas). God knows the system as is tends to screw new teachers for the first couple of years.

2. Agreed on the pay issues. One of the things I hate about the public debate on public sector union pensions is that the media rarely talks about why pensions are so high. It's because state and local officials love to drive the burden of actually paying for the quantity and quality of teachers they want to retain down the road, to their successors.

It makes me wish the unions had pushed for greater wages instead of accepting bigger pension deals back in the good years.

1. Other countries' students are getting better test scores than ours. And the solution is to make our educational system less like those places. (And yes, we are empiricists who want to go with the solutions that are empirically proven to work!)

This is overstated. Others have pointed out that test scores have been getting better for years, particularly among minority students.