Monday, September 06, 2010

Deconstructing Education

On Democracy Now, Lois Weiner identifies the origin of standardized testing regimes such as No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. She traces one of the first such efforts to the Pinochet regime in Chile who instituted it under military rule. Obama's technique has been to exploit the ingrown greed of local government's to cut the throats of its children and taxpayers to get federal funding for standardized testing programs.

The teacher's unions have spent a decade playing along with this nonsense largely because they could stick their heads in the sand because although it adversely affected the students, it caused no ripples in the mass march toward retirement.

And even today, as can be heard in Karen Lewis's criticism of Arne Duncan, the teacher's representatives do little more than demonize-the-other with personal attacks on Duncan and claims that the data is "unscientific", that Duncan is unfit, and so on. These are shrill and empty arguments.

This leave the system alone (don't blame us) or change it badly (standardized testing/teacher performance) shouting match leaves everyone stuck with a dysfunctional duality of choices.

As a longtime critic of both NCLB and RTTT, I am forever disappointed in the response of teachers unions to the challenge of improving schools. The knee-jerk solution is inevitably "more money" with less evidence for the assertion than charter schools can provide for their arguments. And so the public and weary taxpayers are held hostage to this siren song knowing full well that the last increase in spending was no more effective in improving education than throwing money to the wind.

It seems to me that if teachers union representatives are going to argue for scientific evidence that the Obama/Bush policies are failing then they need to honor the scientific evidence that class size has little or nothing to do with student success in school past grade four.

To claim that Obama/Bush are attempting to de-professionalize teaching is true. But the argument needs to demonstrate some more veracity. A teaching profession content to perpetuate non-scientific myths that are comfortable for union purposes also expose the problem of actually teaching scientific method, ethics, good citizenship, and so on. If teachers can ignore fact then why not students, government officials, and special interests?

It is not enough to complain about de-profesionalization when the teachers unions prevent the possibility for re-professionalization. Teachers have for too long allowed union lawyers whose only interest is a larger paycheck to define what professionalism means.

Can it mean that industrial revolution ideas of unionization can give way to an enlightened set of working engagement? Can't teachers unions suggest better models than the Obama/Bush dross? If so, when will they present such arguments?

Teachers unions have yet to become part of a better solution. They have yet to arrive with better ideas. And this is largely because they have cultivated a siege mentality that fosters the idea that any change is a 'concession'. And a union that has long entitled its longest standing members special privileges and treatment is as unlikely to improve the profession as the Obama/Bush policies will.

Teachers unions need to reinvent themselves as agents of intelligent change based not on profitable myths about children and education practice but on innovative and meritorious alternative pedagogies.

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