Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Testing, Accountability, and Teachers

It seems so obvious to me -  high-stakes testing and 'accountability' are not the way to improve education. (High-stakes testing currently takes up over a quarter of the time in some schools.) Neither is firing all the teachers. But President Obama apparently approves of all that. His Race to the Top requires merit pay, even though we all know that teachers' primary motivation is not money. (In Florida, lawmakers passed a bill requiring that teacher pay be based on test scores, the people stood up and said no, and the governor vetoed it.) I want to believe that President Obama cares about the children in this country, but he is continuing and expanding Bush's destructive policies. Why?

Lois Weiner gave a speech recently that helped me understand, and chilled me. Lois' response to Diane Ravitch at a panel at NYU spells out details Diane has left out of her popular new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System. Doug Noon, at his Borderlands blog, transcribed her talk. Here are the parts that struck me most:
... if we are going to defend public education, we need to have a very different analysis. And so the analysis that I’m going to offer tonight, I think, takes two sets of blinders off – that we have to take off. The first set of blinders separates educational reform from what’s going on in the economy. The other set of blinders says that we can look at education in this country separately from what goes on in the rest of the world. Because what I’m going to lay out tonight for you is a perspective that says NCLB, all these policies that Diane just described, are neoliberalism coming home.
I want to unpack for you this neoliberal ideology. And if you really want to understand it, you ... have to go to the way that the World Bank talks about it. Because in the World Bank documents, they present it in it’s unvarnished form. So I’m gonna quote for you from something called... The World Development Report 2002. And, of course they don’t use this exact language, but this is the analysis: The market is the best regulator of all services, and the state, the welfare state causes problems by intruding on free choice. Next, the global economy requires that workers from every country compete with others for jobs. And since most people will be competing with workers in other countries for jobs requiring little formal education, money spent on a highly educated workforce is wasted.  In other words, most jobs are in Walmarts. ...we’re all going to be competing for these jobs that require a seventh or eighth grade education.
And think about this, because we don’t need a highly educated workforce, we don’t need highly educated teachers. Therefore, we can have a teaching force that’s a revolving door. Teachers will use standardized scripts.

You can read the rest at Borderlands, or you can read what she says at her blog, where I was struck by this:
Education is the last service that is still mostly public – and unionized. Teacher unions are the most stable, potentially powerful foe of the neoliberal project and are therefore frequently and viciously attacked as impeding school improvement.
She's also helped edit a book on these issues. I'd rather be thinking about how to teach math, but if we're working in the schools, we should know who's pulling the strings.

1 comment:

  1. And think about this, because we don’t need a highly educated workforce, we don’t need highly educated teachers. Therefore, we can have a teaching force that’s a revolving door. Teachers will use standardized scripts.

    to wit: essentially that of alec balwin
    in (the film of) _glengarry_glen_ross_:
    "my watch cost more
    than your car; that's
    who *i* am..."
    (so shut up and listen
    to the same stuff you've
    heard before a million times
    and pretend to respect it
    for the same reasons
    you did then you peon;
    CYA shall be the whole
    of the law).

    "faculty development day"
    at bigstate community college
    is tomorrow but they done
    developed my sorry self
    right *outta* there so
    of course i'll miss it.

    we (adjuncts) were never
    required to attend but
    i went anyhow sometimes...
    and not only to watch
    the regulars get tortured
    (one time the keynote was
    an outright salespitch [straight
    from the company that had
    sold it already to some
    revolving-door administrator] for
    this beastly software already
    smelling of disaster in its
    early rolling-out stages
    all over campus) or
    torture each other (the
    social "science" wing
    in particular appears
    to have been occupied
    by the business equivalent
    of a mind-control cult
    with all their getting-to-
    -know-you psychodramas)...
    or even just for the free lunch
    (though one *would* tend
    to sort of skip the post-lunch
    "breakout sessions" like the
    sharpest of the pros would do
    and instead go back to the office
    to get some *real* work done);
    no. i was a *union organizer*
    and there are few better places
    to find disgruntled workers
    than the fringes of a mandatory
    meeting for management messages.

    that the stars of these shows
    should pass as model teachers
    is cosmic joke (if you're not
    a teacher).

    thanks for spotting lois weiner
    (and doug noon!) here; good post.


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