ChrisWeigant.com

Guest Column (And Cartoon!): Teach Your Children? Well...

[ Posted Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012 – 18:00 PDT ]

[Program Note: We are turning over the column today to guest author Joshua L. Eisenstein, Ph.D., whom some of you may recognize from the previous two columns he's written in this space. Originally, he submitted the cartoon below (done in collaboration with cartoonist Sushila Oliphant), and we asked him to expand the theme, for those unfamiliar with the subject matter. The following column was the result.]

-- Chris Weigant

 

ObamaTeacher

 

What Next?

At times it feels to rank-and-file teachers like the wealth and power of the entire nation is aligned against them. For me personally, May 7, 2012 was one of those times.

For those who don't know why, a bit of history: Almost a decade ago, to honor the increasing contribution of charter schools to American education during his first term, President George W. Bush began the concept of National Charter Schools Week. In 2003 this was held one week prior to National Teacher Appreciation Week. President Obama took the trend one step further this year, declaring a week for charter schools on the same week that has traditionally been devoted to teachers -- ALL teachers.

To anyone who has taught public school in the U.S. during the past ten years, this development does not come as a surprise. As observed by Jeffrey Henig of Columbia University, there seems to be an ongoing trend toward both the centralization and privatization of public schools. Educational decisions once made by local school districts and their principals and teachers are being shifted toward bigger government and private interests. Of these two bureaucracies, neither has proven to be particularly effective and neither is responsive to local voters or communities.

One vehicle for this shift of power has been the Bush-era commitment that all states should assess all students annually, following uniform national standards. This is done using privately developed standardized achievement tests, which are expensive, time-consuming, uninspiring and provide diminishing utility when used more than once in a long while. Perhaps ironically, the conservative Heritage Network seems to be waking up to this fact.

The other prominent means to wrest educational decisions from local and professional control has been the charter school. Of the approximately 98,000 publicly funded schools listed by the National Center for Education Statistics, about 5,600 (5.7%) are charter schools. Although funded by taxpayers, charters are often run by corporations and are exempt from most of the rules that govern the operation of public schools.

In spite of their ability to control both student enrollment and parent participation in ways that public schools cannot, only 17% of charters do a better job than comparable public schools, while 37% do worse.

One additional advantage that charters have in the education market is the enthusiastic support of the finance industry and the media, which are also corporate-run enterprises. Public relations and advertising firms associated with wealthy interests regularly produce slick campaigns to build up the image of their preferred charter schools. Media outlets such as MSNBC's Education Nation and CNN's Fareed Zakaria regularly herald the virtues of a few exceptional charters. This can create a popular image that is frequently very different from the reality.

Public education, on the other hand, is portrayed as antiquated and inefficient. Public school teachers are shown cheating, bullying, and failing the nation's students. Teachers have tried to defend themselves, but often simply don't have the resources to be heard.

After the bang-up job that Wall Street has done for us recently in banking and real estate, it might seem rational not to grant them the added responsibility of educating the nation's children. However, the general public still hasn't seemed able to make this connection.

In response to criticisms of standardized testing, Education Secretary Arne Duncan initiated a program this past February with the acronym RESPECT, ostensibly to improve the training and assessment of teaching practices. To him, the fault of evaluating teachers through standardized testing was not that it is invalid but that it is insufficient.

More recently, Duncan suggested as part of the program that teachers themselves should be asked how to improve their profession. However, this program consists of a series of "competitive grants," exactly like the president's earlier "Race to the Top" program, which is deeply unpopular among educators. These grants are essentially short-term financial incentives for states to do what the federal government tells them to do.

RESPECT grants will pay states to institute new "teacher evaluation" models (one such model is already being developed by Pearson Education), and would drain even more of states' already scarce education funds away from students and classrooms. Student teaching candidates at the University of Massachusetts thought little enough of Pearson's system that 67 out of 68 refused to participate in the pilot.

Duncan says that teachers should be respected and listened to. However, the administration's words and actions persistently and repeatedly seem to indicate that it is neither respecting teachers nor listening to their concerns. Many public school teachers to whom I have spoken feel demoralized. The media portray the nation's public schools and teachers as "failing," and promote charter schools as an alternative "choice." Administration policies explicitly require states to increase the number of charters, and therefore divert a larger portion of the states' education funding away from public schools.

This latest presidential proclamation that National Teacher Appreciation Week is now "National Charter Schools Week" is disheartening. It is quickly recognized by many public educators as one more in an endless stream of insults to their efforts. With shrinking funds, negative publicity, no respect, no voice and now not even one week of the year, we're left to wonder, what's next?

-- Joshua Lynn Eisenstein, Ph.D.

 

23 Comments on “Guest Column (And Cartoon!): Teach Your Children? Well...”

  1. [1] 
    Maica1111 wrote:

    Could not have said it better! Dr. E..... Thank you for understanding and stating what I feel. I am honored to call you my friend!

  2. [2] 
    Michale wrote:

    Awesome commentary, Joshua! :D I even understood it!! :D

    Lemme ask you something.

    If you were president, what would you do??

    And, as a followup, what's stopping Obama from doing that??

    Finally, would it be accurate to characterize this issue as your "red line"??

    Enquiring minds want to know.. :D

    Michale.....

  3. [3] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    michale,

    education is the source of a great deal of tax money for wall street to tap into, so there's a lot of campaign money in corporate reform. as long as the president says enough of the right words to union leaders to keep them pacified, it's not as if they're going to suddenly start donating to the republicans. so, he's drinking at the fountain from both sides.

    if i were president, the first few things i would do is scrap race to the top, grant states and districts unconditional waivers from all NCLB standardized testing requirements, fire arne duncan and replace him with a real educator. then maybe i could try and craft some policy to deal with the fact that a huge amount of education funding never reaches the classroom.

  4. [4] 
    akadjian wrote:

    Very frustrating, nypoet ... Everyone I know in public education would echo your sentiments. While the charter school industry has shiny public relations firm and Washington lobbyists, public schools have none and are the whipping boy.

    I'm not sure what frustrates me the most, the fact that schools are caught up in the wave of anti-government hype or the fact that educators are not involved in the decision.

    Excellent article!
    -David

  5. [5] 
    Professor Ebsworth wrote:

    As a teacher educator I applaud your article. Using humor and facts, you have put your finger on the dichotomy between the way current educational policy is gift-wrapped for the public and what's really happening to children and teachers. Scarce resources are indeed being shifted from where they can actually help to corporate (charters + testing + writing standards) domains. Middle class children currently do well in our schools; the major problem is poverty. This means that impoverishing our schools is only going to make things for poor children even worse and children currently succeeding may not continue to do so.
    Bravo!

  6. [6] 
    akadjian wrote:

    nypoet-
    From my cousin in NY after reading your article on my FB page ...

    So that brings us to the question "What can WE do?" Have to toot our own PTA horn a little bit here. For teacher appreciation week we sent home envelopes with 3 index cards and a little note with each child (320 students) The note explained that after a very unscientific poll, teachers have said the most precious "gifts" they've ever received were sincere thank yous from student/families. Knowing how busy everyone is, we provided the index cards and said if they can think of anyone else in the school - teacher or staff - who has had a positive impact on their child's life, maybe they can send back a little note for them as well. So all the envelopes come back with aboue 1000 little thank you's flooding the school - priceless! The best part is the teachers were overwhelmed, the kids felt so good about themselves for creating such an impact, and the cost to us was under $50. Sometimes the simplest things are the most profound.

    - Jennifer

    Damn ... I feel proud just to be related!

  7. [7] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    thanks so much david, and also to jennifer. i will discuss that idea with the PTSA.

  8. [8] 
    Michale wrote:

    Rut Roh...

    ROMNEY DECLARES WAR ON TEACHERS UNIONS...
    http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/may/23/romney-backs-vouchers-expanded-school-choice/

    In the interests of Forum amity, I am not going to comment. :D

    Michale...

  9. [9] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    ROMNEY DECLARES WAR ON TEACHERS UNIONS...

    this just in: pope declares war on atheism, calls jesuits "too beholden to science"

  10. [10] 
    Michale wrote:

    this just in: pope declares war on atheism, calls jesuits "too beholden to science"

    Yea, I admit the headline is pretty ridiculous..

    Much like the GOP's "war on women"...

    :D

    Michale.....

  11. [11] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    Yea, I admit the headline is pretty ridiculous...

    it isn't ridiculous, it's obvious.

    romney is the poster-child for corporate management; of course he doesn't want union contracts in the way of profits. obama also wants to convert the heathen education system into corporate dollars, he just prefers to do so using their own methods.

    ~joshua

  12. [12] 
    Michale wrote:

    Well, you know how I feel about Unions..

    They came into existence to better serve the people.

    Now, by and large, they only exist to serve themselves. One only has to recall the Wisconsin debacle to know this is true..

    During my day, I was amazed at Union meetings. 80% of the time was devoted to the Union itself. 18% was devoted to Union leadership.. The remaining 2% was divided up between Union members, snacks and bathroom breaks..

    I imagine that things haven't changed that much..

    Michale.....

  13. [13] 
    Michale wrote:

    Regardless of our disagreement on the value of Unions, I whole-heartedly agree with and support your platform that teachers do need more recognition and more support from this, or ANY, administration.

    Michale....

  14. [14] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    Regardless of our disagreement on the value of Unions, I whole-heartedly agree with and support your platform that teachers do need more recognition and more support from this, or ANY, administration.

    thank you for that. my point on the matter is that union or non-union does NOT determine the quality of education a school provides. being unionized at the very least has not prevented the achievement of nine of the top ten states in the country in education. this doesn't prove that unions always equal better education, but it casts doubt on the possibility of them as a particularly large impediment.

    since many teachers are supportive of their unions, an attack on the EXISTENCE of a union IS an attack on the teachers. Unless you're advocating for a better, less political and more professional union that focuses mostly on things like class size and working conditions, which tend to benefit students and teachers alike. If you go THAT route, i'm with you 110%.

    but the narrow focus on breaking unions is throwing some great teachers under the bus, and making teaching less and less appealing for anyone to want to do. teachers new and old need to be in an environment where they're well-supported, and need be judged by people who actually understand education (peers and principals), not standardized tests or statistical formulae which are far too narrow to adequately measure educator practices.

    ~joshua

  15. [15] 
    Michale wrote:

    My problem with Unions in general is that they have evolved into an entity that takes care of itself first and foremost. They have forgotten their original intent..

    Now, an argument can be made that the Union must serve itself first so as to survive to serve it's members.

    That's a circular argument, devoid of any moral authority.

    "You ask me if I should not preserve myself so I can carry out my responsibilities.

    Then I ask you, what are my responsibilities?

    By the criteria you have named, my responsibilities are to preserve myself so I can carry out my responsibilities! This is a circular and self-justifying argument. It is immoral in the extreme!

    A just society—and if I am not mistaken, the Federation considers itself to be just—employs a military for one reason alone: to protect its civilians. If we decide to judge that some civilians are ‘worth’ protecting, and some are not, if we decide we are too important to be risked, then we destroy our own purpose. We cease to be the servants of our society.

    We become its tyrants!"
    -Cadet Saavik, STAR TREK II, The Wrath Of Khan

    What exactly is the, ultimately, goal of a teachers Union??

    To serve itself, the teachers or the students?

    Unless you're advocating for a better, less political and more professional union that focuses mostly on things like class size and working conditions, which tend to benefit students and teachers alike. If you go THAT route, i'm with you 110%.

    That's EXACTLY what I am advocating..

    The Union should be advocating positions that allow teachers to be GOOD at what they do. Not positions that make the Union profitable and the teachers happy...

    But the Unions do much too much of the latter and very little of the former. No where was this more evident during the Wisconsin debacle. In that, the survival of the Union was paramount, the benefits of the teachers second and the needs of the students a very VERY distant third...

    That's wrong. No matter how it's sliced, no matter how it's spun, it's wrong..

    Michale.....

  16. [16] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    michale,

    dang, i fell into the "insufficient" trap too. standardized tests and statistical formulae aren't just inadequate for measuring teacher practices, they're counterproductive. because they're so narrow in scope, their use to measure teachers is extremely unlikely to be accurate, and is a direct incentive to create poor teaching practices.

    also, you'll note i didn't disagree with you about union leadership. some are better than others, but exactly like you wrote, there's a HUGE divide between the interests of the heads of the union and its rank and file members. i think we need to preserve the FUNCTIONS of unions such as collective bargaining and enforcing due process. but one particular leadership framework shouldn't have the monopoly on serving those functions. they need to do their job right or get replaced by someone else who will.

  17. [17] 
    Michale wrote:

    I can't disagree with anything you said ^^^ right there...

    Unions have served a useful purpose in the past and they CAN serve a useful purpose again in the future.

    But, for MANY Unions, they have become indistinguishable from the Corporate interests they were designed to fight.

    Unions need to take a good hard and objective look at themselves and ask, "Are we part of the solution?? Or are we part of the problem."

    There are good Unions out there, to be sure. Just as there are good Corporations out there..

    But this country needs a LOT more of the good ones and a LOT less of the bad ones.

    This applies to both Unions *AND* Corporations...

    "Good talk..."
    -Dr Rodney McKay, STARGATE ATLANTIS, McKay And Mrs. Miller

    :D

    Michale.....

  18. [18] 
    Michale wrote:

    As far as the "standardized test" issue, I bow to your expertise in that matter.

    That seems to be the prevailing attitude amongst the troops on the ground...

    Michale....

  19. [19] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    This applies to both Unions *AND* Corporations...

    if i may stray a bit from the initial topic, the other thing that really needs to apply to both unions and corporations is a blanket ban on political spending. regardless of what the supreme court says, a group of people (with a collective agenda that may differ from the private agendas of its component individuals) SHOULD NOT be allowed the same political rights as a flesh and bone human being.

  20. [20] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    As far as the "standardized test" issue, I bow to your expertise in that matter.

    no need to bow too much, it's not too hard to understand. for the reasons why standardized test scores are bad at evaluating the quality of a school, the link i provided actually has an outstanding three-part explanation. it also contains a superb analogy: trying to gauge school quality using standardized achievement tests is like trying to measure temperature with a tablespoon.

    http://tinyurl.com/bmcj9jq

  21. [21] 
    Michale wrote:

    if i may stray a bit from the initial topic, the other thing that really needs to apply to both unions and corporations is a blanket ban on political spending. regardless of what the supreme court says, a group of people (with a collective agenda that may differ from the private agendas of its component individuals) SHOULD NOT be allowed the same political rights as a flesh and bone human being.

    I am on record as saying that any restriction applied to corporations should equally be applied to unions..

    Your suggestion does just that and, therefore, I would have absolutely NO problem with it..

    Hell, do away with lobbyists all together.. Institute a Federal Fund that gives each candidate X dollars and they are not to receive a penny more from ANYONE...

    Yea, I know.. I know... Pipe dream....

    Michale

  22. [22] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    I am on record as saying that any restriction applied to corporations should equally be applied to unions..

    the interesting thing is that a few years ago i would have disagreed. i would have said that it's not the same thing, because corporations advocate only for their bottom line, while unions exist for the purpose of advocating on behalf of their members. what i've come to realize by living among the cuban right is that lefty leanings muddy the purpose of unions.

    although i do agree with many lefty positions, putting union money to work on behalf of democrats has compromised the economic purposes of those unions. while corporate management have bought politicians on both the left and the right, unions remain married to only one side, putting their membership and their collective mission at a major political disadvantage. essentially they've backed themselves into a corner. democrats can take both union and corporate money, and don't have to do much of anything for union members, because the unions don't have other options. if dems don't do what management wants, they have other places to put their money.

    in a perfect world neither unions nor corporations would be allowed to influence politics. since that seems unlikely to ever occur, unions need to adapt. if their democratic allies betray them, they should start moving their money to the GOP. they may be corrupt to the bone, but at least those folks deliver for their benefactors.

  23. [23] 
    Michale wrote:

    That's what I like about you, Joshua..

    When push comes to shove, pragmatism takes precedence over ideology...

    While that's true of everyone here, to a certain extent, it's especially noticeable with you.

    "The Force is strong with this one."
    -Darth Vader, STAR WARS IV, A New Hope

    :D

    if their democratic allies betray them, they should start moving their money to the GOP. they may be corrupt to the bone, but at least those folks deliver for their benefactors.

    Sounds like something I would say.. :D

    Michale.....

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