Education is a hot button topic these days. Did you know that? Probably not. The general population isn’t terribly interested in education. It is important to a few sections of the public: teachers, students, parents, politicians. But the impacts of decisions made about education will affect the general population, and it will affect them in ways they don’t like, so now is the time to pay attention, and now is the time to read everything you can on the issue, and be thankful someone taught you somewhere along the way how to do just that because the general public is about to become inundated with campaign rhetoric that will muddle and confuse even the most gifted scholars in the areas of education reform.
Oh, the acronyms, the numbers, the tests, the curriculum, the textbooks, all of it, a perilous mountain of information to traverse and scan and analyze, and the politicians and corporate reformers will have the general public so confused as to what will do what to whom that at the end of the day no one will know what they are voting for when the time comes. (http://www.scribd.com/doc/154515264/Common-Core-letter-to-DPI) In addition to countless politicians at the state and federal levels, here are some major players in the corporate reform of education game:
Michelle Rhee: Despite allegations of cheating scandals and jokes about taping children’s mouths shut, she is the leader in the corporate reform movement. Here is a link to her website: http://www.studentsfirst.org/pages/about-michelle-rhee, and here is a link to a website that has some other opinions about her http://www.newrepublic.com/article/113204/michelle-rhee-tennessee-studentsfirst-floods-school-races#. You decide.
Bill Gates: While Gates is known for his philanthropy, many think his intentions are good and he is simply misinformed. This man is unquestionably a genius. At this point in the game, I would say part of him that is misinformed would be his choice. http://whatiscommoncore.wordpress.com/2013/03/28/top-ten-scariest-people-in-education-reform-5-bill-gates/ Though there is a current claim that he may be reconsidering his commitment to these reforms: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-thompson/post_5002_b_3468341.html?utm_hp_ref=tw.
Teach for America: This is an organization that sends people who have received 5 weeks of training into classrooms to educate children. These people will rotate in and out of classrooms like temps. Chicago just laid off thousands of teachers and is employing hundreds of TFA corps to teach in schools through a rather costly contract with TFA, but Chicago is not alone. http://www.teachforamerica.org/ (Not sure how they are still maintaining a .org since they are making a sizable profit.) https://seattleducation2010.wordpress.com/teach-for-america/
Common Core: This is the pre-packaged; one size fits all, curriculum that is the product corporations are selling to politicians as “education.” Common Core comes with all types of strings attached, and well, is simply not good for education. http://www.corestandards.org/ This package reminds me a lot of pharmaceutical companies. You can get this problem sorted out…but at the end of the commercial when most people stopped paying attention is a long list of side effects often worse than the original problem. And just like medication has become a for profit business in this country, education is apparently the next in line. But imagine if everyone had to take the same pill because only one was available…(http://www.kappanmagazine.org/content/94/6/42.full)
Here is what is happening right now. Teachers, who have been silenced, are saying “No more.” There are groups banding together and rising up and fighting to save education for their students and for themselves. Recently, a group began on facebook grew quickly. Despite some rocky growing pains, the Badass Teachers Association, or BATs (https://www.facebook.com/groups/BadAssTeachers/), is finding its unity and purpose, and forming an alliance to create a grassroots movement to stop the corporate take over of education and prohibit politicians from using education as a political pawn. The BATs have also developed a webpage to take their fight outside of facebook and begin an active movement: http://www.badassteacher.org/. While the name is initially uncomfortable to many educators, they don’t like curse words, the truth is teachers are angry, and this name is reflective of the outrage. So why are teachers angry?
- 1. Teachers have been demonized. The failure of education has been blamed on teachers. Teachers are truly dedicated to education despite the myths and urban legends. While I have seen “bad” teachers, and the media likes the stories of the “fallen” teachers, the majority of teachers truly are committed to the success of their students. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/07/13/how-many-nightmare-teachers-are-really-out-there/) The failure of education lies in the attack on education and the broken system. Teachers have been silenced and given no place to speak out, and therefore, they have become the easy scapegoat for the failures.
- 2. The profession of teaching is treated like a hobby. To get a degree and become a teacher takes just as much time as other degrees. If you choose to get a certificate after some other line of work, you still must have a degree and attend training in order to do so. To be a teacher, you must have a degree and training, and you must pass a series of tests. Additionally, the teacher day is not a free day. Teachers work all day, are not able to talk on the phone, can only go to the restroom when no students are in the room, have 25 minutes to eat lunch, lesson plan, grade, research, and study around the clock during the school year. Often teachers also have additional duties such as sponsoring and coaching other activities which require additional time in the evenings and on weekends. Then these “summers off” are not truly off when teachers are attending continuing education, seminars, camps, conferences, and many working second jobs. The pensions and insurance of teachers are under attack (something that would be unheard of for other degreed professionals), and a monthly net salary for many new teachers of $1,700.00 thanks to cuts, pay freezes, and rising costs of insurance. Also, many districts have adopted a one year only contract policy throwing all job security out the window. (http://wisecareers.com/articles/education/education-career-tips/4-family-advantages-career-k-12-education) On top of this, the majority of the supplies needed to teach a lesson, many teachers buy themselves. Now, I will give to you that teaching is a community service, a sacrifice, and a commitment, but a hobby, it is not.
- 3. Teachers have no rights and are not protected. With the dissolution of unions, and the inability to speak up within districts, and no one even inviting teachers to the table to discuss education, teachers have become disposable. It is a strange paradox that the very people experienced and educated about what is best for students would be the people silenced in this controversy. Many teachers have found when they stand up to the system, they are let go. Many have found when they fight for their students, they are labeled as difficult or trouble makers, but a major characteristic of the job of an educator is to be a student advocate. Teachers have been failed by society, by unions, and by administrative agencies at local, state, and federal levels. Their pay has been cut to near poverty level, their benefits have been slashed. (http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/education/story/2012-01-25/teacher-tenure-rights-firings/52772354/1) The ridiculous testing requirements and failure to instill any sense of accountability for administrators or students have left teachers holding the bag time and time again. Teachers are the only ones saying the system is broken, and when the system doesn’t work, these are the people being blamed for its failure.
- 4. Teachers are watching education disappear. Education is not disposable to a teacher. If you ask a teacher, this is not a job, it is quite often their passion and their lives. Why else would anyone face this for so little day after day? These men and women teach because they are committed to sharing knowledge, to nurturing the youth in their communities, to empowering youth to understand their world and think critically and creatively in addition to teaching them the basic core subjects required to graduate. If you ask a teacher, he or she will say: “I want MY kids to be prepared for the world. I want them to be excited about learning. I want them to be successful long after they leave my room.” Teachers are invested in these children out of love and dedication-not for profit. (http://whatiscommoncore.wordpress.com/tag/teachers-against-common-core/)And here is the formula for evaluating whether they do their jobs effectively: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2743034/. Where does the commitment, passion, and connection fit into this equation?
- 5. Teachers are trying to save education for their students, but no one is listening. Teachers are desperate to see education be what it can be. A place where students can be inspired to learn. A place where teachers have the respect and autonomy they deserve as educated and trained professionals to analyze class dynamics and make decisions that will best impact their students. They are begging for a place at the conference table, and it is time that the politicians and corporate reformers no longer bar the door. (http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/john_wilson_unleashed/2013/02/you_better_start_listening_to_teachers.html)
So the GOP is currently trying to pass the Student Success Act which would overhaul NCLB (No Child Left Behind) which everyone essentially agrees fails on many levels. And on its face, the bill looks better than NCLB, but then, anything really is better than NCLB at this point. And this isn’t a one-sided party problem. Neither side of the political fence is in a position to redefine education. Politicians and corporations do not belong in education. (http://edworkforce.house.gov/uploadedfiles/the_student_success_act_summary.pdf) But what this act does is still give the states power over education, so government is still involved. States will dictate curriculum and testing. This does nothing to prohibit the corporate testing monster and the incongruity in curriculum, funding for inequity in a public system, and other disparities would result. The problem is not in government overseeing education. The problem is in government dictating education. When education becomes political capital, everyone loses. And because education is also becoming a packaged product tied to politics, the losses will be immeasurable. (http://www.citypaper.net/cover_story/Erase_to_the_Top.html?viewAll=y)
But discussing acronyms, and studies, and projections are not going to get us anywhere because all of that is political fodder and conjecture. The truth is in the real world application and result. What is missing for students, teachers at all levels, and employers? What needs to be provided to create successful and vital citizens? What is needed to create and inspire vital and productive communities? That is education. And that is what the corporations and politicians cannot provide.
I asked people who have been given no voice. I asked students. I asked community members. I asked employers. I asked teachers, professors, parents. What do you think education should look like? I didn’t get much feedback from educators that were willing to be quoted directly and some said they didn’t know what they could provide that would be useful. I am sad to say I am not surprised by these responses, and it is my belief there is good reason for them. Nevertheless, students, parents, and community members were quick to respond and many quite passionately. I notice a very important common thread. Well, politicians, this is what your constituents say. Corporate reformers, this is the product your consumers would buy. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/07/22/what-parents-really-think-about-school-reform/) But public education should never be for sale.
A student in a small town school said: “Teachers should be able to treat high school students like the young adults we are. . . . We don’t know how to cope with authority and the real world . . . If we do something irresponsible, punish us. A cop won’t take the hand-cuffs off and smile, while moving the “clip” to yellow. All in all, high school teachers ultimately baby us. This “babying” will get us nowhere in collage [sic] or life. A professor won’t give us one more week, a job won’t care if we where [sic] tired the night before, and a judge won’t care, even if we swear up and down, that it was accident.”
I take this to mean that she appreciates boundaries and wants to see those boundaries in place across the board for her peers. All too often educators are faced with issues in classrooms because they lack support from community members and administrators. Many states have made big pushes to minimize punishments and maximize graduation numbers and these impact ratings given to schools. This has had some negative impacts on schools in the sense that students have much more authority and entitlement putting more obligation and responsibility on the teachers for the students’ often unethical behaviors. Teachers are asked to ignore unacceptable behaviors and are encouraged to change grades. These requests are not only compromising to educators, but fundamentally unfair to the other students.
A community member and business owner who works with many kids said: “As I see it, one of the greatest challenges all educators are currently facing are three-fold. First, there is a great lack of parent involvement and a huge feeling of indifference from parents to the needs of their children. Parents seem to lack the fortitude needed to direct their children in the proper direction and give them a sense of purpose and importance of school, commitment and learning in general. When teachers have a classroom full of students whose parents do not support education and do not imprint on their children the importance of education and being a life-long learner it almost insures lesser success in the classroom regardless of the proficiency of the teacher. The second problem educators face is that their hands are virtually tied when trying to involve students in the learning process. A lot of schools now care more about teaching them to pass a standardize test rather than engaging students in the classroom and teaching them to love to learn. When a young person learns to love learning success in the classroom AND on standardized tests would be achieved and they would be interested in being in school and continuing their education in college and after. Thirdly, there is a decided lack of self-control that seems to have permeated this generation of students. At least half the students that come through my door have little to no self-control in the area of speaking. It seems to go back to the parents’ lack of involvement and lack of home disciplinary action. It makes me wonder who is running a lot of today’s households, the parents or the children? I have never seen so many parents who allow their 6-13 year old to make decisions that should be made by parents.”
There has been a big divide in recent years between parents and teachers, and it is unfortunate. Many of the people who work with children are parents themselves, and so they are not unaware of your position as a parent. While admittedly, there are problem teachers, I have not met many who do not want their students to succeed. One step toward healing in education would be for dialogue to reopen between parents and teachers and an understanding that both are interested in student success would go a long way in decreasing that divide. Student apathy plays a big role in student failure, and parent apathy plays a big role in student disruption. Teacher apathy will worsen both of these. Creating connections and getting involved is a major part of success, and while it won’t work every time, it will work much of the time.
A recruiter at an employment agency that screens applicants had this to say: “I wish I could tell them…maybe even yell at them, ‘YOU ONLY GET ONE FIRST MPRESSION!’. Even our administrative candidates (some even hold college degrees) arrive in booty shorts, rubber flip flops and ripped Miss Me jeans. I ask them if they have business attire, since it is required for the job, and I am told ‘yes, of course.’ So, the question in my mind is…do you only care about making a good impression when you think it counts. . . I tend to have to coax an employer, more often than not, to look past the exterior.
“The next area that I see, that has me cringe inside, is grammar. I do not expect every forklift driver to be well-versed in business writing or ask anyone to recite rules from the Gregg Manual. I only ask for capitalization of proper nouns and the start of sentences. Many of the resumes are written in first person, so they might as well start with ‘Once upon a time…’ I can even overlook and adjust formatting but please add dates of employment…please.”
I wonder where the idea that you can go to a potential employer dressed for the beach would come from? I also wonder how anyone would forget such simple rules as capitalization and punctuation that are taught and reinforced every single year of high school. What does this say about education? Does it mean teachers aren’t teaching? Are students failing in these areas on the tests? I doubt it. These are simple skills that students know how to use, and they use them when they think it is important.
As a parent, she had this rather poetic analogy to share: “I really have hope in our youth and know that most of this MUST start at home. My personal view of the development of a child is like a flower. The parents are the gardeners. They plan the seed, water and feed, and ensure there is adequate sunshine and protection from the elements. The teachers are the landscapers. They take the plant, once it has grown and is ready for pruning, and shape it into something that will bring delight to others. Unfortunately, more often than not, teachers are given a brittle, brown stem and are expected to make it flourish and grow along with the other flowers in the garden.”
So what is that this parent is seeking in education? It certainly isn’t a measurable foundation.
The common thread I noticed in the responses I received was that none of the responses address curriculum or wanting children to score higher on tests. Consistently, each of these responses addresses issues of social concern. Apparently, it is understood that schools provide curriculum, and one might even venture a guess that the community trusts that educated professionals are providing that curriculum. These responses indicate that what is being sought in education addresses the student as a human being-something neither quantifiable nor testable in the sense that you could fill in a bubble.
Teachers will tell you that the connections, the lessons in humanity, the society of education as a whole are a major component that drives educators in the passions of their profession. This aspect of education is the fuel that inspires students, initiates progress, and builds lasting connections and relationships. And this is what is being lost in the corporate reform of education. This product creates an industrial one for all scripted education that fits with the tests. It is tailor made from beginning to end. It robs students and teachers of time and creativity. Teachers will be held accountable for how well each individual student was able to conform to the product.
This product is expensive. This product, and the people who back it, believe so strongly that the product is success itself (if I taught my child that the alphabet was backwards, and then tested him based on that premise-he would be successful) that teachers are being deemed obsolete. The Teach for America campaign, which began with promise to fill a need in areas where there were teacher shortages, has aligned in this misguided take over and its corps are replacing dedicated professionals. The reasons for this while detrimental to education, make good business sense: (1) their corps receive 5 weeks of training making them cheap to employee, and because they don’t stay assigned anywhere, they are cost-effective in that they rotate and are able to work relatively as substitutes without long-term assignments; (2) contracting with TFA is like using a sub-contractor eliminating the need to worry about benefits such as insurance, retirement, etc.; and (3) the hiring and firing process is eliminated because the “teachers” are transferable, and there are no messy individual contracts to mess with. But education is not and should not be a business. What happens when children do not have access to education?
So, yes, teachers are mad, and there is at least one group that as amassed over 23,000 members to prove it. It appears that at least some communities are not as interested in packaged curriculum as the politicians and corporate reformers wish to believe. People want education to prepare students to be productive citizens that are well-rounded and aware. Teachers want to be recognized as educated and trained professionals with a voice in this debate. Employers want prospective employees who are aware of the social requirements and necessary understanding of social cues and contexts. Communities want youth that are driven and self-aware understanding boundaries and authority.
Strikingly, these are all things that the infrastructure of an educational institution provides through courses, activities, relationships, connections, and events outside of the common core-things that will be cut to pay for the product, things that aren’t tested, things that aren’t rewarded by the politicians or corporate reforms. But things that you will miss very much when you notice in your communities and in your neighborhoods that they are gone.