A few weeks ago, I ran across Educators for Excellence (@Ed4Excellence) and their online campaign to give teachers “an independent voice in the debate surrounding education reform.” This morning I read “Klein Meets With Hired Thugs” on NYC Educator. NYC Educator takes on Educators for Excellence over their funding:
[A Gotham Schools article’s] “clarification” explained while this faux-grassroots group was called “entirely unfunded,” its website was actually paid for by Education Reform Now, the same front group that funded the faux-grassroots commercials urging people not to listen to the teachers’ union.
Here is the Education Reform Now website.
I went back to the Educators for Excellence website and followed the the “Media Mezcla Campaign Engine” link at the bottom right of the page. I took a look at Media Mezcla’s education clients. They are solidly in what Alfie Kohn characterizes as the “enemy of good teaching” #edreform camp.
Regarding the client list:
I support parent-education and parent-choice like those advocated by Harlem Parents United, though not as much as I support student-education and student-choice re: schooling.
I am a democrat – although I feel like I’m so far left there’s not a kind word to describe me. So, while I generally support democratic initiatives, I decry the “bold and revolutionary leadership” called for by Democrats for Education Reform as typified by the more-of-the-same-testing-and-punishment RTTT initiative advertised on their website.
I am not an urban educator, though I have worked with students from all kinds of privileged and disadvantaged backgrounds. I recognize the appeal of #edreform that promises to keep traditionally underserved students safe in structured environments that give them access to privilege as bestowed by college. However, I think that we won’t really reform education or help students learn, live, or care for one another and their world any better until all of public education, colleges included, repurpose for authentic, sane education.
I’m fine with most of the Educators for Excellence pledge (I clicked submit), but find the group’s website to be information-poor on how to accomplish the organization’s goals. I also find it far too teacher-centered. #Edreform should be student-centered. Our essential question should be: How are we freeing students to learn? Initiatives that suck in that regard should be dismantled, and their resources re-allocated – even put into students’ hands. Reforms that affect teachers should be shelved until we reform what it is that schools do for kids.
What bothers me most here is the underlying notion of “Return on Investment” (ROI) – the idea that #edreform is exclusively dependent on government managers, private firms, and parent and teacher proxies who can “innovate” and “scale up” “real reform” meant to boost test scores, high school graduations rates, and college admissions rates (which are no guarantee of identical college graduation rates) in return for lucrative government contracts and merit pay for teachers who comply with the standardized testing regime. The idea that “an independent voice in the debate surrounding education reform” gets underwritten by an NPO directed by a former program officer in the community investment [read: investment in government policy regarding schools] arm of an oil firm. The idea that we have to do something to teachers to get a return on our over-investment in and over-reliance upon the education industry. The idea that teachers can’t innovate or reform education in meaningful ways. The idea that teachers or schools are “failing America’s children” for any other reason than that American public education demands it.
For all the talk against “throwing more money at the problem” (achievement? learning? students? teachers?) #edreformers are throwing money at the problem of getting teachers and their leaders to buy-in to the privatization of their work so that a profit can be made on learning.
What will the vendors do when everyone passes their tests? Make new, more rigorous tests with new and improved curricula to match. Make new, more adaptive proprietary programs to help kids pass those tests at a rate acceptable to their profit margins and R&D cycles.
It’s an utter catastrophe that with all the possibilities for learning and helping one another afforded us by technology, our reigning #edreform camp wants to cash-out public education and give its seat at the tax-table to companies designing “blended learning,” “adaptive software,” and “personalized learning” that will further fetter students to their desks, their classrooms, their schools, and the vendors’ products, away from the world, its problems, and its authentic joys. These new technologies will make it feel good to sit at the computer using proprietary software designed to scale its difficulty until it makes you feel successful in pursuit of individual achievement. It’s the camouflaged realization of our fear of a video game planet.
Is there any service, entrepreneurship, or community-based learning inherent in this kind of #edreform? If not, we need to balance every piece of “personal learning” we bring to the classroom with collaborative, community-based problem-solving. We need to balance every 1:1 initiative with one-for-all work. Authentic learning can helped by classroom technology – particularly by social media – but it should never be extinguished by it.
Do we think a classroom of students sitting in rows at computers will educate workers in a fundamentally different way than 20th Century factories did? Do we think that becoming more efficient at what we do now will fundamentally change any outcomes for our country or world?
We need to reform schools so that they give students a stake in their communities and give communities a stake in students. We need to align passion and learning – we need to align needs and giving – not standards and tests.
Here are three ways I plan to pursue real #edreform as I plan for next year:
- Practice open education. I will find and suggest free alternatives to the curricular materials in my building. I will volunteer to help colleagues find and learn these tools. I will ask my supervisor for the money I save to be given to my school for student-management in resourcing project-based learning and/or managing social venture capital through something like a school or class Kiva account. If refused, I will ask what will happen to the money I save and publish the answer. I will ask if my school or system wants me to save money or not. I will ask if my school or system wants students learning financial literacy or not. I will problematize profiting our vendors at the expense of students’ authentic learning.
- Practice authentic education. I will facilitate connections between students and community experts for every major assessment students undertake so that audience and application become relevant drivers of their learning. I will offer to help network colleagues and community experts. I will secure permissions from parents that let students share their work in ways that provide them with personal meaning, authentic audiences, and constructive feedback. We will get out of our room more and free our learning from lowest common denominator school work.. I’ll finish the lengthy to-do list I’ve compiled over the past year in this area.
- Extend @dancallahan’s “Thing’s That Suck” conversation from EdCamp Philly to my school and division. I will find way to bring together any one who wants to discuss what sucks about our school and school in general so we can identify our wants and work towards meeting them as a community of practice including teachers, students, parents, and division staff interested in advancing what schools can be.
I will return on the investment of trust placed in me to teach by my students, their parents, and my coworkers.