Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Why We Will Lose the "Education Reform" Battle

I’m Facebook friends with a prominent figure in the New Jersey “Ed Reform” movement. We have had a few sincere, long interchanges on our respective positions on what needs to happen in public education. His job is pretty much to be a spokesman for the party line of “reform.” I think he’s legitimate in his concern for kids, that he truly BELIEVES that by holding classroom teachers accountable for things far beyond our control, incentivizing us to teach better by establishing a merit pay system, privatizing public schools and creating an atmosphere of competition for the “best” students that the quality of schools overall will improve, or at least bad ones will close.

To the best of my knowledge, he’s never spent a day in a classroom as a professional educator, yet he is bringing tremendous impact to public education in New Jersey.

He posted this quote on his wall today: “Ideas don't win...Winning wins.

As teachers, we try to get kids to play nicely in the sandbox, to cooperate in learning, to develop sensitivity to each other and a healthy respect for each others’ ideas. We like to believe that ideas have power and that by sharing our ideas we can bring people together.

Our opponents in this struggle don’t see the value of our ideas. They want nothing less than the total privatization of public schools, the total elimination of collective bargaining by teachers and other public employees, the elimination of public employee unions and the development of curricula and tests for profit by corporate friends. These claims have been well-documented by writers and bloggers such as Diane Ravitch, Bruce Baker, Darcie Cimarusti, the Jersey Jazzman (a public school teacher smart enough to keep his identity secret) and countless others across the country.

Our opponents are not sharing ideas; they are waging a jihadist war against public schools, the children in them, the teachers who staff them and the parents who rely on them. This effort is a holy crusade for them, and they don’t care a whit about the casualties if they win. Ideas don’t win – winning wins.

As educators, we need to ensure against being guilty of maintaining the status quo just to protect a paycheck. We need to have the same fervor for our work the “reformers” have for theirs. If they have a grain of truth in their arguments, it’s that our schools, good as they are, are not working for all of our kids. Their divide-and-conquer, take-no-prisoners and don’t-spare the-collateral-damage approach to their fight needs to be seen for what it is: an attempt to put the trillion dollars spent on public education into the hands of private corporations. If kids learn a bit in the process, cool.

This is why they will win – the stakes are higher for them. As educators we won’t make more money if we win. The “reformers,” however, see the financial prize and have deluded themselves into thinking they can serve kids better. The ideas that are being put forward, however, are the very ideas that our kids don’t need - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U

If we keep our heads in the sand and do not unite with parents and other interested parties across the country, if we simply stand by and expect our unions to fight this new war with old tools, if we do not raise our voices and loudly advocate for the BEST education for our children and our students, we deserve to lose.

Did I mention my friend has never spent a day in a classroom as a professional educator, yet he presumes to know my job better than me? He’s a smart guy and might have some good insights, but let’s try them out before we mandate them, don’t you think?

We are past the point of being polite. Our foes have deep pockets and have already heavily influenced governments on the local, state and federal levels. They have already crafted legislation that undermines public education. They have already ensured the crippling underfunding of schools that serve the most vulnerable. They have already waged a media war demonizing teachers. Holding hands and exchanging ideas won’t work.

They are counting on our being nice, polite professionals. They are counting on our being demoralized. They are counting on our tendency to examine opposing points of view to find worth. Start writing down your ideas of what school should look like, and compare that with what you’re allowed to do in your school today. Compare that to the education your students are presently receiving and what it looks like they’re likely to get in the next few years.

And then, start making noise – to parents, unions, school boards, legislators, anyone who’ll listen. And for pete’s sake, VOTE. Hold our union accountable to be “not nice.” Hold our legislators accountable to work on laws that actually IMPROVE, not tear down, public education. Send emails to Commissioners of Education (acting or otherwise) demanding that they listen to all stakeholders, and start flooding Secretary Duncan with emails and tweets expressing your disappointment in his allying himself with those corporate interests who would profit from dumbing down our education system while their executives send their own children to private school.

Ideas don’t win – winning wins. They’re coming after us – are you fighting? If not, we will lose.