Friday, August 6, 2010

Education Is Your Job (If You’re Not Too Busy)

Well, it’s the middle of August, when the air thickens with humidity and discussions about how the Red Sox are going to tank again (at least this time they have an excuse, and the health insurance bill to prove it’s a valid one).

Then there’s the various annual ads and articles about how best to outfit your child for “back to school,” as if that procedure has changed even slightly in the last 75 years.

Backpack. Binder. Pencils. Lunchbox full of crack cocaine and potato chips. Move on.

While the rest of the world changes rapidly, schools chug along like it’s 1961, and no one except a few consultants and activists seems to notice.


Well, those who post comments on the Bangor Daily News website seem to know everything. Let’s consult them. Just a moment...

Yup, I knew it: Every single problem with public education can be traced back to the teachers’ unions.

School violence? Blame the union. Decaying buildings? You can bet the NEA fed into it somehow.  Fights on the bus? The school board’s hands are tied.

Bad teachers? The Unions won’t let us fire them. Does anyone even know what a “bad teacher” looks like? If so, how many are there, really?

We can’t count them, apparently. Let me guess: it’s because the union won’t let us, right?

You may not like it, but I’m going to inject you with some actual facts:

Massachusetts routinely leads the nation in school performance. Teachers unions are very strong there.

Conversely, unions tend to be weak in Southern states, where test scores tend to lag behind the rest of the country.

Is it any coincidence that Massachusetts is one of the wealthiest states in the country, while people in the South, as I understand from listening to the radio, routinely have to eat something called “Poke Salad” for dinner?

This juxtaposition of obvious and readily available information has been brought to you by Diane Ravitch, former Assistant Secretary of Education under George W. Bush.

In her new book, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” Ravitch blasts the No Child Left Behind Act, which she once supported.

Ravitch claims the law puts unfair pressure on educators by not accounting for differences between schools in different regions.

You mean schools in the Bronx are not the same as ones in Skowhegan, and the kids from Skowhegan aren’t even the same as the ones from Kennebunk?

I am in shock.

The real problem with education is that it is run by politicians, who tend to favor lightweight reforms that look good in headlines, but don’t actually accomplish anything substantial.

Politicians answer to people with money, and people with money tend to have done alright for themselves with schools just the way they are.

Conservatives hold aloft the idea of privatizing schools. That’s not going to make anyone more interested in actual reform. Schools will still function the way people with money want them to, keeping kids busy and ranking them for success.

Real reform can only come from one place: Parents educating themselves about how kids learn and what really goes on inside classrooms.

A healthy quantity of informed and involved citizens can still get a politician’s ear, at least at the local level.

That is, if they’re not too busy blaming unions and talking about the Red Sox.


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I agree with your assumptions about privatization. Like you, I have concerns about it, but I'd disagree that it's not going to make anyone more interested in actual reform. Schools will still function the way people with money want them to, keeping kids busy and ranking them for success." If there's a market for schools without rankings, without walls, without standards, etc, then those schools would open under a privatized system. It might not be good for students or society, but it would be good for profits. The problem with privatization is that we as a society have not yet agreed what we want schools to do, so opening up the market will permit a generation of serious profiteering at the expense of the most vulnerable students until we figure it out.

Syd (EduNut) said...

I've always believed that if parents were more aware of how far-reaching the tendrils of politics are into their own child's classroom, they'd be a bit more active in helping teachers in their efforts to do their jobs despite whose got the reigns on current ideologies (like the Accountability Movement, which is largely a conservative push to undermine public ed in favor of privatization).

Great post- thanks for it.