Thompson: The Complex Ecology of School Reform (With or Without Superheroes)
I have never understood how "reformers" could admire "An Inconvenient Truth," and not understand the concept of ecology. Filmmaker Davis Guggenheim is correct about "the barbaric cruelty" of our urban schools, but he clearly doesn’t understand that they are complex ecosystems. I have seen plenty of horrible teachers. I continually see hopelessly incompetent probationary teachers, who have no due process rights, but who are granted continuing contracts by principals who need a warm body for our toughest classrooms. I have seen unions fulfill their contractual obligation to represent bad teachers. But I have never seen the union undercut a legitimate termination process. I have seen the union continually offer to help remove ineffective teachers. Guggeheim should think globally and dramatize Linda Perlstein's Tested. He should think ecologically and ask how teaching talent can be recruited by tarring the entire profession and undercutting our ability to resist the educational malpractice of NCLB.
Blaming Randi Weingarten for bad schools is like blaming Greenpeace for global warming because they failed to usher in a Green Revolution. Blaming unions for poor teacher quality is like blaming the ACLU for defending our Constitutional Democracy, because it allows for a Workman’s Compensation system that can be abused.
But I have never seen a union representative deputize himself as Superman, and singlehandedly evaluate the teachers hired by the school board, write up the ineffective ones, put them on a plan of improvement, present the cases for termination, and then campaign for non-union charter schools in his spare time, so perhaps Guggenheim has a point ...
Maybe traditional reformers of all fields should learn from the public relations skills of data-driven education "reformers," and promote "Law and Order: The Super Defenders." After a nine to five job of defending the innocent and the guilty, the Super Defenders prowl the streets and solve crimes that bedeviled the police, indict the accused (who they must defend during their day job), righteously prosecute the guilty, impartially adjudicate the trials, sentence the offenders, supervise the prison system, and oversee the parole authority. During their adventures, the Super Defenders will collaborate with Super Social Workers who restore broken families while representing both children and their allegedly neglectful parents, the Super Hedge Fund Operators, who use their profits from manipulating bogus financial data to prosecute their less righteous colleagues, and the Super Teachers, who not only inspire their students but also their administrators and politicians to do whatever it takes to end the Achievement Gap.