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Reform: It Could Get Worse

image from www.chaos.org.ukHeading into tonight's Save Our Schools / Parents Across America shindig here in NYC I am finally realizing that one of the main things that divides the reformy types from career educators is the thought that reform could make things worse rather than better.  This possibility might seem hard to believe for reformers, many of whom can't imagine things being any worse (and many of whom, it should be said, have yet experienced few major setbacks in their own lives).  But for those with a longer perspective (historical, personal, professional) the possibility of things going from bad to worse is real; they've seen good but wrong-headed ideas take root before, sucking energy away and wasting a lot of time, and they know that there's no guarantee that the current status is a baseline below which nothing worse can happen.  It's simply where we are now.  I've been writing about the reform / education divide for four or five years now and it's only now that I'm finally getting this.  I'm sure many others figured it out long ago.  

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Fantastic point. The best preparation for being a teacher is having failed at something important. That should be doubly true of educational reformers. They need the empathy that can only come from having experiencing defeat.

This is the smartest post I've read from an ed-blogger in a long, long time. Thank you. Quoting you widely...

thanks for the comments, though to be clear i'm not saying that things *are* going to get worse but rather that it's that fear / possibility that divides reformers from others.

I would extend your point. It is not only that things *could* get worse as a result of proposed reforms. Many of us have bitter experience in our own classrooms that showed that things actually DID get worse as a result of "reforms."

These "reforms" are not new ideas. As several people have recently pointed out, No Child Left Behind is almost a decade old. The idea that test scores are an adequate if imperfect proxy for student learning is behind almost every major "reform" in Race to the Top and is likely to drive the new version of ESEA as well.

I think I can speak for many when I say I am not for the old status quo that preceded NCLB, nor am I for the one we have seen develop over the past decade.

But you are correct -- it could get worse. And if we have teacher pay and hiring/firing based on test scores, as is being proposed in state legislatures across the land, it most assuredly will.

It amazes me that we have so little respect for the educational system as a whole as we ask so much of the teachers, yet we give so little, especially when it comes to budgets. I do not see the school systems as a whole improving until we invest the necessary capital not only in the school system but also pay the teacher's an appropriate salary. These are the role models, the mentors that are guiding and shaping the future in which previous generations will spend their Golden Years and frankly I am frightened. We have supported NCLB far too long and if you want to reform, begin their because we are moving students forward who can barely read.

Nice to meet you at the PAA event, Alex. (Reformistas, take cover -- the sleeping giant is awakening.)

I'm not a career educator, and I agree with Anthony. Actually, the reformy notions come largely from people who have no experience in real public schools and classrooms, so that's rather a key difference. It's probably true that they envision bleak wastelands and horrific pits of hell and figure that their fads and nostrums can't make things any worse -- and the real-life children they harm are faceless abstractions to them.

A newspaper editorial writer told me that the attitude in editorial-board land is "we have to try something -- anything." Of course that attitude is behind great medical miracles like bloodletting and lobotomies.

You are so right, it can get worse. Take a look at New Orleans. Much of the propaganda is about "unprecedented" gains in academic achievement. However, when you dig a little deeper you find that there were similar gains before the major reforms kicked in following Hurricane Katrina. As a parent and advocate who has been working to improve education in New Orleans, I can now say that things ARE worse. I couldn't imagine things being this bad for our most academically needy students. The middle of the road student may have one or two more options available to them through charter schools, but we had choice prior to these new reforms, so that isn't any major reform feat. The thing I never expected to see is how competition has actually made some students a dis-incentive to enroll or keep in schools. I could not imagine children having to knock on so many doors to enroll and be able to stay at a school. This is an unacceptable cost to pay for mediocre gains supposedly brought on by our primary reform strategy... privatizing our public schools.

If insanity is considered doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result, Philadelphia would fit the bill. Having gone through a disastrous experiment with EMOs, privatization and Edison, now we're looking at vouchers, school closings and "turnaround," all of which follow similar models of eroding public education. Here, a middle school which had declined over a period of eight years under the control of a politically connected EMO was finally taken back by the District over the summer because of low performance only to be returned to the same EMO once the District got federal money to create a localized version of a Harlem Children's Zone. Insane.

Well, said, Mr. Russo.

Many of us have figured this out at kind of a gut level, but you put it into words.

So, Alexander, you attended the conference? I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on it.

Did you see these presentations?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M7-an30xLS8

I'm looking at the arc of your comments on Michelle Rhee's resume lie, and it seems you backed off a little from your unflinching first analysis. That's unfortunate. You are now the proud owner of the new narrative that we actual educators are responsible for the lies told by the corporate education takover movement, because our intransigence makes them necessary; liars shouldn't have to lie, in the first place, to get what their backers want.

I'm not a proponent of the education "status quo", and in fact I've spent my life fighting it. Be aware that the schools are full of us, and that children in all kinds of adverse situations encounter us throughout their education careers. Do you really want to be a party to stamping us dedicated lifetime teachers out, on the theory that the profit motive is the best and only way to drive "innovation" in education?

Somehow, I'm about to wrestle helium tanks up to my broken and ill-equipped third floor chemistry classroom and actually teach 22.4 liters per mole to a hundred low-income kids. My husband is somewhat angry about the cost, and no for-profit enterprise, apparently, considers it worthwhile. If I sided with the corporate innovators, we could make a killing here, with a virtual lab program that is pure profit, and doesn't even need me in the room with them. I could pull down a six figure salary, maybe, instead of fighting through another physically exhausting day.

If they were your kids, what would you "choose" for them?

Here's a better link to Parents Across America than the facebook page

http://parentsacrossamerica.org/

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