Thompson: Mike Petrilli's Strangely Combative Truce Proposal
@drjohnthompson It is no surprise that Mike Petrilli's otherwise excellent post, How to Push for Reform without Alienating Teachers,included a paragraph with a boilerplate attack on teachers. His short, combative paragraph ends with the misstatement that teachers and our champions want to, "stop measuring teachers’ contributions to student achievement gains." That is the way that political battles are fought.
But Petrilli knows that union leaders, Diane Ravitch, and others who have made a career in pressing for reform do not want to "stop" reforms. We just disagree with him on the merits of many policies. Petrilli knows that one problem with the data-driven accountability movement is that it equates "student achievement gains" with real learning increases.
So I am more worried that Petrilli does not consider the threat of Gov. Scott Walker's "reforms" to the entire nation's prosperity than I am to his obligatory criticism of teachers.
Petrilli recognizes that the failure of the Wisconsin recall should worry reformers of all ideologies. Despite their celebrations, Petrilli writes, "the school reform movement finds itself in a pickle. To succeed in creating world-class schools and raising student achievement, it needs education’s front line workers—a.k.a. teachers—to feel motivated, empowered, and inspired. And yet, according to the recent MetLife survey and anecdotal reports, many teachers are down in the dumps."
What would have happened if "reformers," who were new to education in the early 1990s, had listened to educators instead of lumping us with a "status quo" that should be destroyed? It is a shame that a generation ago that accountability hawks could not have been exposed to the recommendations that Petrilli makes today, "Champion reforms that teachers do support," he counsels, "For instance, make it easier for educators to discipline unruly students, or to use 'ability grouping' in their classrooms instead of mandating the nearly-impossible strategy of 'differientiating instruction.'
Today, rather than heed Petrilli's ideology-driven rhetoric, we should listen to his common sense, "In other words, remove the obstacles (often ideological in nature) that are getting in the way of teachers achieving success in their classrooms. If we don’t want to put teachers in charge of their own schools, at least give them more control over their work. ... And get their backs when they are faced with ridiculous demands from parents or others."
That being said, I must quarrel with part of Petrilli's final sentence. We teachers get frustrated by some parents. By definition, however, parents demands should never be dismissed as ridiculous. Even when we see their interventions as wrong, we should always see parents' efforts on behalf of their own children as a result of deep and complex emotions. It is one thing to throw low blows at teachers during political campaigns, but parents deserve a different degree of deference. And, if we start with the convention of respecting parents' positions, even when we think they are wrong, perhaps we could get past the ritual where even the best of the accountablity hawks have to devote a paragraph to ridiculing teachers' beliefs as they praise us.- JT (@drjohnthompson) image via.