Wednesday, March 23, 2011

There Is Sanity Out There. (You Just Have to Find It.)

Here's a piece by Linda Darling-Hammond. She did not prove to be the darling of the "reform" crowd, which prevailed upon our eager-to-compromise President to hire Arne Duncan, whose Rennaissance 2010, an abysmal failure, needed to be replicated for the entire US of A. There's a very good reason Darling Hammond is not popular in "reform" circles.

She actually looks at what works, and thinks about it:

In a statement rarely heard these days in the United States, the Finnish Minister of Education launched the first session of last week's with the words: "We are very proud of our teachers." 

That is indeed rare in these parts. All I ever hear about is how we can fire teachers without regard to seniority. In fact, Finnish teachers are all unionized. What's more is they don't use standardized tests. They--get this--let teachers decide how and what to teach. And it turns out, by international standards, they do way better than us. I guess Bill Gates didn't do much checking before he started talking about Finland.

Not only that, but there is a tendency in other countries to actually pay teachers. Because it's an important job, because we trust our children with teachers, other cultures feel we ought to compensate them for it. I've met young teachers who had to debate whether they could afford to see a movie. I've met others who had trouble coming up with ten bucks for a gift pool. What the hell kind of way is that to treat people we trust with the awesome responsibility of teaching our children?

And now there are people saying it's not cost-effective to keep them on, that we ought to dump senior teachers, that teachers don't learn anything after the first three years. That's simply ignorant. We learn and improve all the time, and those who judge us solely by standardized tests are unfit to discuss education at all.

Officials from countries like Finland and Singapore described how they have built a high-performing teaching profession by enabling all of their teachers to enter high-quality preparation programs, generally at the masters' degree level, where they receive a salary while they prepare. There they learn research-based teaching strategies and train with experts in model schools attached to their universities. They enter a well-paid profession – in Singapore earning as much as beginning doctors -- where they are supported by mentor teachers and have 15 or more hours a week to work and learn together – engaging in shared planning, action research, lesson study, and observations in each other's classrooms. And they work in schools that are equitably funded and well-resourced with the latest technology and materials.

From my vantage point, in a trailer behind an overcrowded building, that sounds pretty good. As Miss Eyre mentioned yesterday, we actually have less time for preparation than our foreign counterparts, spending more time in the classroom. Now I'm not complaining, but how are we rewarded for that? By having Mayor4Life Bloomberg unilaterally announce that teachers would get half of the raise all other city workers got, and only on part of their salaries, and then announcing, to avert layoffs, that we were getting nothing whatsoever. Then, of course, with a 3.1 billion dollar surplus, and the DOE sitting on 275 million dollars, he announces he needs to do layoffs anyway, to save 269 million dollars.

As if that isn't enough, he and his billionaire buds get a bunch of scab teachers to leave their jobs, pretend they're still teachers, and try and subvert union from within.  They claim to revere "excellence" but unlike Darling-Hammond, have not the remotest notion how excellence is achieved here on earth.

In these summit discussions, there was no teacher-bashing, no discussion of removing collective bargaining rights, no proposals for reducing preparation for teaching, no discussion of closing schools or firing bad teachers, and no proposals for ranking teachers based on their students' test scores.

Sound decisions are based on what works rather than the druthers of billionaires. If President Hopey-Changey were interested in making education better, he'd have nominated Darling-Hammond rather than already-failed Duncan. I can't believe Obama is too ignorant to know the difference, and ultimately, that makes me respect him even less.

Why on earth must the United States indulge in such nonsense rather than help our children?
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