Wednesday, August 09, 2017

The Meaning of "Education Reform" Laid Bare

There is a fascinating piece in Politico today. Evidently, we're somehow making some progress against reforminess. This goes hand in hand with a statement from Eduwonk, AKA Andy Rotherham of Bellwether Education Partners, referring to teacher unions:

In fact, these groups thwarted key parts of the Obama education agenda. 

Rotherham does not give any more detail, and with 12 years of blogging I still can't read his mind.  I'll therefore focus on the Politico piece, which is a little more explicit. Politico states that NY is no longer the ed reform capital, and as a New Yorker, that sounds like good news. Reformies are stalled in their tracks, evidently.

Yet here on the ground, I have never seen teachers so demoralized and worn down. Some of the most positive individuals I've ever met have left the profession. Some of them left from my school, a relatively good place. Why would that be, if we were so successful at turning the reformy tide?

One reason is that Politico looks at "reform" in a curious fashion. The word, to me, entails change, and hopefully for the better. That's why I question reformies, because what is their motivation to change? I mean, Betsy DeVos is as reformy as they come, and for all I can see, she's on a mission to destroy public education so her BFFs can profit from it.

The march toward privatization notwithstanding, a great deal of the Politico article focuses on teacher tenure. Here's a blatant falsehood:

At Cuomo’s urging, the Legislature pushed through some reforms in 2015, tying tenure to teacher performance instead of time in the classroom...

In fact, I have firsthand experience with tenure being withheld for classroom performance before this "reform" was passed. Tenure could be delayed or denied for almost any reason before 2015. The city used this much more frequently after Bloomberg came in, but always had the option to do so. But why should education reporters bother knowing anything about history? (In fairness, Politico opts for the Chalkbeat model of not talking to working teachers, speaking with Gates-funded E4E reformies instead.)

A stronger focus of "reform," as per Politico, is the failure of New York to utterly eradicate due process, popularly known as "tenure." It seemed the prime directive of self-proclaimed education expert Campbell Brown to allow administrators to fire anyone they felt like, anytime they felt like it. To enable this, they went full-court press after what they called bad teachers--generally people who were accused of things but not found guilty. Brown went to the tabloids and blew up a few cases to stoke outrage, but it appears her efforts have stalled.

In fact, I knew the circumstances only one of the cases that Brown tossed about, and I knew it to be nonsense. I therefore doubted the rest of her allegations. I was very happy to write about the flip side of the coin, and how all teachers deserve due process. Hey, if I stink at my job, if I'm abusive to children, fine. Come after me. But if you're mad at me for standing up for the children I serve and making your job inconvenient, screw you. If you're mad at me for standing up for the rights of my colleagues, again, screw you.

Reforminess is something Trump is strong on, because he doesn't believe in protecting the rights of working people. With him, it's all about profit, hence Betsy DeVos, who's pretty much decimated public education in Michigan. They can wrap themselves in the flag all they want, and claim to care about the children. Those of us who wake up every morning to serve those children know better.

And then there is Andrew Cuomo, who first ran on a platform of going after unions, who appeared at Moskowitz rallies and frothed at the mouth over the possibility of firing as many teachers as possible. Cuomo could not possibly anticipate that parents would become informed and fight back against the nonsense that is Common Core. He could not anticipate that parents would boycott his tests in droves.

What reformies failed to count on was the opportunism of Andrew Cuomo. As a man with no moral center whatsoever, he is driven by rampant ambition. This year, he watched Donald Trump win the presidency against neoliberal Hillary Clinton. Cuomo decided to position himself as Bernie Sanders Lite and pushed a program to give free college tuition to New Yorkers (albeit with a whole lot of restrictions).

Cuomo is now best buds with UFT, judging from what I hear at Delegate Assemblies. While I don't personally trust the man as far as I can throw him, I'm happy if that works to help working teachers and other working people. So what is education "reform," exactly?

As far as I can tell, it's piling on, How miserable can we make working teachers? How can we arbitrarily and capriciously fire them? How can we give them as few options as possible, and as little voice as possible?

It's ironic. The MORE motto is, "Our teaching conditions are students' learning conditions." I agree with that. Take it a step further, and our teaching conditions are our students' future working conditions. When we fight for improvement of our working conditions, we are fighting for the future of our students as well.

Two of my former students teach in my school. They are the first of their families to be college educated, and the first of their families to get middle class jobs. I will fight for them, and for my other students to have even more opportunity. Betsy DeVos and the reformies, on the other hand, can fight to maximize profits for fraudulent cyber-charter owners and all the other opportunist sleazebags they represent so well.
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