"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Surveillance and Rehabilitation of NYC Teachers and the Feigned Innocence of Randi Weingarten

Part of the genius of Michel Foucault was in showing how the repressive organization or society may use intermittent surveillance or just the threat of surveillance to accomplish full social control--if the subjects are unaware of where the surveillance is happening.

In the panoptic (all-seeing) schema, those social objects who don't know whether or not they are being watched perform as if they were, thus accomplishing the goal of punishment, which in today's society is social rehabilitation.

Today's piece in the NYTimes
offers a perfect example, with ten percent of New York's teachers under surveillance, thus accomplishing cheaply what might have been expensively required by 100 percent. We can imagine, too, the anxiety that teachers will undoubtedly experience every time they consider moving off their scripted lessons designed to promote thought control and behavioral control of the children:

New York City has embarked on an ambitious experiment, yet to be announced, in which some 2,500 teachers are being measured on how much their students improve on annual standardized tests.

The move is so contentious that principals in some of the 140 schools participating have not told their teachers that they are being scrutinized based on student performance and improvement.

While officials say it is too early to determine how they will use the data, which is already being collected, they say it could eventually be used to help make decisions on teacher tenure or as a significant element in performance evaluations and bonuses. And they hold out the possibility that the ratings for individual teachers could be made public.

“If the only thing we do is make this data available to every person in the city — every teacher, every parent, every principal, and say do with it what you will — that will have been a powerful step forward,” said Chris Cerf, the deputy schools chancellor who is overseeing the project. “If you know as a parent what’s the deal, I think that whole aspect will change behavior.”

The effort comes as educators nationwide are struggling to figure out how to find, train and measure good teachers. Many education experts say that until teacher quality improves in urban schools, student performance is likely to stagnate and the achievement gap between white and minority students will never be closed. Other school systems, including those in Dallas and Houston as well as in the whole state of Tennessee, are also using student performance and improvement as factors in evaluating teachers.

The United Federation of Teachers, the city’s teachers’ union, has known about the experiment for months, but has not been told which schools are involved, because the Education Department has promised those principals confidentiality.

Randi Weingarten, the union president, said she had grave reservations about the project, and would fight if the city tried to use the information for tenure or formal evaluations or even publicized it. She and the city disagree over whether such moves would be allowed under the contract.

“There is no way that any of this current data could actually, fairly, honestly or with any integrity be used to isolate the contributions of an individual teacher,” Ms. Weingarten said. “If one permitted this, it would be one of the worst decisions of my professional life.” . . . .

Well, Randi, one has permitted this, the one is you. You stood in the doorway between this nightmare scenario and the classroom teachers, and you chose to slink away into the darkness under the pretense that you had somehow protected the identities of those teachers under surveillance. Can you tell us when you became part of the mechanism?
"The panoptic schema, without disappearing as such or losing any of its properties, was destined to spread throughout the social body," Foucault explains; "its vocation was to become a generalized function" (Discipline 207). The ultimate result is that we now live in the panoptic machine: "We are neither in the amphitheatre, nor on the stage, but in the panoptic machine, invested by its effects of power, which we bring to ourselves since we are part of its mechanism" (Discipline 217).

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