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

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Shooting Ourselves in the Foot

No one, myself included, expects a profession to hold lockstep to only one voice—including teachers.

But Help teachers improve their craft, an Op-Ed by a public school teacher, calls for helping teachers become better educators, but in fact, perpetuates the worst aspects of the education reform movement.

In the end, this piece repeats misguided claims about school and teacher quality as well as student achievement. It misrepresents the real problems schools face in SC (poverty, inequity), and suggests that one political leader is the source of overcoming those misrepresented problems—Rep. Andy Patrick, R-Hilton Head Island (SC), who happens to be running for Superintendent of Education.

Sadly, it appears Patrick has garnered the support of a classroom teacher and fired an early shot in his campaign. It looks compelling, but the arguments are all without merit.

Here, then, is a reading list for any who wish to refute the Op-Ed, the call for teacher evaluation endorsed by Patrick, and the many distorted messages surrounding education in SC:
Teachers' voices matter, and teacher voices must remain diverse and nuanced. But as teachers, we must all speak with authority, with informed voices, and above all else, resist the temptation to be coerced into partisan political endorsements.

In 1961, Lou LaBrant called for teachers having the freedom to teach based on their own expertise, but she paired that call with demanding that teachers also raise their own standards for knowing their field:
One reason so many of us do not have our rights is that we have not earned them. The teacher who is free to decide when and how to teach language structure has an obligation to master his grammar, to analyze the problems of writing, and to study their relations to structure….But his right to choose comes only when he has read and considered methods other than his own. He has no right to choose methods or materials which research has proved ineffective….There is little point in asking for a right without preparation for its use. (p. 390)
I would expand LaBrant's charge to educators becoming knowledgable about educational research and policy beyond their fields, as well, and then raising their informed voices for the betterment of the profession—as LaBrant concludes:
Throughout our country today we have great pressure to improve our schools. By far too much of that pressure tends toward a uniformity, a conformity, a lock-step which precludes the very excellence we claim to desire. Many are talking as though teachers with sufficient training would become good teachers. There is little consideration of the teacher as a catalyst, a changing, growing personality. Only a teacher who thinks about his work can think in class; only a thinking teacher can stimulate as they should be stimulated the minds with which he works. Freedom of any sort is a precious thing; but freedom to be our best, in the sense of our highest, is not only our right but our moral responsibility. “They”—the public, the administrators, the critics—have no right to take freedom from us, the teachers; but freedom is not some-thing one wins and then possesses; freedom is something we rewin every day, as much a quality of ourselves as it is a concession from others. Speaking and writing and exploring the books of the world are prime fields for freedom. (pp. 390-391)
The teacher evaluation plans endorsed in the Op-Ed and proposed by Patrick are not avenues to this freedom and will certainly dismantle any possibility of raising the field of teaching in SC.

To endorse Patrick and VAM-based teacher evaluation is to shoot ourselves in the foot.

SC cannot afford a lame teacher workforce.

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