Sunday, November 25, 2012

Giroux & Tuchman

Giroux’s article reinforces the notion that the neoliberal society in which we live is diminishing the concept of democracy that we, as Americas, are supposed to stand for. Giroux credits this ideology as the most dangerous of modern times (428). Neoliberalism specifically pushes its ideals on society, while intentionally limiting the possibility for critique. Public goods are quickly diminishing as the private sector is taking over, and these public institutions that once existed were “places and forums where issues of importance to a political community are discussed and debated, and where information is presented that is essential to citizen participation in community life” (428). Without this public sector, critical thinking is weakened, which makes it even more important for us to become ever more critical of society’s function in our lives, and in education, for the specific purpose of this course. Giroux continues on to discuss how education is no longer a public good in America, and even our universities are falling victim to the marketplace rhetoric that defines American life. Higher education has become a forum to improve one’s individual position in the capitalist marketplace, as opposed to a place where one goes to further their education for knowledge’s sake (435).

The purpose of Tuchman’s Wannabe U continues with the threatening theme of neoliberalism in the college and university sphere. Specifically, Tuchman describes the way that state universities sacrifice educational values for neoliberalist market values, in turn attempting to transform their institutions as they fall victim to ratings and financial stresses. In many instances, education in America has become about commoditizing students and investing in financial interests. The notion that “With hard work, anyone can join the ranks of the elite” (4) is prevalent, giving way to the idea that schools can teach kids out of poverty and become part of the competitive goal of elitism. Tuchman notes this theme again and restates the American theme: “Education may enable individual mobility. It may also facilitate industrial growth. An educated workforce serves industry. Industry requires educated and diverse employees, qualified to compete in the global economy” (13). Ultimately, education has become about the capitalist marketplace rather than complying with traditional and democratic educational ideals. With this capitalist takeover, educators are being further pushed out of the decision-making process. The governor appointed many of the trustees at Wannabe U (2). The president of Wannabe U was previously a lawyer, and administrators are negatively viewed as managers (6). The core values of American education as a public institution aimed at creating a democratic population has been overturned by the forceful neoliberal ideology that encourages and enforces privatization and commoditization, while simultaneously instilling individual values of competition and elitism. We must understand these ideas that run our society with a critical lens so that we can try to regain the value of public education and education as a whole.

Giroux and Tuchman

Similar to many authors we have read this year Giroux argues, “that neoliberalism is the most dangerous ideology of the current historical movement” because it has been adopted by most political parties and considered the “dominant global political economic trend” (425). Neoliberal discourse has dominated the ways in which we view democracy and public entities, public space is now viewed “as an investment opportunity” (428).  Neoliberal ideology has created an army of “self-interest individuals” (425) and has changed the ways in which we view freedom and democracy but we must discuss the larger issue. I know that when we discuss these issues I tend to feel discouraged that there can be no solution because this issue is so deeply rooted in the way we think of society and how it works. Giroux writes, “as democratic values give way to commercial values, intellectual ambitions are often reduced to an instrument of the entrepreneurial self and social visions are dismissed as hopelessly out of date” (428). I believe that I feel hopeless because neoliberalism “wraps itself in what appears to be common sense” (428). Giroux suggests one way in which to create change is by “addressing the meaning and purpose of public and higher education” (430) in order to change the discourse of neoliberalism. I agree with Giroux that public and higher education should be viewed and “defended as both a public good and an autonomous sphere for the development of a critical and productive democratic citizenry” (433). But can we do more in order to really make a change? Giroux explains that as a result of the neoliberal era students feel the only purpose of higher education is to obtain a better position in the job market (435). Is that true for Colgate students? Do we believe the most important aspect about getting our education is to get a job? If we believe this how can the purpose of high education ever be changed?
Tuchman agrees with Giroux when he writes that the neoliberal era has changed the way we view higher education. Instead of defining higher education as “the development of critical thinking, the nurturing of civic responsibility, or the pursuit of knowledge” universities are focused on “more practical terms, such as preparing students for job” (11). Neoliberal ideology and those who are administrators of such universities define knowledge and job preparation as “commodities” (11).  Education is viewed as a “market transaction” and the objective is to make a profit (11). The language used in the Chronicle of Higher Education (Arnone 2003) to define a wannabe university is very similar to the discourse in neoliberal ideology. For example, the university wants to “spend hundreds of millions of dollars on new construction…well known faculty members and recruiting top students” (15). The Chronicle emphasizes the universities as “being on the cusp of greatness” (15). Finally the institution wants to be recognized in the top rankings and “act as engines for the state economies” (15).  Education needs to be praised and associated with its “contribution it makes to the quality of life” by emphasizing democratic values “to provide students with the capacities they need for civic courage and engaged critical citizenship” (Giroux 457).

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Saltman--- The Gift of Corporatizing

              Saltman begins his chapter by describing the phenomenon of the simplification of the teaching profession.  A career with long hours, low pay, and challenging work, teachers have been on the defensive during the neoliberal attack of American education.  By simplifying the profession, neoliberals have made it seem as if anyone could become a teacher an in order to increase competition in the market America must deregulate the "monopoly control that university teacher preparation programs have" (103).  This, in fact, questions the true value a teacher has on their school and devalues those who have taken the time to master their craft.  Moreover, Saltman reaffirms the neoliberal fetish with high stakes testing, with neoliberal's believing standardized tests can replace certified techers (103).  More importantly, deregulation of teacher certification transforms the education system into a money market, with students and teachers being commodities.  This makes the hired teacher almost nothing more than a pair of sneakers you were to buy at the market.  When the sneakers become worn or start to cause pain you dispose of them.  Applied to teaching, if a teacher fails to raise test scores or improve students' reading level you discard of the the teacher and bring in the next clone in hopes of improving something.  This system is much like the competitive business world we all strive to be in.  Competition, theoretically, is said to create a market full of 'winners' by killing the weak through social Darwinism.  The neoliberal's legislation of deregulation is trying to do just that, weeding out the low performing teachers and replacing them with the next.  The new system allows an aspiring teacher to bypass important classes that explain different learning techniques and ways to present difficult material.  Teachers no longer have to go through rigorous course loads and student teacher in order to take over a classroom.  This is because the neoliberals believe the standardize test are working and one should not have to obtain a teaching degree in order to teach to the test.  However, as we have learned throughout the course, putting a price tag or value on a teacher is difficult.  Learning has much less to do with the teachers and more to do with students environment.  Deregulation is, in fact, another plague growing in the American education system, attack those teachers who are passionate about the profession and devaluing their own education. 

Saltman also makes the reader question the agenda of the venture philanthropist or the foundations funding and encouraging high stakes tests and alternative avenues for teacher certification.  In Leistyna, 'No Corporation Left Behind', she identifies the alarming financial side of the high stakes testing market, which Saltman calls the 'venture philanthropists agenda'.  Foundations, like the Gates Foundation, all have stake in companies that help students prepare for standardized tests and private companies that "teach" teachers how to teach.  With a special interest in keeping these private companies afloat, especially in hard economic times, venture philanthropist encourage the deregulation of education and hope to keep it flourishing.  This is something the Obama administration has done little to discourage.  The true meaning of the word philanthropy suggests a good spirited approach to giving.  However, with closer examination, these capitalists are doing nothing more then lining their own pocket by devaluing the importance of a certified teacher.       

Saltman and Otterman

            In his article “The Gift of Corporatizing Teacher Education and Higher Education,” Saltman discusses the ignorance of both the liberal education reform movement and the neoliberal education reform movement towards the political aspects of the teaching profession including the “underlying ideals, ideologies, and values behind claims to teacher quality” as well as their “relation to material and symbolic power struggles over teacher education,” (108). Both movements push for their respective ideals, but we continue to ignore who is pushing for control of the schools, the teacher education institutions, and the class struggles (in particular socio-economic classes) that largely influence such movements. With their large influence over the political and economic sphere, venture philanthropists such as the Gates Foundation is an example of such a political movement where its push for education reform attacks teacher quality. President Obama supports such venture philanthropists that call for the implementation of charter schools and the continued privatization of the education system largely for political support given the large influence of power that these corporations have in the political and economic spheres. However, these programs, despite continually attacking the teaching profession, have shown no evidence of actually improving teacher quality. In fact, the use of performance-based assessment via test scores along with the lack of “class-based elite status” and the inability to have “control over the organization of knowledge and practices that provide access to capital production,” (101) in the teaching profession perpetuates the idea that teaching is of a lower caliber status than other professions such as doctors and lawyers and thus should be open to deregulation from the private sector so that these elite can lend their expertise. The perpetuation of such ideals and their support from the government gives even more economic and political power to the venture philanthropist organizations.
            In “Ed Schools’ Pedagogical Puzzle,” Sharon Otterman explores the new teacher-training program being implemented by Hunter College called Relay Graduate School of Education. Norman Atkins started this program after critiquing teacher education programs offered by universities. Instead of taking courses surrounding pedagogical study, the teachers are thrown into the classroom right near the beginning of their instruction and through the use of a flip camera and weekend courses, are critiqued and evaluated. The awarding of a masters degree is solely granted based on the improvement of the students’ test scores. One of the main problems that I see with this program is that it reiterates the same sort of rhetoric; that teachers are the sole problem for failing public schools. Both the teacher’s and the students’ success is based on test scores which ignore external factors that are shown to have a greater impact on a child’s education. Also, not only does the program remove thought-based content and the need for critical thinking, but it devalues teaching, making it seem like it is of a lower profession and anyone can do it as long as they follow the teaching guidelines and techniques presented by the Relay program. Relay, in conjunction with the use of testing, which it supports, removes teacher creativity and flexibility within the classroom, two factors that, I believe, make a great teacher.
In the New York Times article, Mr. Atkins is quoted saying, “if you believe children shouldn’t have homework, or you believe that testing is evil, this probably isn’t the best program for you,” (4). While I do believe that homework can be a beneficial tool at times, I also believe that too many children (especially the younger ones) are given unnecessary busy-work to do at home when instead they should be outside, playing, and enjoying being a kid. I also feel that testing is being used in a malevolent manner when it is the sole criteria used to justify the firing of a teacher or the revoking of school funding. So, in response to Mr. Atkins, he’s right, this program is not the one for me.

Venture Philanthropy Meets Alternative Teacher Training

The charter school movement is gaining momentum and it seems as though everyone is drinking the kool-aid. Do some public schools need to do better? Yes, some do. Does this mean we should stop training teachers? Probably not, Atkins. 

The NY Times article blows my mind. When we (America at large) worry about having bad teachers, I would have to wonder if some of it has to do with the fact that alternative certification program and programs like TFA aren’t training their teachers. I'm currently in "The Teaching of Reading" with Professor Johnston, and if I've learned anything at all this semester, it's that there is no "one magical way" to teach students. There are better strategies and worse strategies, but the teacher's background information and beliefs about how students learn are the most important things. I am skeptical of this panacea approach to training teachers from the get-go.  

I feel a certain sort of way about being “beyond ideology” concept at Relay. I think being “beyond ideology” sounds like a specific kind of ideology of ignorance, and that is just as dangerous as a radically liberal or conservative motivator. Coming from a founder who also has his fingers in the charter school pie, I can’t say I’m horribly surprised. It only seems natural that once in control of the schools to expand that control to the teachers in them as well. Give it time. If this keeps up, our sweet charter school indoctrinated students will grow up, have their own children, maybe, and send them to those inspiring model schools they themselves attended. It does not sit well with me. (In other news, Soylent Green is people.)

Venture philanthropy is motivated by neoliberalism? You don't say, Saltman! He also says that teaching is a political act and warns that the deregulation of teacher training would have serious political consequences. As he outlines a plan for the professionalization of teaching, I am reminded of Professor Palmer's triangle of the players in eduction: theory, policy and practice. In order to be effective teachers (practice), there needs to be a solid foundation in both theory and policy. Ideally, all three should inform each other, but that is rarely the case. Yet, if teaching can become professionalized, that may just be the impetus needed to empower educators to become more involved in the other two areas and vice versa. The three areas are too disconnected now, and even with teacher empowerment it is not fair to expect teachers to do all the work within the triangle alone.

The Gates Foundation is not alone in their desire to reform teacher education. I, too, see the need for reform. My reform doesn't include the complete deregulation of the teacher certification process in a feverish quest to raise test scores. Saltman notes, "Broader and more holistic concepts of understanding, wisdom, the education of the whole person from the enlightenment tradition...are diminished in this view in favor an instrumentalized conception of knowledge," (116). I see reformed teacher certification with more focus on multicultural education, and more reflection on the codes of the culture of power. I want teachers to be aware of their own beliefs and their schema, and I want them to be in classrooms that are not scheduled down to the minute, but have the flexibility to move with students' interest. Test score measurements continue to do more harm than good. We have to see teaching as bigger than test scores if we want real change. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Teach For America

The readings and podcast for this coming week really made us sit back and think about Teach for America, and what kind of work it is actually doing.  Maddy raises a great point at the end of her post about how misleading the title of Teach for America really is.  When you hear the words “Teach for America”, you would assume that there was no way that a single negative thing could come from this program and the work that it does.  An individual that is not informed on this program, or our education system will see this title and probably think that it is a great cause, and that it is benefitting our students and our youth, when in reality they could not be more wrong.  The readings for this week enable us to take a look at individuals who have been in the program and have had experiences that everyone should know about before they assume that TFA is helping these children.

            Where is the biggest problem when it comes to TFA? Is it the assumptions that society makes regarding the program? It is the unsuccessful training that these teachers are getting? Or could it be the fact that the students in these schools lives are being handle with such recklessness? I’m going to go with all of it.  It was stated throughout the entire Darling-Hammond article how teachers who were in the program felt as though they were completely unprepared, and they were fully aware that their students were paying the price.  To add to this, as Monica stated, graduates often use the program of TFA as a stepping-stone as a way of “gaining experience”, and then heading off on another path that has nothing to do with teaching.  So we see here that the investment and passion is already missing from this young group of people.  The message we are sending to these students and to the communities in which they live, is that even though these teachers probably won’t ever teach again, they know more than you do, so you are essentially lucky to have them in the picture.  Margaret Bradley, principal of P.S. 223 discusses her disappoint with the TFA individuals, “I though that these were really bright students who wanted to make a difference, but I found it to be just the opposite in terms of their commitment.” (Darling-Hammond, 25)  Not only was there a lack of preparation, but there for the most part was a disconnect on a personal level from the TFA recruits and teachers with the location in which they were placed.  And the training was definitely not helping this situation, as Thomas Popkewitz discussed after studying the program its first year. “In TFA training, distinctions were drawn between the normal child who succeeded in schooling and the child of color-who became the ‘other’: the one who lacked motivational attributes, behavioral characteristics, and self-esteem to succeed.” (Darling-Hammond, 25) And here we have our answer to the way that society views our students; and we want to place the blame on them for not having agency.  These kids are being written off before they even get a chance to be something.  Darling-Hammond discusses on page 27, that this disconnect between the TFA teachers and students could stem from the fact that because the training program for TFA does not actually set these individuals up for success in the classroom, they often fall back on the ways in which they were taught.  This is problematic because there is no acknowledgment that these kids are not only living in a different environment, with different situations, but also that each students learns differently from the person next to them. (27)

Regardless of whether or not the intentions were there, good or bad, TFA has only perpetuated the idea of neoliberalism in society.  With the help of this program, the negative stereotypes continue to cycle throughout our country, a privileged, white, elite, individual has all of the answers for a community of people that they do not even know, or would care to get to know.  Wendy Kopp refuses to allow TFA to be truly analyzed, which alone should a be a red flag, that even she, the founder of TFA knows that something is not right. (Darling-Hammond, 22)  When it comes down to it, our students are what matter, and programs like Teach for America are not only not benefitting these children and students, but causing serious detriment to their education and youth.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Teach For America

The readings and podcast for Monday shed light on the controversial nature of Teach for America. Both the authors are critical of TFA and the way that it does more harm than good for kids in the classroom. I think the fact that people such as Neha Singhal, who were selected to participate in TFA and then dropped out, are willing to speak so openly about their experiences and offer a criticism of the program helps validate the various claims that many teachers employed by TFA are actually detrimental to a child’s education.

            In reality, many intelligent, ambitious graduates use TFA as a stepping-stone for their path to a “real job” such as one in law, medicine, or business. Being a teacher is rarely in the cards and being chosen to teach through a very selective program serves as a tremendous resume booster for those looking to go into other industries (Darling-Hammond, 23). Part of the problem is that the elite often make up those chosen to teach. Since TFA is known for placing newly-hired teachers in underprivileged schools and districts, many of the teachers have grown up in environments quite different from where they are about to teach. Darling-Hammond’s article cites Ann Cook, a teacher and co-director of a New York City public school that succeeds with students that were failed by other schools. I in some ways agree with Cook’s assertion that TFA recruits could be the least likely to succeed when teaching those children to whom they can hardly relate. She proposes an alternative in which TFA sends its recruits to privileged suburbs and private schools where the classrooms are more likely to mirror their own experiences (Darling-Hammond, 24). While I think that this does take away from Wendy Kopp’s original intent of TFA, clearly the way things are going now is inefficient and some form of change would be more effective. Do you think that directing recruits to more privileged areas would be a better move for TFA? Or is keeping the program the way it is now and focusing on improving the training program a more effective way of bettering the system?

            The Hartman article bashes TFA by picking apart and analyzing the apparent justifications of the program. Part of it touches on the issue of standardized testing that we have encountered throughout this course. Kopp and Michelle Rhee, who is the Chancellor of Schools in Washington, D.C., continue to claim that standardized testing is the most effective way to quantify accountability. Additionally, they claim that these tests provide evidence that their efforts are working. This notion goes back to the issue of priority and how programs such as TFA are neglecting to put a child’s education over their own success. Teacher success turns into the number one priority (here, discussed out of the realm of TFA) so teachers do not lose their jobs.

            In finding out more about how TFA really works, it is alarming how much value holding a comprehensive, “official” degree in teaching means over merely being selected for your academic talents through TFA. As Maddy mentioned in regards to the podcast, former TFA recruits themselves admit that it is a problem for the children, qualified teachers, and recruits themselves that the qualified teachers cannot secure jobs because of spots reserved for TFA recruits. Based on the problems we have seen stem from TFA, do you think that doing away with the program would be the only way of “fixing” the negative effects it has on students in the classroom? It is evident that the program looks to provide the recruits with a rewarding and enlightening experience while making the kids they teach the guinea pigs that help them have that experience. Once the teachers finish their term (if they even do), they often venture out into the corporate world with no intention of ever turning back. The students, meanwhile, are trapped in the cycle of receiving teachers lacking professional training and personal understanding to help them in the classroom. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

"Teach" for (white elite) America

The articles and podcast for this week brought up questions that have been troubling me with other issues in the course: Are those in power perpetuating the system aware of the detrimental effects of their actions on low income, minority communities? Furthermore, do those behind Teach for America actually believe their program is doing good work?

            Both authors make it very clear that TFA only harms the children in low-income communities by putting inexperienced and unqualified teachers into the classrooms, hampering the students’ education experiences.  The claims of the former TFA members demonstrate this well.  Jonathan Scorr claims, “But I was not read…I was not a successful teacher and the loss to the students was real and large” (Darling-Hammond 22).  Many former TFA recruits and members of the administration at the schools that take them echo these claims about TFA members, maintaining that not only are they unprepared but most are not really dedicated—that they don’t understand the complicated needs of the children and the surrounding community. (Darling-Hammond 25).  This is due to the assumptions embedded in TFA—that a quick summer course without any formal evaluation, and one that fails to address necessary ideas about teaching and the learning process is better than longer teaching certification programs in creating able teachers that can help reduce the achievement gap (Darling- Hammond 29).   

It seems that a common theme underlying all these assumptions is that elite, mostly white, graduate students, because of their innate superiority, will naturally know what is good for low socioeconomic students—that white elites naturally know the rights solutions to poverty without any knowledge about the communities they are serving.

This is an especially dangerous supposition and one that results in a loss of proper education for low income and minority students.  TFA becomes even more problematic because of the underlying principle that the proper way to deal with low income, minority students is to submit them to Taylor institutionalization, so that TFA recruits are taught to employ punishments when students are not meeting the strict standards imposed on them (Hartman).  Therefore, not only does TFA deprive kids of meaningful learning, it also constantly reinforces the notion that they are deviant and need to be controlled, thereby reproducing negative stereotypes about their race/class background and making the classroom experience much less enjoyable.

 The abundance of evidence about the problems is shocking.  Researchers continuously find that the students of beginner TFA teachers perform significantly less well than those of credentialed beginning teachers, while most administrators have claimed that TFA teachers leave a lot of chaos because they fail to respond to the needs of the children, and/or quit or need to be fired.  As a result, the school is left to pick up the pieces (Darling-Hammond 26).  Furthermore, many former TFA members speak out against it, arguing that it hurts the children, the recruits, and the qualified teachers who cant get jobs because of all the spots secured for TFA recruits (This American Life).  The evidence begs the question of how those supporting TFA cannot see the detrimental effects of their actions.  Do they not know or is it simply that they don’t care? Do they really think this is the best way to educate low-income children?

Linda Darling-Hammond asked Kopp about these problems.  “If the candidates didn’t succeed, she explained to me, it would not really be a problem, because most of them would not stay in teaching anyway.  And they would have had an important experience’…She never mentioned the children’s lives” (23).  Kopp’s statement reveals the disgusting and dishonest aims of Teach for America.  It is irrelevant whether or not those behind TFA believe in their ability to educate low-income children or whether they know the disastrous effects, because the process is not about the children.  The title, “Teach for America” is deceptive and has misled many people, myself included, if they do not know the facts.  The only “America” they are serving is white, upper class America, while the other communities must deal with the consequences of the chaos imposed on them…..yet again.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Two Visions for Teachers in Education

This week’s readings put forth two strikingly different visions for public schools.
In “How to fix our schools: A manifesto,” former New York City schools Chancellor Joel Klein, former Washington, D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and other cohorts composed a document full of the language of the neoliberal reform movement. It is both grandiose and plainly neoliberal. The manifesto invokes the familiar and lofty refrain of “excellence must be our only criteria.” It preposterously chides schools for not properly balancing the classroom that has some students “reading on a fourth-grade level” while “others are ready for Tolstoy.” The solutions that it proposes restructure schools after a business model. “Personnel decisions based on performance,” “financial incentives” and “a better portfolio of schools choices” is the business-chic lingo that it suggests will bring about change. By their reasoning, schools based off the corporate world have the magic that makes things better for both the student stuck on fourth-grade chapter books and the bookworm yearning for Tolstoy’s War and Peace.
In stark contrast, at the end of Jack Gerson’s chapter “The Neoliberal Agenda and the Response of Teachers Unions,” Gerson places power for change in the hands of teachers unions inspired by a renewed spirit of communitarian activism. He urges teachers unions to organize “a coalition of labor, community, and environmental groups.” He suggests that demonstrations such as the 10,000 demonstrators who marched at Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza could be used as a model. Groups like the CORE caucus of the Chicago Teacher’s Union also could serve as a model of a group that understands the issues and resists corporate reform. This reminded me that Julie Cavanagh from P.S. 15 in Brooklyn had told us that she was impressed with Chicago teachers’ understanding of issues in education. Gerson would remodel teachers unions in a way that unites the great mass movements of the 1930s and the smaller, communitarian grassroots movements of today.
Of course, the reality is that teachers unions today, in the struggle between these two competing visions, capitulate to neoliberal reform. Leaders of the two big national teachers unions (the NEA and AFT) feel that they must do so to keep their seat at the table among the forces that control public education in this country. When you have a situation where cities place the authors of the manifesto like Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee in charge of city schools, it is easy to be sympathetic with this view. Yet, this same grim reality also underscores the necessity of having a voice of forceful opposition. Teachers unions may be the last force left to tip the scales toward communitarian reform. Good reform will require bravery from unions. It will require leveraging the power of the people against the power of corporate wealth. The voice of teachers must sound out louder than corporate propaganda and distortion.

Klein, Rhee, Rothstein & Gerson: How do we fix our schools?

It is clear after reading these articles that there is no one solution to how to fix our schools. While reading Klein and Rhee’s manifesto, many errors seemed apparent to me, which were then addressed in Rothstein’s response to their manifesto. I thought it very ignorant to place the blame of this nation’s failing school system exclusively on teachers. External factors, as outlined in Rothstein’s article, seem to me to be much more important when dealing with how to improve children’s education. He shows that one third of all black children are now in poverty, which is the same fraction that can be attributed to differences in school quality when explaining variation in student achievement (Rothstein). This means that the remaining two-thirds can be attributed to external factors, which includes parents. While higher stress, poorer health, more hunger, and geographic disruption are certainly negative consequences of more children in poverty, I found it surprising that he didn’t include the idea of parents’ educational past as well. If a child’s parents both had positive experiences in school, they are certainly more likely to want their children to have a positive one as well. Conversely, if they did not have a positive experiences, they are likely to not care as much about their child receiving a good education, or succeeding in school at all. Therefore, parents’ attitude toward education is incredibly important for their children.
Klein and Rhee’s proposition for fixing our schools appeared to be a manifesto that wanted to appeal to Obama and his administration. They failed to criticize RTTT; merely saying it “has been the catalyst for more reforms than we have seen in decades” (Klein and Rhee). Instead, they just say that our schools cannot keep up with these reforms, while they should be pointing a finger at these reforms in the first place for hurting our school system. An excess of reform cannot and will not fix our schools, and neither will only attacking teachers. As Gerson argues, the influence of the wealthy posing as “educational reformers” is stronger now under Obama than it was under Bush, when the original abomination of public education reform was signed into existence: NCLB (Gerson 98).
Klein and Rhee’s manifesto is certainly a neoliberal one, which is somewhat scary because they were in such high positions with regard to public schooling. They used privatization, in the form of charter schools, as one option to improve public school. Clearly this means taking funding away from public school, something they should be much more concerned about. Additionally, they want educators to receive monetary benefits if their students are succeeding. Because the only way to judge this success is based on test scores, which we know aren’t beneficial to the students, or the teachers for that matter. It seems to me that none of the options outlined in this article are viable for actually fixing schools. However, Gerson seems to be on the right path, with ideas of mass action and political action, funding for public education, opposing the corporate education reform agenda, among many. Gerson’s article is like a small ray of hope in the despair that is our current educational reform system. This whole class for me has been quite depressing, because it all seems to question whether there really is a way to fix public schools. So far, it does not seem promising. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Klein & Rhee, Rothstein, and Gerson

We have been learning about the neoliberal nature of current education reform by reading scholarly articles, but the Washington Post Manifesto represents present discourse among the public rather than the scholars. All of the common words and phrases of propaganda are present within this article: ‘preparing for global economy,’ ‘education crisis,’ ‘big gifts from donors and entrepreneurs,’ ‘performance,’ ‘portfolio,’ ‘business inspired management,’ ‘hard work,’ ‘incentives,’ and ‘evaluations based on data.’ These are all scary. Quite frankly, the entire manifesto scares me because it is a piece of propaganda sprinkled with poorly written attempts at persuasive writing. All of these meritocratic notions are thrown around then the piece concludes with one grand solution: blame the bad teachers. This sorry crew of education experts agree that teacher quality is the most influential factor in a student’s success. This is an idea they almost have correct, but they run off in a strange direction with it calling for a business model. This reform calls for merit based pay and standardized instruction.
Rothstein and Gerson remind us of a few ideas that might help us re-think these proposed solutions. First, Rothstein argues that years of social science research says 2/3 of the factors contributing to student success are outside of the school and not under the control of the teacher. Second, teachers competing for higher test scores and pay incentives will most likely not be in a position to collaborate, something proven to help students as they move between subjects and grades. Finally, an incentive to raise test scores causes teachers to ignore subjects that do not commonly appear on tests. Rothstein points out that we should be applauding teachers that keep the gap from growing anymore when the social climate of the U.S. is becoming worse for underprivileged students and families.
Gerson outlines two myths supporting neoliberal reform. First, public schools are failing and thus the nation is at risk of falling behind other countries and competitors. Second, the reason for this decline is bad teachers and lack of uniformity. We already know why these are not true. Furthermore, Gerson describes how institutional reforms like NCLB and RTTT have received bipartisan support, even from teachers unions (120).
There are a few things here that are disconcerting. The more we learn about education the more we realize that social issues like poverty, marginalization, and exploitation are at the root. We are letting massive amounts of people exist in poverty and unsupported within the country. Education is perhaps the clearest glimpse we have into the vast inequality perhaps because it is the last slightly public institution. If education becomes privatized, it will put unrepresented and under served people in the same position as every other formerly public sphere. They will be accused of personal inadequacy then we will devalue and eventually throw them away. Why is this okay? Why does destroying the livelihood of people not valuable have bipartisan support?  How much of our nation is built upon this idea?