Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Why are you criticizing our public schools -- we're the victims?

A question, but not a terribly perceptive one, for the practitioners of a system that was historically granted a virtual monopoly, immunity from rigorous oversight, the ability to tax our public, protective policies, and supposed to be educating our next generations of choosers and doers, parlaying all of that into mission failure this century. 

And I suspect some readers of this blog, sarcastically though sotto voce, wonder just how many hours has this reporter actually spent in the classroom, writing exams, grading exams, counseling students, mentoring students, inventing and assessing curricula, managing education processes, and hiring and assessing educators?  A rough estimate overall is somewhere in excess of 55,000 hours. 

So let’s try a really simple thought experiment:  If American public schools have been doing such a magnificent job for the last quarter century, why are Mr. Obama, education’s pretender Arne Duncan, a small army of alleged reformers including some raw power seekers and aggressive billionaires, and a material slice of corporate America clamoring for K-12 change, killing public systems, cashiering teachers, penalizing students, and expending double-digit billions of both private and public sector dollars on take-no-prisoners alleged school reform?

The issues in present conflicting camps on US public K-12 need for change, including the forced testing, teacher assessment via VAM, and in the imposition of a “common core” not ready for prime time, have been dual:  A reform movement based on naive and untested models of learning and assessment, laced with political ideology, imposed on public K-12; and an entire collegiate system of education for education, plus 100,000 public schools that do have historical infrastructure for orderly process, but have simply fumbled their own opportunities over decades for self-reform?

The capacity demonstrated by both sides of this war to simply speak past each other is amazing.  Further muddying the playing field has been the demagoguery shown by some reformers, and by public educators alike who have simply been sycophant to the reformers, or lack the courage to strive for excellence and innovation versus the serenity and anonymity of conformity.

Our public schools, then, are as guilty as the alleged reformers in pursuing self-centric goals versus putting systemic learning achievement at the apex of the K-12 mission.  The hot-button issue, and the words that supposedly dare not be spoken, some fraction of our teachers and many public school superintendents and principals are at the vortex of K-12 failure even if it is unintentional.

But third party critique slips off the backs of our K-12 educational establishment as easily as school levies seem to materialize from local school boards.  Let’s hear a parent’s view. Below is a response from a parent to the last Edunationredux post, speaking to our systems’ righteousness:

“This is pretty much my experience with the system.  If they spent as much time managing the teachers as they do the testing procedures, our kids would learn so much more.  My daughter, a senior at ---------- HS, has a teacher (if you want to call her that) for pre-calc, who uses YouTube videos and other automated or non-automated but non-teacher activities for the students to learn the material she has outlined on the board.  In other words, she doesn't teach it.  When my daughter asked her for help on a problem she was told by the teacher, "I don't know how to do that one."  She had her skip it and go on to the next and said she would not mark points off for it. 

I pay a tutor $60 per hour 2 nights a week to teach my daughter pre-calc.  What does the teach do?  She spends most of the class time socializing with her fellow teacher who doesn't seem to have a class at the same time.  They hang out in the classroom and talk while the students teach themselves.  I'm told the principal does not have the authority to take corrective measures to manage his teachers.  It seems like he has been relegated to managing the students and staff but not the teachers.  I don't understand this.

How do I know my daughter isn't making this up?  Because the tutor has about 12 other students she tutors and they all tell her the same thing, independently from one another.  This makes me want to scream and shout from the roof tops that our system is broken.  Evidently it will do no good because everyone is deaf.”

How many times per week, month or term do this and other learning insults still occur unchecked in our public schools, because of archaic school system organization theory, poorly trained, vetted or conforming administrators, marginally trained teachers, and a culture of entitlement, self-righteousness and ignorance of genuine learning?  Do we need reform? There is really no argument for denial in spite of the minority of systems in that milieu that does seek the right values, manages with excellence, and tries to employ creativity.

But what a mangled tribute to advanced societal diagnosis and remediation: Consider that in spite of reformers' strident calls for constant student, teacher and school metrics, they concluded you don't need prior diagnostic metrics to prescribe major change; dive-bomb the customers with naive post hoc tests; ignore those at the top who steer and fail in that assignment, or project timid leadership, or who have just lapsed into bureaucracy misconstrued as management; advocate curricular product with a political aroma; and in mass testing bombings with indiscriminate targeting pretty much ignore both over one-hundred years of public education organizational learning and historical success, along with impacts on the aspirations of many to teach, and muddying hope of future sophisticated K-12 learning.

Bizarre, that our cabal of public K-12 reformers advocating a better grip on knowledge is acting in almost total ignorance of how knowledge is developed, assessed and promulgated for real effect.   No less bizarre, a public K-12 establishment that to too great an extent by denial or dogmatism is as destructive of constructive public K-12 change as the alleged reformers.

The US public K-12 challenge calls for a time-out, cessation of the embedded dogmatism on both sides of the skirmish line, and genuine debate on what should constitute national public education goals, what knowledge should be universal and who gets to call that out, and the remediation and innovation needed to get there.  Beating on education's foot-soldiers, and addressing only the symptoms of US learning deficits, have never proven an effective change model.  In parallel, innovation from Ancient Greece through Schumpeter to present advocates of creative change, all assert that real change may need to be disruptive; a cost of change some idealists simply can't fathom, and that those who need to change deny or vigorously resist.  An ancient saying:  "You gets what you pays for."

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