I read a lot of stuff on education policy, written by a wide range of authors. Some are bright, well-informed, and experienced teachers. Most are not. But this piece here maybe the silliest article on education reform I’ve seen in a long, long time.
It’s by an author I have to admit I’d never heard of until today…Robin Lake, from the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington, Bothell. (Note: One of my trusted colleagues at UW Bothell wanted me to assure readers that their School of Educational Studies is not connected to CRPE, and does not want to be connected to CRPE in any way.)
A quick glance at Ms. Lake’s CV shows that she has a MPA in Education and Urban Policy from the University of Washington, but never found time to actually, you know…teach. So here she is, providing her suggestions on how to “fix” education, without ever having taught anyone anything. So there’s that–which I wish I could say was surprising, or uncommon.
Anyhoo, here’s a snippet…with some commentary:
Lake: “What exactly do we want to happen when students aren’t achieving basic competencies? Imagine a ninth grader who shows up in high school reading at a third-grade level. Should the high school be held accountable for that student’s lack of proficiency?”
Me: If your first question upon encountering a ninth grader reading at a 3rd grade level is about who to blame…you’re not a teacher. But to answer the question of what to do when kids aren’t achieving basic competencies…maybe the first things to do are to ask who established these competencies, how they were determined, how were they measured, who paid for the tests, and who benefits when kids fail?
Also, so long as we’re using strawman tactics to make our point here, it’s more than possible that this ninth-grader “show(ed) up in high school reading at a third-grade level” after attending a string of poorly-managed for-profit charter schools, in which under-prepared and uncertified “teachers” were following a canned reading curriculum and presenting scripted lessons under the watchful eye of a “teacher quality supervisor” who also never taught…and was then passed on from one mismanaged ATM masquerading as a school to another profit-center dressed up as a school, and so on, and so on, until arriving at a traditional public school, where some over-worked, under-appreciated, highly-qualified public school teacher recognized the problem, came up with solutions, and helped the child learn how to read. And she did all of this without worrying about holding the student’s previous schools “accountable.”
Lake: “What level of growth should we demand as the school begins the painstaking work of building that student’s vocabulary, background knowledge, and confidence?”
Me: What “level of growth should we demand”? First, who is “we” here? A bunch of self-appointed “experts” who have never taught, like the author–who is in charge of a self-appointed group of “experts” who never taught?
And “demand”? How about “we” “demand” that the schools this ninth-grader attends be adequately funded? And staffed by qualified career teachers, not a rotating cast of Teach for America or Teachers of Tomorrow edutourists spending a year or two resume-padding before launching their careers at ed policy think tanks, or as charter school CEOs (and when did schools start hiring CEOs???), or applying to law schools, or interning on Capitol Hill? And supervised by actual school administrators, not Relay Graduate School or Broad Superintendent Academy “certified” adminibankers?
Secondly, demand? Demand? DEMAND???
Before we hear another self-appointed ed expert “demand” a single thing, how about we return the control for every single school in this country to the citizens who live and work in the communities in which these schools are located? I’m guessing that Ms. Lake is a big booster of the “New Orleans Miracle,” in which the city’s public schools were converted to an almost entirely charter school district, managed by an array of privately-run charter school operators, astro-turf organizations, and flat out scammers and grifters. In a stunning turn of events (Narrator: “It’s in no way stunning…”), it seems as though the actual parents of the children enrolled in lots of these charters aren’t so wild about how their kids’ schools are being run…in fact, they are outraged, and are demanding (there’s that word again, except now it’s being used correctly) that control of their schools be returned to the elected school board.
Here’s what stuns me: that conservatives, who are supposedly all about “local control,” are so willing to cede that control for our schools to people who have demonstrated they are in the business of education for profit, not kids, or teachers, or learning…just to make a buck or two. Or a lot more than that, as it may be.
Lake: “How can we create early-warning systems to ensure that these kinds of learning gaps get diagnosed and addressed long before that student arrives at high school unable to read?”
Me: Again with the “we,” Ms. Lake? Well, here’s the answer: you and your merry band of corporate reformers of education will never create these “early warning systems,” because you have never spent any appreciable time in schools, don’t understand teaching, or kids, and are not really interested in helping children learn.
“We” teachers have already created these systems, Ms. Lake…and the policies and cuts to education budgets that corporate ed reformers and organizations like the Center on Reinventing Public Education have endorsed for the past couple of decades have worked only to eliminate them.
What are these “early warning systems,” you might ask?
- reading teachers
- special education teachers
- after-school and wrap-around programs
- school libraries and librarians
- smaller class sizes
- school counselors
- neighborhood schools
You know what doesn’t help identify kids who might be struggling with reading, or any other aspect of their learning?
- more standardized testing
- competency based education
- personalized learning
- a less stable and less prepared teaching force
- virtual schooling
- canned curricula and scripted lesson plans
- high-stakes 3rd grade reading tests
If there’s a lesson here, it’s not for teachers working in our public schools. It’s for Ms. Lake and her colleagues at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, and all of the other faux-education experts opining on the problems in the schools these days–problems that their policies are largely responsible for creating.
If you really, truly want to improve education, then start supporting traditional public schools, vote for political candidates that support public education, and use your grant dollars in more productive ways–or better yet, donate those dollars to your local public school district. What a nice Thanksgiving present that would be.