Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What "Teacher Bashing" Really Means

 Matt Yglesias, a true believer in the new education reform movement, isn't very interested in looking at much else than bad teaching.   He offered this gem on his blog today:
The idea has gotten out there that efforts to ensure that students from poor families have access to effective teachers is somehow a form of “teacher-bashing.” When you think about it, the reverse is true—the real teacher-bashers out there are the ones insisting, contrary to the evidence, that teaching is irrelevant to the learning process.
One of his commenters takes him to task.

You’ve basically decided that doing the only thing that could actually solve this problem is too politically difficult, so you’re just going to make up a bunch of random shit for political grand standing. Shock of all shocks, you’ve chosen unions as your targets.

I think this is very well said. To be fair, many reformers are being pragmatic, and focusing their efforts on working within the current political realities. But in doing so, they have fooled themselves into believing that the marginal gains you might get on "better teaching" from accountability/standards/charters/etc. are actually substantive.

In reality, I think they are zero-sum at best, as for every gain you get when these policies contribute to more effective education environments, you're also creating room for more impersonal curriculum, punitive and capricious administrative abuses, and a further push towards factory-style learning. These negatives will cause a downward push on talent and more good teachers leave the profession in frustration or simply decide it isn't worth entering to begin with.

Basically, you're trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Some schools will find a way to do it by the skin of their noses, but at least as many will contort themselves into grotesque and unhealthy deformities. As soullite and Math Teacher said, the real problem isn't the teachers, but the system, which for too long has been able to hide behind the sacrifices of many of us in the profession who are there to change lives, and have been able to put up with structural inadequacies because we've had to.

Matt Y sets up a series of straw men. Accusations of "teacher bashing" aren't directed at getting effective teachers to poor kids. Who would oppose that? The claim is that the "efforts" see bad teachers as the root problem, and not structural inadequacies. And instead of fixing those (starting by accounting for enormous disparities in social capital between SES groups), the reformers blame teachers when disparities in outcome persist.

He then claims that these accusers also claim that teaching is "irrelevant to the learning process." That's a pretty sickening statement. I challenge him to find a single quote anywhere that argues that. I don't mean to do his thinking for him, but he may have meant to say that these accusers don't place enough emphasis on teacher efficacy in the learning process. Maybe that's a valid critique (I'll thank myself). But what would you expect? When the opponent is doing nothing but attacking you with overemphasized false claims, your defensiveness gives the impression that you under-emphasize them.

God... shades of arguing with batshits! Ask most teachers and they will tell you that they hate bad teachers - not only is it bad for kids, but it literally makes their job harder, and it makes them look bad. And while things like union protection and tenure do make it more difficult to get rid of them, just as often the problem is administrators who simply do not do the heavy lifting in holding them accountable. Over and over you will find that teachers are given little supervision and little support.

So the equation becomes setting them up to fail, and then not holding them accountable when they do. This story in the LA Times gives a great primer on the problem that teachers see over and over. There are ample ways for administrators to hold teachers accountable but the bottom line is that they often choose not to - whether because they are over-worked as it is, or lack the competence.

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