Education “Reform” and Teacher Shortages

No Child Left Behind - Mike Keefe

I don’t write as much as I should about education. The reason is that it greatly depresses me. The education “reform” movement is so pernicious and so powerful that it is hard not to think that all is lost. Here in the United States, this movement seems focused on destroying teacher unionization more than anything else. And as always when there is an attack on worker rights, the quality of jobs goes down. Even the most idealistic of those in the “reform” movement seem only interested focusing on test scores because that is something that is easy and quantifiable. It’s the old story of the drunk looking for her keys far away from where she lost them because “the light’s better here.”

Stephen MucherLast week, Stephen Mucher, the director of Bard College’s “master of arts in teaching” program, wrote an important article, The Teaching Crisis That Unions and School Districts Won’t Address. It contains some amazing information in it. For example, “Since 2008, enrollment in teacher education programs in California is down 53%, and other bellwether states report a similar trend.” This trend is — Oh, what is the word?! — predictable. Let’s think about this for a moment.

The nation as a whole wants better teachers for our children. Everyone at least gives lip service to the idea that great teachers have a huge effect on our children. And the solution that we’ve come up with is: test the children more, over-structure classroom time, and vilify teachers. Oh, and don’t forget: get rid of their unions, decrease worker protections, and lower their salaries. That’s clearly not the way to get better teachers working in our schools. In fact, it is a recipe for destroying good teachers that are already working.

So what is it like to be a teacher?

Historically, teachers are happier than other professionals. Teaching ranks high on measures that gauge an employee’s sense of purpose and social impact… But this powerful incentive to join a field dedicated to public service is increasingly offset by other concerns.

Asked, for example, whether their “opinions seem to count” in the workplace, teachers ranked dead last among surveyed professions. Asked whether supervisors create a workplace that is “open and trusting,” teachers gave their field similarly low marks.

It is hard to see the whole of the education “reform” movement as having any philosophy other than, “The beatings will continue until morale improves.” Now Mucher isn’t specifically talking about the “reform” movement. But the focus on testing and the vilification of teacher unions is all coming from the “reform” movement. And the “reform” movement goes where the money pushes it. And the money comes from the same people who moved our manufacturing jobs overseas. They want to do for education what they’ve done for the rest of the economy: turn teachers into low paid cogs, who can be plugged into any educational machine.

Mucher is clear as to what needs to be done. In addition to “competitive salaries, benefits and better working conditions” teachers need their jobs to be fulfilling:

Our most promising educators crave work that honors their creativity and intellect. They are suspicious of easy answers. They need to hear more than the cliche that a great teacher can make a difference in a student’s life. They want to know whether this profession will make a difference in their own life.

No surprisingly, Diane Ravitch had a few choice words to say about all this. She noted something that is telling, “I doubt that most critics would know how to teach a classroom of 30 children of any age, but they feel emboldened to complain about those who do it every day.” I think that is part of the problem with the way that Americans look at teaching: they think it is something that anyone could do — very much the way that they think about politics. I’m not sure where they get this idea, except that Americans just have a tendency to devalue the work done by anyone. To me, the kind of teachers that the “reform” movement is crying out for practice the easiest kind of teaching.

What we end up with is a system that claims it wants Alfie Kohn acolytes in the classroom to stimulate and broaden the minds of children, but it wants to check in every two months to make sure that all the children have learned how to spell certain words and know the dictated parts of the multiplication table. That doesn’t work. But as I’ve said before, education “reform” has little or nothing to do with improving education, What Is the Goal of Education Reform? Since the real problems in our educational system are not being dealt with, it isn’t too surprising that the “reform” movement is only managing to make things worse.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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