De-professionalization for Profit: “Leery of teachers”

In Common Core’s unintended consequence?, Jonathan Sapers examines a report from the Center for Education Policy (CEP), self-described as “a national, independent advocate for public education and for more effective public schools.”

CEP has discovered “that in roughly two-thirds of districts in Common Core states, teachers have developed or are developing their own curricular materials in math (66 percent) and English Language Arts (65 percent). In more than 80 percent of districts, the CEP found that at least one source for curriculum materials was local — from teachers, the district itself or other districts in the state.”

As has been the pattern throughout roughly thirty years of public school accountability—one characterized by a revolving door of state standards and high-stakes testing—new standards and tests mean profit opportunities for education-focused businesses.

Sapers reports:

However, Jay Diskey, executive director of the PreK-12 Learning Group of the Association of American Publishers, said publishers are pulling their weight. “We have more than 150 members in our PreK-12 Learning Group. And the ones I’ve seen over the past several years or more have tried very hard to align with Common Core standards in reading and math.”…

Some teachers and districts are viewing the dearth of materials as an opportunity, but experts and even some educators say putting the job of creating curriculum materials into the hands of teachers may not necessarily be a good thing [emphasis added].

And this is where the article takes a troubling turn, as highlighted here:

leery of teachers

“Leery of Teachers”

My career as an educator includes 18 years teaching English in a SC public high school throughout the 1980s and 1990s, followed by the most recent 13 years as a teacher educator in higher education.

Those experiences and in my work teaching future teachers, I note that a powerful and problematic difference between a K-12 teacher and a college professor is the locus of authority in terms of the content of any course.

Historically and currently, the authority over content for K-12 teachers has too often been textbooks, curriculum guides, standards, and high-stakes tests.

For college professors, the single most important element of teaching authority is that professors are the locus of authority of the content they teach; in fact, many if not most college professors have little or no formal training in pedagogy, how to teach.

The great irony of this distinction is that between K-12 teachers and professors, K-12 teachers have the greater expertise in teaching, but a far reduced status as a professional when compared to professors.

Along with the locus of authority over the content, the status of professional is strongly related to autonomy and respect—which brings me back to the “unintended consequence” above.

The attitude toward K-12 teachers not having time to create curriculum is valid, but the reason they do not have time includes the incessant changing of bureaucratic mandates that consume their time and that K-12 teachers do not have professional schedules (which professors do) in which to conduct research and create curriculum (which are often related at the university level).

However, the “leery” as well as the unsubstantiated claim that teachers do not have the “professional background” to create curriculum is a genuinely ugly example of the de-professionalization of teaching—a process aided by a historical marginalizing of teaching (significantly as an element of professional sexism), the bureaucratizing of teaching, and the union-busting momentum in recent years.

We should be exploring the real intended consequence of Common Core: billions are to be made off the standards and testing charade, and teachers creating their own curriculum and materials infringes on that profit.

Teaching at all levels includes curriculum, instruction, and assessment, but central to those elements are the unique set of students each teacher faces every day.

Curriculum, instruction, and assessment mean almost nothing without the context of students, and the only person qualified to make those decisions is the teacher.

If we must be leery, let’s be leery about think tanks, publishing companies, and mainstream media who all seem to have little respect for the professionalism of teaching.

See Also

Teaching: Too Hard for Teachers, Peter Greene

Passive Progressivism

Hamlet:
A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a
king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm.

King:
What dost thou mean by this?

Hamlet:
Nothing but to show you how a king may go a
progress through the guts of a beggar.

Hamlet (Act 4, Scene 3)

The phrase “bleeding heart liberal” has always created in me some tension between skepticism about those who use it as a baseless slur against left-wing ideology and recognition that those calling themselves “liberal,” “progressive,” and/or “Democrat” are as likely to disappoint me as right-wingers (although for different reasons).

A Twitter conversation today with Camika Royal prompted by my Are We (Finally) Ready to Face Teacher Education’s Race Problem? led to this:

I have previously examined how the status quo of power in the U.S. seeks to acknowledge Martin Luther King Jr. only as a distorted passive radical, and I have recently called out my own field of teacher education for the tendency of education professors to complain and then comply.

Passivity and compliance, I note, are both necessary for maintaining the status quo of inequity in the U.S. and the central qualities among so-called progressives.

Progressivism rightly viewed is the antithesis of conservatism—although in the U.S. both terms are rarely understood, expressed correctly, or embodied in their original meanings.

Progressivism is inherently about not only recognizing the inevitability of change, but also embracing change for often idealistic ends (and thus, when taken to an extreme, the “bleeding heart liberal” paralyzed by that idealism).

Conservatism is about maintaining (conserving) conditions within a framework of traditional (enduring) values.

Neither term or ideology is understood or practiced with much faith in the U.S., but with great regret, I must note that the negative connotation of “bleeding heart liberal” rings all too true when we examine the behavior of many on the left, including self-professed progressives.

U.S. progressivism as liberalism is mostly about symbolism and lip-service.

Liberal Hollywood talks a great game, but never gets off the bench.

The liberal academy, much the same—ironically clinging to traditional norms of the aloof ivory tower that discourages public intellectualism as base, beneath the scholar.

And the liberal media? The greatest disappointment of all as the mainstream media in the U.S. is trapped in the objective pose of recognizing both sides of every issue—as if the world is a ninth-grade debate team contest.

Passive progressivism is more powerful in the U.S. than the conservative center that keeps the U.S. moving forward at a glacial creep anchored by racism, sexism, bigotry, homophobia, and widespread inequity.

Progressivism is nothing without the radicalism of action, as expressed by Howard Zinn:

From that moment on, I was no longer a liberal, a believer in the self-correcting character of American democracy. I was a radical….The situation required not just a new president or new laws, but an uprooting of the old order, the introduction of a new kind of society—cooperative, peaceful, egalitarian.

Much as Democrat and Republican are different sides of the same partisan-politics coin, progressive and conservative are different sides of the same static coin in the U.S.

And thus action in the U.S. is marginalized as radicalism, serving only to benefit the world as we now have it.

To have a world otherwise, we must all embrace radicalism.

See also here and below:

Public School, Charter Choice: More Segregation by Design

Academic Magnet High School serves the Charleston school district on the coast of South Carolina. The school functions under a choice umbrella, but requires students to submit to an admissions process.

SC is relatively more diverse than the U.S. on average in terms of white (+/- 70%)/black (+/- 30%) demographics, while less diverse in Hispanic/Latino (although those groups are growing significantly). Charleston certainly is even more diverse racially and culturally than the state.

Those realities have now prompted students at Academic Magnet to challenge the lack of diversity at their school:

Calls for a change in the admissions process at Academic Magnet High School continued Monday, with students urging the Charleston County School Board to tackle diversity issues at their school.

“Is the system that has produced an overwhelmingly white, upper-middle-class school in place of an equal opportunity magnet school for all Charleston County students fair?” asked Academic Magnet student Natalie Davidson….

Davidson said that although the school’s admissions process is “in a vacuum unbiased,” it has produced a “homogeneous” student body that is only 2 percent black in a school district that is 42 percent black.

The 2014 SC school report card for Academic Magnet shows absolute and growth ratings of excellent, but tested students included no African American or Hispanic/Latino students:

AMHS test 2014

Magnet and charter schools, however, are not the only choice mechanisms in SC since Greenville County school district offers (and aggressively markets) public school choice:

GCSD choice market

What has public school choice and charter choice produced in Greenville County?

Greenville Tech Charter High School, like Academic Magnet, has 2014 school report card ratings of excellent/excellent, but just over 80% of the students tested are white with no limit English proficiency students included:

GTCHS tested 2014 race

Public school choice has also resulted in highly segregated schools within the same district.

Berea High School has a consistent record of being a majority-minority school and also serves a diverse population of students by poverty and special needs:

BHS race

BHS poverty special needs

As a result, Berea High’s 2014 school report card looks quite different when compared to Academic Magnet or Greenville Tech Charter—good (absolute) and below average (growth) ratings, and a much different tested demographic of students:

BHS tested 2014

However, Riverside High School looks much more like Academic Magnet or Greenville Tech Charter—an excellent/excellent rating in 2014 and serving/testing a population 73% white:

RHS race

RHS tested 2014

Choice, then, in a variety of forms such as public school choice, charter schools, and magnet schools/academies are isolating students by race and class within highly diverse regions of a highly diverse state.

No longer vouchers or tuition tax credits, choice is now masked behind the allure of misleading labels—public, charter, magnet, academy—but ultimately resulting in one disturbing fact: choice segregates by design.

More choice will result in greater segregation and more shuffling, but market forces will never address equity and will always create winners and losers instead of establishing opportunities for all—as Academic Magnet demonstrates.

The call for fairness and diversity by students at Academic Magnet should be a call among all in SC and across the U.S.

See Also

Why Sending Your Child to a Charter School Hurts Other Children

On Memory and History: What’s in a Name?

In the 1996 film version of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, John Proctor chooses his name over his life:

John Proctor: Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them you have hanged! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!

While Proctor speaks to the association between a name and honor, names also carry the burdens of gender and heritage. “I have guarded my name as people/ in other times kept their own clipped hair,” begins the speaker in Barbara Kingsolver’s “Naming Myself” from Another America. Later, she explains:

I could shed my name in the middle of life,
the ordinary thing, and it would flee
along with childhood and dead grandmothers
to that Limbo for discontinued maiden names.

But it would grow restless there.
I know this. It would ride over leaf smoke mountains
and steal horses.

Names also represent race and the lingering weight of the heaviest shackles of history. To that, Malcolm X explains his name:

Like Malcolm X, Countee Cullen confronts the name he was called, adding the power of memory, of how names and history combine:

Now I was eight and very small,
     And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
     His tongue, and called me, "Nigger."

From his trip to Baltimore, Cullen concludes: “That’s all that I remember.”

The current debate over renaming Tillman Hall at Clemson University is yet another moment about the intersections of memory, history, and names. Possibly lost in the Tillman debate is the wider issue it represents.

“It’s true, South Carolinians would do well to remember Tillman’s legacy,” argues Paul Bowers, addressing directly the naming of Tillman Hall:

But we shouldn’t honor it, which is exactly what we’re doing by keeping his name on a building at a public university….

It’s another thing entirely for it to be named after Tillman, a progenitor and perpetuator of American apartheid who led lynch mobs during Reconstruction and boasted about it until his dying day.

Remembering history, the worst scars of history, is different than honoring those scars of history. And naming—whether it be a person’s name or a building’s—treads a thin line between remembering (as not to make the same mistake again) and honoring.

William Stafford’s “At the Un-National Monument along the Canadian Border” forces readers to consider through inversion that what we name is what we honor:

This is the field where the battle did not happen,…
where no monument stands,…

No people killed—or were killed—on this ground
hallowed by neglect and an air so tame
that people celebrate it by forgetting its name.

The South presents a history that must not be forgotten, but includes much that should not be honored—including the person, ideologies, acts, and name of Benjamin Tillman.

And somewhere between John Proctor’s impassioned but fictionalized plea and Malcolm X’s steadfast and reasonable refusal to accept the name given him lies my recognition that what we name anyone or anything, and why, is powerful evidence of what we remember and why—and ultimately what we honor beneath claims otherwise.

In Lynching in America, that fact—as in Stafford’s poem—is highlighted:

Most Southern terror lynching victims were killed on sites that remain unmarked and unrecognized. The Southern landscape is cluttered with plaques, statues, and monuments that record, celebrate, and lionize generations of American defenders of white supremacy, including public officials and private citizens who perpetrated violent crimes against black citizens during the era of racial terror [emphasis added]. The absence of a prominent public memorial acknowledging racial terrorism is a powerful statement about our failure to value the African Americans who were killed or gravely wounded in this brutal campaign of racial violence. National commemoration of the atrocities inflicted on African Americans during decades of racial terrorism would begin building trust between the survivors of racial terrorism and the governments and legal systems that failed to protect them. (p. 22)

Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street has a chapter “My Name” that begins, “In English my name means hope,” adding, “It was my great-grandmother’s name and now it is mine”:

She looked out the window her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow. I wonder if she made the best with what she got or was she sorry because she couldn’t be all things she wanted to be. Esperanza. I have inherited her name, but I don’t want to inherit her place by the window. (pp. 4-5)

Tradition is static, like “forgotten.” A name given, a name chiseled in granite, a name uttered each time someone gives directions.

Remembering in order to remain steadfast against the mistakes of the past does not require the echo of names, and renaming becomes an act of defiance and recognition, as Esperanza proclaims: “I would like to baptize myself under a new name, a name more like the real me, the one nobody sees” (p. 5).

The call to rename Tillman Hall, then, is not about erasing or forgetting, but about the baptism of re-naming as an act of courage, a claiming of honor too often denied and too often ignored. The refusal to rename Tillman Hall proves James Baldwin right, although he made these observations sixty years ago:

[The South] clings to the myth of its past but it is being inexorably changed, meanwhile, by an entirely un-mythical present: its habits and its self-interest are at war. Everyone in the South feels this and this is why there is such panic on the bottom and such impotence at the top. …

[I]t is, admittedly, a difficult task to try to tell people the truth and it is clear that most Southern politicians have no intention of attempting it….

This failure to look reality in the face diminishes a nation as it diminishes a person. (“Nobody Knows My Name: A Letter from the South”)

Renaming is a baptism long overdue in the Bible Belt.

See Also

Why the Heck Do Latino Reporters on Public Radio Say Their Names That Way?, Quenna Kim

Incessant Prediction for Education Reform: “bad things will happen”

Prescient then and now, Joanne Yatvin’s minority report as part of the National Reading Panel is a must read (scroll to about page 444), and regretfully can be applied to every aspect of the enduring accountability-based education reform movement; see this excerpt:

Yatvin minority excerpt

Bad things have happened, bad things will continue to happen.

Beware the Technocrats: More on the Reading Wars

Since it is Academy Awards season, let me start with film as context.

Whiplash has received a great deal of Oscars buzz with five significant nominations. But that film praise is interesting to frame against a review that considers how the film’s topic, jazz, is portrayed:

The mediocre jazz in Damien Chazelle’s new film, “Whiplash,” the story (set in the present day) of a young drummer (Miles Teller) under the brutal tutelage of a conservatory professor (J. K. Simmons), isn’t itself a problem. The problem is with the underlying idea. The movie’s very idea of jazz is a grotesque and ludicrous caricature.

“Mediocre,” “grotesque,” and “ludicrous caricature” are certainly not the stuff of Oscars, one would think, but this contrast of responses to the film represents well my problem with the Mt. Rushmore of technocrats who are cited with missionary zeal whenever you spend much time in the reading wars (see the comments here): Daniel Willingham, John Hattie, E.D. Hirsch, and Grant Wiggins.

With some qualifications for Wiggins (who taught high school and coached for 14 years, but has focused primarily on assessment since then), these often cited men are primarily quantitative researchers who are not within the field of literacy (Hirsch’s background is literature, not literacy) and have created cottage industries out of their names/work: Willingham as a psychologist, Hattie as a researcher/consultant, Hirsch as a core knowledge advocate, and Wiggins as proponent of understanding by design and consultant.

As I have noted before, most of my concern here is how certain advocates for phonics and direct instruction in literacy use the Mt. Rushmore of technocrats to close the door on the reading wars—not with any of these men or their work specifically (except Hattie [1]).

Therefore, I must offer, Beware the technocrats, because of the following:

  • Beware the seductive allure of statistics, numbers, and “scientific” research. As I have detailed more often than I would have liked, a perfect example of this concern is the prevalence of the Hart and Risley research on the “word gap,” which persists despite many concerns being raised about not only the research itself, but also the deficit ideology that drives the conclusions. Of course, high-quality experimental and quasi-experimental research matters, but many aspects of teaching and learning require and lend themselves to other research paradigms—notably qualitative action research conducted by classroom teachers with the real populations they teach.
  • Beware the momentum of cottage industry gurus. Hattie, Hirsch, and Wiggins have created entire careers for themselves—books, workshops, consultations. I remain deeply skeptical of such ventures (see also Nancie Atwell and a whole host of gurus on the “softer” side of research and within literacy as well). Even the best people with the best intentions can find themselves victims of “‘filthy lucre,'” but just as the higher the quality of scientific research, the more likely it means less to real-world teaching, the urge to reduce an evidence base or best practice to a program means that evidence and practice are mostly ruined.

In the reading wars, then, I witness time and again that the advocates for intensive phonics, phonics programs, and direct instruction grounded in prescribed content are either not within the field of literacy [2] or themselves invested in programs that benefit from those positions (the Common Core debate represents the same issue since most advocates stand to benefit from Common Core being implemented, some politically and some financially).

Which brings me back to Whiplash. If you know little or nothing about jazz, the film likely appears more wonderful than if you do.

I have a thirty-plus year career in literacy, including teaching literacy (mostly writing) and scholarship addressing literacy. That context for me renders the Mt. Rushmore of technocrats not insignificant, but certainly less credible than a century of research and practice by literacy practitioners and researchers that informs my practice.

There is a tyranny to certainty among those who wield the work of Willingham, Hattie, Hirsch, and Wiggins in ways that end the conversation, that shut the door on a broader basis of evidence to inform, not mandate, practice. There is a greater tyranny of commerce lurking here also, using “scientific” as a mask for commercialization.

Both serve to further de-professionalize teachers, and both often result in classroom practices that may raise test scores but create nonreaders.

And thus, when Hattie is cited (yet again) during the reading wars, for example:

I posted a question in Pamela and Alison’s article last week, but didn’t get a response from anyone. My question is: if the “effect size” of synthetic phonics (according to Hattie’s research) is 0.54, and that of whole language learning is 0.06, does that mean:

  1. That whole language actually does have an effect; and
  2. Should we therefore use the two approaches in the ratio of 1:9 (i.e. the difference in their effect sizes)? (scroll to the comment from John Perry, who, I must add, is being reasonable here)

I share the exasperation Richard Brody expresses at the end of his review of a jazz film that uses Buddy Rich as the icon for the film’s protagonist: John Hattie. John Visible Learning Hattie.

In terms of evidence, that has the opposite effect intended.

See Also

Education ‘experts’ may lack expertise, study finds

Taming the Wild West of Educational Research, Simon P. Walker

[1] Those who rush to use Hattie are proof of solid research fail to note that his work has been challenged for quality, even within the quantitative paradigm; see:

[2] Since many people continue to refer to the National Reading Panel report, please examine Joanne Yatvin’s minority view, starting about page 444, including:

In the end, the work of the NRP is not of poor quality; it is just unbalanced and, to some extent, irrelevant. But because of these deficiencies, bad things will happen. Summaries of, and sound bites about, the Panel’s findings will be used to make policy decisions at the national, state, and local levels. Topics that were never investigated will be misconstrued as failed practices. Unanswered questions will be assumed to have been answered negatively. Unfortunately, most policymakers and ordinary citizens will not read the full reviews. They will not see the Panel’s explanations about why so few topics were investigated or its judgments that the results of research on some of the topics are inconclusive. They will not hear the Panel’s calls for more and more fine-tuned research. Ironically, the report that Congress intended to be a boon to the teaching of reading will turn out to be a further detriment.

As an educator with more than 40 years of experience and as the only member of the NRP who has lived a career in elementary schools [emphasis added], I call upon Congress to recognize that the Panel’s majority report does not respond to its charge nor meet the needs of America’s schools.