EDUCATION REFORM IS BASICALLY AN ANTI-TEACHER MOVEMENT
By Joseph A. Ricciotti, Ed.D
The cat is out of the bag and the public is now aware that the education reform movement sweeping across every state in the country is basically an anti-teacher movement. The hypocrisy of so-called reformers such as Michelle Rhee and other non-educators in the so-called education reform movement is evident when they claim that they respect the work of teachers so long as teachers don’t have control of their work environment and, in essence, are powerless to fight back due to the stripping away of their collective bargaining rights.
These reformers, all of whom are non-educators, have been back peddling and broadcasting a wide assortment of low-level propaganda while blaming teachers for everything that is wrong with education. However, as Randy Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, told her audience at their recent annual meeting, these so-called reformers “wouldn’t last 10 minutes in a classroom.”
In states such as New Jersey, Wisconsin and Ohio, we find that the governors are castigating teacher unions and schools’ performance while slashing budgets and pushing for inane reforms that attempt to evaluate teachers based on test scores. As one AFT teacher from Ohio aptly stated, “we didn’t become teachers for the pay or the benefits or the schedule, and no one’s looking for a pat on the back for staying late to help kids, but what is happening in these states is the vilification of the schoolteacher.”
Much of the problem related to teacher vilification can be attributed to the Obama administration, and especially with his appointment of a non-educator, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Duncan’s policies are very much anti-teacher in nature such as his support of evaluations based on standardized-test scores, which teachers perceive to be a failure to respect and honor the professionalism of teachers. Although the teachers that are part of the National Education Association at their annual meeting reluctantly endorsed Obama for re-election, they did so because the alternative to a Democratic president would be a Republican president. Hence, in light of the GOP attacks on bargaining rights in states such as Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, New Jersey and elsewhere, the NEA felt it important to endorse early. However, as one teacher at the NEA conference from Tennessee stated, “teachers can change their mind before November 2012 as teachers are the sleeping giant who can rock the boat.” Moreover, if Obama is wise, he should heed the teacher warnings and clean house by appointing a new Secretary of Education, someone such as Diane Ravitch or Linda Darling Hammond, two outstanding educators who are highly respected in educational circles.
The so-called education reform movement in the country is based on two principles — testing and the dismantling of teaching empowerment. It is a movement lead primarily by non-educators such as Duncan, former D.C. chancellor Rhee, former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates, and politicians such as Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. According to the plethora of reports and analyses of the reform movement in the media, it has become quite evident that “reformers” such as Rhee are simply discredited hucksters for the corporate push to take over and profitize schools in this country. Their real motive and hidden agenda is to first destroy the teachers unions and then to take over public education with for-profit charter schools as their primary vehicle of reform.
The movement by the non-educators to use test scores as the be-all and end-all of education reform has been a disaster for both students and teachers. It is also demeaning of teachers. Certainly, common sense would dictate that you cannot ignore, for example, the role poverty plays in academic achievement. As long as poverty exists it will be an important factor, and in order to move forward as a nation, we must improve the schools as well as reduce poverty.
As Diane Ravitch, education historian, has stated, “I don’t want to get rid of testing. But testing should be used for information and diagnostics to improve teaching and learning, not to hand out bonuses, fire teachers and close schools.”
Needless to say, high-stakes testing can lead to a sterile curriculum where teaching basically encompasses teaching to the test. It can also result in cheating. Witness, for example, what has happened in Atlanta, where cheating was rampant and where a recent investigation found that 178 principals and teachers — including 82 who confessed — took part so their schools would meet targets such as those established by Duncan in his Race To The Top (RTTT) program that relies primarily on test scores. Hence, some blame must go to the originators of these high-stakes testing programs such as No Child Left Behind and RTTT for the testing scandal in Atlanta. It should appear obvious to the so called “reformers” that the more they pressure teachers to raise test scores the more corrupt it becomes. You can’t hold teachers responsible for things beyond their control that affect student achievement.
Testing experts and other experts in education have warned against this. When you place an unrealistic overemphasis on one instrument and make that instrument the defining factor in determining outcomes such as employment, prestige and income, the more it will be subjected to corruption pressures. Think of what is at stake. Student test scores are now used to determine whether teachers and principals are good or bad, whether a teacher should be fired or get a bonus, whether a school is a success — and remains open — or a failure and will be closed. Race To The Top pits teacher against teacher or schools against schools and states against each other. Instead of a model of education reform that is based on cooperation and support, we have an environment in most schools that is competitive in nature.
Despite the fact that the test-and-punish style of reform has failed to improve student learning, especially in urban schools, the media continues to espouse and support it as evidenced in the teacher and union bashing documentary, “Waiting for Superman.” But, as the NEA teacher from Tennessee pointed out, teachers are the “sleeping giant” and, in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker in his education policies aimed at stripping away teachers’ bargaining rights, has awakened the sleeping giant. In actuality, Wisconsin is the “eye of the storm” for teachers’ rights and represents a microcosm for what is happening in other parts of the country. In an unprecedented recall election spearheaded by the Wisconsin Education Association in early August, six Republican state senators were challenged in which the Democrats were able to pick up two extra seats giving the Republicans a razor-thin margin of 17 to 16 in control of the state legislature.
The teachers, in a grassroots fervor mode, have as their next goal to get rid of Walker in another recall election in which the process of collecting signatures for his recall is scheduled to begin in January 2012. If Walker’s recall election comes to fruition, it could rival in importance the presidential elections scheduled later in November. Likewise, what is happening in Wisconsin has also spread to Ohio where Governor Kasich’s bill to strip away collective bargaining rights is also being challenged. Hence, one can say in light of these events that teachers across the country who have been subjected to vilification are no longer getting mad, they are getting even!
Joseph A. Ricciotti, Ed.D., is the teaching internship program director at the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions at Fairfield University.