There is a lot of buzz on David Brook’s latest column and its topic — Obama’s pick for Secretary of Education and the direction of education policy in his administration (weigh in on the latter here). Many of the buzzers, like Brooks, simplemindedly frame the choice as between choosing a “reformer” and choosing a stalwart defender of the status quo (in Brooks’ case the latter is described as “teachers’ unions and the members of the Ed School establishment, who emphasize greater funding, smaller class sizes and superficial reforms”).
We’ve seen this in Madison before — the subtle “reformers as good guys,” others as uncaring, self interested or misguided defenders of a failed system. It wasn’t accurate or useful then and it isn’t now.
Much of the current discourse is derived from what Marion Brady in 2001 identified as a the narrowing of reform to “introducing market forces” via “standards and accountability” and the definition of standards and accountability as standardized testing and blaming teachers (and teacher unions), with a little privatization in the mix.
If it isn’t obvious to you how wrong and destructive this is, click the link and read what Brady had to say.
For myself, I’ll just hit a few very quick points. First, market forces aren’t what they’ve cracked up to be (pun intended). Second, the way to improve teaching is not by attacking teachers, teacher trainers and teacher unions…none of them are going away and all them are interested in improvement. Greater funding and smaller classes are not superficial, just look at the research or ask a teacher — oh yeah Brooks has dismissed the knowledge of researchers and teachers, pretty clever of him. Last, this crisis mentality is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. We have many great schools and teachers, a system that works for most and desperately needs to be improved in order to work for all. I don’t see Brooks calling for Socialism or Communism as a fix for a financial and industrial system that is obviously broken; why call for radical changes in an education system that isn’t broken?
Thomas J. Mertz