I blame my mechanic — the fact that I don’t change my oil often enough, don’t check my tire pressure regularly, and don’t know my carburetor from my glove compartment.
I’m sure you will agree with me that my mechanic is solely to blame for any malfunction of my car. It can’t be that I invest too little in it, or that I take only passing interest in its interests — that is, until it doesn’t motor me to every chosen destination.
We need new accountability standards for mechanics. Assemble the lawmakers.
I’m serious here. Just about as serious as some policy makers are about education.
Those policy makers, and the citizens for whom they posture, blame teachers for all the ills of the schooling machine.
It couldn’t be any outside influences that affect learning — not the inattention of parents, not whatever roiling events outside school walls might make it difficult to learn, not too-crowded classes, not administrators and policy makers who don’t really get what teachers do.
Something very detrimental to learning has been happening under the guise of education reform for nearly two decades. Americans have been convinced that standardization is education. They have been convinced that the way to “excellence” is to treat children’s minds like one treats tomatoes during canning season.
In the process, too many Americans have swallowed the propaganda that those who don’t buy the standard (King James?) version of school accountability employed by state after state don’t support excellence.
In Florida a pitched battle rages over one more quest to reduce education to tomato paste on the butcher block of standardization. Reformers seek to pin teacher pay increases to test scores. The bill would require school districts to set aside 5 percent of their entire budgets starting in 2011 for “performance” pay increases. If they have any leftover money, they could use it to develop new tests, like end-of-course exams. Otherwise, they would have to give it back to the state.
The bill also would essentially rewrite the rules for teacher contracts. And in telling districts how they can pay teachers, it would wipe out considerations like advanced degrees and experience.
The most offensive thing about this is that it’s not really about education. It’s about a political vendetta. The party of Bush and Cheney and Limbaugh and O’Reilly has had it out for “teachers’ unions” from the day some marginally educated focus group said the term was disparaging enough to be gold.
So, we have people stepping up saying they know how to “fix” education. Even if they confuse teaching with conveyor-belt work. Even if they consider Sarah Palin learned.
Ah, standardization. I once heard a person say, seriously, that if only schools would be like the Army, our problems would be solved. You see, all enlistees have to learn how to assemble a rifle. Have to. And will.
But, then, education isn’t training. Education is a higher quest. Or, so we once assumed. Unfortunately, our political system has instituted a concept of schooling that casts students across a sea of bubble-in questions.
You say teachers oppose assessment? That’s the most ridiculous claim of all. I have a book that has 450 pages of really great assessments — classroom exercises that show if students are using critical thinking skills. It has activities which can make school fascinating and truly challenging. No one craves assessments — quality, diagnostic assessments — more than a teacher, or at least the vast majority of true classroom professionals.
The same goes for most mechanics. But I’m holding mine accountable for my inattention. If my oil pan ends up empty, heads will roll down at the shop.
John Young writes for Cox Newspapers. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.