Because my “Getting Schooled” posts were so long, I wanted to take the opportunity for a concise summary of my points. Basically, my issues with reform are this:
1. The teachers’ unions are made out to be the biggest impediment to improvement, setting the well-being of children and the well-being of teachers against one another;
2. The use of a single, deeply flawed metric — student standardized test scores — as the total yardstick for teacher pay, promotion, or employment;
3. The rise of merit pay, usually pegged to test scores, as a motivational tool; and
4. The celebration of small-scale, non-union programs like charter schools and Teach for America, whose success is highly questionable but who are often seen as superior to regular public schools and public schoolteachers.
Taken together, what you see is that, in spite of all the rhetoric about great teachers being the key to improving the educational system, we are systematically destroying and demoralizing the majority of public school educators — suggesting that their unions are evil, forcing them to adhere to rigid, test-prep curricula, reducing their performance to a single metric and paying them only according to that metric, and then, most cruelly, pointing to alternate programs — which do not operate under the same constraints, and do not actually show much in the way of replicable results — as the solution. It is patently absurd to expect that this is a route that will lead to much beyond the continued privatization of public education, as public schools continue to fall behind under these absurd expectations and incentives, while private alternatives like charter schools flourish despite their decidedly mixed record.
What prompted me to write about education reform was the release of the documentary “Waiting for Superman,” and the New Yorker has an excellent review of it that asks all the salient questions which the film refuses to address.