By Guest Blogger XX,
The Rhode Island Massacre in which teachers were all fired due to low math and literacy test scores set off a backlash among teachers and those who seem to support them. While some of the corporate media has exploited this for a good human interest story and even as a fairly obvious example of “injustice”, most have regarded it as a watershed in which Obama’s new tough love program took the stage as he publicly announced that this was how things were going to be from now on (http://www.larouchepac.com/node/13775). Some media picked up that it was a declaration of war against the teacher unions, and even allowed the AFT President Weingarten a byte or two to express her surprise after she’d offered to cooperate with Obama by accepting student test scores as a factor in teacher evaluation and agreeing to promote accelerated teacher dismissal processes.
Much of the media celebrated Obama’s promise to attack the teachers because it added to the myth that as everyone always knows education is always in all times and places “worse than ever” and needs a “drastic overhaul.” Debate must thus always be centred on how to best fix the crisis and answers must always be framed as a question of “how quickly we need to radically change the system?” But the cards that can never go on the table are: “Why does Obama want to change the system?” and “Who is going to get to take over when schools like Rhode Island’s Central Falls High School get bulldozed?” The role of such manoeuvres in relation to privatization—who is going to capitalize on the disaster-can never be discussed.
This is just as true of those who support public education and who are victimized by privatization as the politicians and reporters who so aggressively now promote the crisis-n-privatize model of change. An article in Education Week’s blogs is a case in point: one hears what appears to be an argument against the injustice of teachers in Los Angeles being fired and forced to reapply for their jobs from a very sympathetic point of view. Anthony Cody’s column begins:
“In the past month we have heard a great deal about Central Falls High School in Rhode Island, where the school board voted to fire the entire staff because the school was not raising test scores fast enough. This has focused attention on the challenge of struggling schools. Everyone agrees that change is needed in these schools, but is it really necessary to fire the staff?
One thing that became clear after the initial flood of publicity is that these situations are more complex than the soundbites we get from the media and the politicians. Every school has its own history, and if we want to improve a school we need to start by working with what is there, and develop the leadership capacity needed to drive improvement.
Over the past month I have shared news from a less famous but equally instructive school reconstitution process taking place - Fremont High School in Los Angeles. We are hearing firsthand from teachers about their experience - what it feels like to be told that you are to blame for your students’ low performance, and that you must reapply for your job.”
Cody goes on to summarize the case of a teacher who has been widely recognized for his contribution to teaching excellence through a number of careers successes, and who reiterates what most teachers know: test scores don’t indicate school success. More importantly, the teacher, Scott Banks, points to the fact that his school had administrative problems. He also explains
“when I transferred to Marshall , my new students attained much better test scores. If you imagine this was due to some personal transformation of my teaching, I invite you to transfer me to a high school whose students have a higher average socio-economic status than Marshall , where I suspect yet another personal renaissance awaits me.” http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in-dialogue/2010/03/a_letter_from_los_angeles_how.html#trackbacks
But once again, what both Banks and Cody fail to do is connect this to the big picture of privatization. It’s abundantly clear to most educators that MASS FIRING based on SCHOOL TESTS is borderline fascism. It is an attack on the basic human right to a job when you can fire everyone across the board without a fair trial for each one.
And, yet, even if it were “possible” that every one of these teachers in every one of these schools was “incompetent” we still hear that at both Fremont (Scott Banks’ former school) and Central Falls that many of the fired individuals can “re-apply”.
This ought to be seen as a screaming indication that what’s going on in these places and what’s about to happen to the rest of the education world as announced by Obama, has NOTHING TO DO WITH TEACHERS. It’s got everything to do with globalization and the new social contract: one in which everyone must constantly re-apply for their own jobs. The reason, simply stated, is to drive down wages and increase profits.
But where are the profits in schools? Well, any reading of either the content or advertisements which saturate Education Week, where Anthony Cody’s blog appears, instantly reveals that there is a massive education industry which is getting ready to carve up the new “turnaround schools”—those to be restructured due to below average test scores. They will carve some schools for charters and slate others for “school improvement” which will be based on a model of constant reform which will depend on any number of school improvement products and services, from school improvement plans, to endless PD, to differentiated learning computers and software (such as George Bush’s brother sells), to tutoring corporations, to education management organizations which actually run schools.
The author of this seemingly pro-teacher blog, Anthony Cody, himself is a for-profit teacher leadership trainer (http://www.teacherslead.com/) and he advertises his services right beside the EdWeek blog about Fremont . Thus, he is an advocate of school improvement movement based on more effective leadership, and the solution, the “moral to the story” of Fremont and Central Falls and the thousands of others destined to be “turnaround schools” under Obama, as we can see, is Cody’s product!
Every school has its own history, and if we want to improve a school we need to start by working with what is there, and develop the leadership capacity needed to drive improvement.
Thus we can see how easily and insidiously a teacher’s genuine frustration with the slash and burn approach to school reform can be completely repurposed as a commercial for Anthony Cody’s Teachers Lead program and for the Teacher Leaders Network which also advertises directly on the page. The teacher Leaders Network is a branch of the Center for Teaching Quality which is a teacher quality measurement company.
Thus, it is a lesson for teachers, and in particular for their unions, who are the only hope of fighting privatization, that if they are to keep public schools public, the battle will have to shift away from their wages and conditions and even from their job security issues in relation to school improvement arguments. They will need to re-focus all of their efforts on making privatization processes known to the public as both the education system and all public assets from drinking water to the park next door are placed on the block for sale in a rapidly globalizing economy.