Sunday, June 23, 2013

#120- Resistance/Obstruction What's the Difference and We're Going the Wrong Way

Resistance or Obstruction…
Life is full of choices.  The decisions we make today will have an impact on our future whether pro or con.  Many of the decisions we make are small in nature and have little impact outside of our immediate personal circle.  However, when making decisions about public education, the choices that we make often have wide reaching, long term implications.  This is as true for those in the highest decision making positions, as it is for the individuals who work directly with students in our public schools. 

Good decisions are ones that are made for the right reasons, with the best possible information available.  They take into account both short and long term implications and are not always the most positive politically.  With the ever expanding influence of politicians in the educational decision making processes, we are seeing an increasing number of decisions being made based on incomplete information and designed promote a political agenda. 

Suddenly educators in schools are put in a difficult position.  Do they follow the course charted for them by individuals who may not have students' interests at heart?  Do they ignore their own expertise and teach in a prescribed and approved manner?  Do they base their decisions about children on standardized test scores and ignore the performance of students in their classrooms?  If they choose to stand up for what they believe to be right and in the best interests of their students are they resisting, or are the obstructing?

While this may seem like a semantic exercise, the imagery associated with the two terms is important.  Resistance has a more positive connotation and implies opposition to harmful influences.  Resistance movements are often held in high esteem with the pinnacle being resistance to the Germans in WWII.  Obstruction on the other hand implies standing in the way of progress or operating against lawful actions.  Hindering a criminal investigation is obstruction, opposing an unjust law is resistance.   

With the ongoing battle over public education continuing at a feverish pace, the defining of educators as either resistors, or obstructors becomes very important.  The general public (and many policy makers) often lacks the information, knowledge and the experience to see what the implications of the policies that make good sound bites are in the educational lives of students.  Accountability, assessment, and rigor (to name a few examples) sound great in a speech, but what do these words mean in a school setting?  What happens when educators, students or families speak out against the reforms?  Are they vilified?  Are they listened to respectfully?  Are their arguments given a fair hearing, or do we let those with political power and money control the debate?  

I've said this many times before and will continue to repeat myself.  Our schools are not perfect, and we need to address the concerns that exist.  We have a problem with Achievement Gaps.  We face ongoing concerns about school budgets and how to best use the resources we have.  However, our public schools have many strengths as well.  I would argue that public schools provide the best potential for meeting the needs of the most students and educators have a high level of accountability to their students and the families they serve. 

We have an imaging problem and an information problem.  Politicians and school "reformers" have taken control of the debate and are able to label educators who speak out against the system as obstructionist, not resisters.  Yet, the public isn't getting complete information about what is going on in our educational system to base their opinions on. 

A few examples. . .

Mainstream media sources provide headlines and articles filled with information from sources with close ties to school "reformers".  You need to actively search for information that presents alternative views.

Politicians and policy makers state that, educators need to be more accountable and we need to find a way to evaluate them.  Mayor Bloomberg (New York City Mayor) touts one model and says it will allow, "Good teachers will become better ones and ineffective teachers can be removed from the classroom." The public hears this as a reasonable statement, and educators who resist these evaluations must be "hiding something".  However,      ". . .nobody, not the Times, the New York State Education Department, the New York City Department of Education, nor the teachers' union have demonstrated any positive correlation between teacher assessments based on the Danielson rubrics, good teaching, and the implementation of new higher academic standards for students under Common Core. 

In many districts these evaluative tools have been used to penalize educators, or to force them to follow specific teaching guidelines that are not necessarily best practices supported by data.  Yet if educators speak out they are protecting their jobs, or toeing the union line.   

This is true in our institutions of higher learning as well. 

The public is also given misleading information about the costs involved in educating students in our public schools.  They are told that our students of poverty cost the system and that their tax dollars are being thrown away to deal with problems that are not being resolved successfully.  Yet, ". . . while America does spend plenty on education, it funnels a disproportionate share into educating wealthier students, worsening that gap. The majority of other advanced countries do things differently, at least at the K-12 level, tilting resources in favor of poorer students." 
We are also told to make sure that the "job creators" are given adequate resources and significant financial incentives in order to boost our economy, however, "Historically, broad educational gains have been the biggest driver of American economic success; hence the economist’s rule of thumb that an increase of one year in a country’s average schooling level corresponds to an increase of 3 to 4 percent in long-term economic growth."

Educators themselves often don't work to counter the negative imagery that surrounds their profession.  We accept a status as "lesser citizens" and don't assert our true value to society.

With all of the misinformation that is used to support legislation and educational policy and the inaccuracies that fuel public perception of public education, it is no wonder that so many policies have significant unintended consequences.  Take the Common Core Standards for example.  These standards have been used to justify standardized testing, standardized instruction and a trend towards more intense (not necessarily more effective) instruction with an elimination of less structured activities and play.  Yet the writers of the CCSS expressly stated that,
". . . the use of play with young children is . . . welcome as a valuable activity in its own right and as a way to help students meet the expectations in this document."  They also recognized that professional educators have the expertise and need the freedom to address the specific needs of the students they work with.  They recognized that there is a need to pay "attention to such matters as social, emotional, and physical development and approaches to learning." 

Given the way that the CCSS have been used it is no wonder that educators are concerned and are offering some resistance to their implementation.  The resistance isn't based on a desire to avoid accountability, or to hinder student progress, but instead is often based on genuine concerns about the welfare of our students.   

It is vital that information about the potential "side-effects" of school reforms are made available to the public.  If more people knew the "facts" and had access to the full picture then we might just see a different perception of public education and public educators emerge. 

Headed the Wrong Way…
The big political news in Wisconsin this week centered around the "debate" over the state budget.  I put debate in quotes because the GOP controlled legislature seemed to table more amendments than they debated.  In fact it appeared that this budget was created in the back rooms with lobbyists having more input than citizens.  Given the lack of success resulting from the budget that the Republican controlled government passed in 2011 it is reasonable to be concerned about the potential results of this most recent budget.  It is difficult to see how many of the items in the budget will move Wisconsin in a positive direction.     

The past several years have seen a dramatic shift in the political climate here in Wisconsin.  As Senator Bob Jauch states, "The majority party sees their role as conquerors instead of compromisers."  With the extreme nature of the current administration and legislature it is difficult to see how we will be able to regain any sense of unity in Wisconsin.  Abraham Lincoln once stated that America couldn't "endure, permanently, half slave and half free".  While some might argue that Wisconsin's current situation isn't as stark as the U.S. in the mid-1800's, we certainly are facing deep divisions and a stratification of our citizenry.  As we continue on down the current path of discord and strife it becomes more and more challenging to reverse the polarizing trends established since 2011. 

I find myself continually wondering; just how much money is enough for some of us?  

Is it possible that some members of our electorate are being manipulated?  Big money interests are using their influence to maintain their dominance in our society.  This is true on all sides of the political spectrum, but is having its most dramatic effect on the conservative side in recent years.  We need to continue to share accurate information in the hope that all citizens will try to make informed, reasoned decisions about their political allegiances.    

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