CRAP FREE SCHOOL COMMISSION

2/17/04

    I am announcing today the formation of a blue-ribbon panel to study the cause for the takeover of America’s public schools by corporate sharks, former state governors unable to find their way to higher elective office, heads of philanthropies, national teacher union heads and teachers who betray their colleagues and sell out to the aforementioned interests. The panel to be called The National Commission to Create Crap-Free Schools will be headed by Judith Alexanderson, a highly experienced teacher, a militant teacher union leader and a person known for clear, direct talk. Upon her appointment to lead the commission, Alexanderson said, "How did we come to listen to what the president of Marmaduke Inc. has to say about our public schools? Judging from what I can see of America’s corporate ethic, these CEO’s probably plagiarized their college papers. Are they going to show us how we can get America’s youth to attain higher standards of dishonesty?"

    Of course, I could announce all of the commissions I want, and few would pay the slightest attention. Yet, when Louis V. Gerstner, former Chairman of IBM, announces his creation of The Teaching Commission, "...a blue-ribbon panel of 19 leaders in government, business, philanthropy and education..." charged with finding a strategy "...to fundamentally upgrade teaching as a profession by changing the way teachers come into the field, as well as the way they are trained, assessed, supported and compensated," the media takes notice and the panel’s recommendations are immediately part of the nation’s debate about its public schools.

    No one bothers to think about what the members of the panel have to contribute to the debate. It is assumed that because they have money and/or have wielded political power, their thoughts are of consequence. No one bothers to ask what Sandra Feldman the leader of the American Federation of Teachers is doing in this essentially corporate crowd. Does her presence and participation mean that her union has bought into the further corporatizing of our schools? It certainly seems so from the recommendations of The Teaching Commission.

    This board room brain trust has essentially four recommendations to make for the improvement of teaching. To "lure more good teachers into the classroom," they recommend linking teacher pay to student performance in some "fair" system . Teacher performance is to be evaluated by a variety of techniques among which are "...’value-added’ methods that measure how individual teachers influence learning for each child." Additionally, teachers in subject areas in which there are manpower shortages will receive compensation beyond whatever value they add to the children in their charge. All of this needs to be done, "Because a system that does not reward excellence cannot inspire it." The possibility that highly competent people enter teaching and inspire generations of highly competent students to achieve great things for themselves and others is not even considered to be in the realm of possibility by these corporate nincompoops. I suppose we have to admit that their teachers clearly failed them.

    Of course any commission dealing with education issues must bow to the gods of accountability, and The Teaching Commission is no exception. Colleges are admonished to "...revamp teacher education programs and make teacher quality a priority." Standards of entry into teacher training programs are to be raised which somehow is going to lead to the more able college students entering the teaching profession. The federal government is urged to tie funding for teacher education programs "measures of success for graduates of these programs," a sort of leave no teacher in training behind program.

    Strengthen licensing requirements! There is a new idea. Give prospective teachers all kinds of hurdles to climb over. Test them to death so that they can learn to do the same to their students. That’s going to bring armies of the best and the brightest into the profession. How can anyone seriously entertain such stupidity. It must be true. The former heads of our most successful companies are saying it.

    Finally, the commission gets to the linchpin of its recommendations, empowering school leaders as CEOs. Principals should have ultimate say about who gets hired and fired, albeit principals must also encourage teachers to become decision makers. Here, as is so often the case, the presumption is that armies of dim-witted, lethargic teachers go to work each morning and refuse to teach the children in their charge. No consideration seems to have been given to the much more reasonable possibility that some Captain Queeg-like simpleton principals often drive very talented people from teaching because they are unable to cope with the educationist nonsense that often passes for leadership in our public schools, the kind of "leaders" who think our mission as teachers is to provide emotional education, build self-esteem and only as a last resort teach students things that educated people are expected to know.

    Thus, yet another commission has met, probably at great expense, and come to conclusions that will have absolutely no good consequence for the teaching profession or the schools of this country. Yet again, an attempt is made to take the ethics and techniques of the corporation and package them as school reform. For the umpteenth time, we have commentary about our schools and the people who work in them from people who clearly know neither. How I wish I could find someone with real money to actually create The Crap-Free School Commission. Think about the recommendations it could make.

 

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