Peter Greene, high school English teacher in Pennsylvania, prolific blogger and humorist, decided to create “the big picture” of education reform. What’s it all about?
“Why do we have these policies that don’t make sense? Why does it seem like this system is set up to make schools fail? Why do states pass these laws that discourage people from becoming teachers?
“My friends, colleagues and family ask these kinds of questions all the time. So my goal today is to step back and try to fit the pieces into the larger picture. If you have been paying attention, you already know this stuff, but perhaps this post will help someone you know who’s trying to make sense of reformsterdom. Here, then, is my attempt to show the big picture.”
Peter sees a convergence of two big ideas: one, the longing for centralized efficiency, with everyone from teachers to students doing the same things at the same time, orchestrated from above.
“To do that, we’d need to get every possible data source plugged in, and for the data to mean anything, we’d have to have all schools doing basically the exact same thing. Standards could be used to tag and organize every piece of data collected about every student. This suited people who see US education as a slapdash, sloppy, disorganized mess of many different schools doing many different things (this bothered them as much as your pictures hanging cockeyed in the den drive your OCD aunt crazy). But all of that would require massive planning and infrastructure far beyond what government could politically or financially manage.”
So in our day comes educational privatization, the chance to make money from the many billions spent on schools. What a serendipitous combination of socialism (government always knows best) and capitalism (people are motivated by money).
Common Core was key to merging these two big ideas:
“Well, yes, kind of, and Common Core was key. Get everybody on the same page, and everybody needs to buy the same books. Common Core was envisioned as a way to get everyone teaching the same stuff at the same time, and therefor content providers need only align themselves to one set of expectations. Instead of trying to sell to thousands of different markets, they could now sell to a thousand versions of the same basic standardized school district.
“The less obvious effect of the Core was to change the locus of educational expertise. Previously teachers were the educational experts, the people who were consulted and often made the final call on what materials to buy. But one message of the Core was that teachers were not the experts, both because they had failed so much before and because Common Core was such a piece of “high standards” jargon-encrusted mumbo jumbo that you needed an expert to explain it.
“Educational experts were no longer found in the classroom. Now they are in corporate offices. They are in government offices. Textbook creators now include “training” because your teachers won’t be able to figure out how to use teaching materials on their own. More importantly, teachers can no longer be trusted to create their own teaching materials (at least not unless their district has hired consultants to put them through extensive training).
“Meanwhile, testing programs, which would also double as curriculum outlines, were also corporate products (which require such expertise that teachers are not allowed to see or discuss their contents), and every school must test as part of an accountability system that will both force schools to follow the centralized efficiency program and label them as failures when their test scores are too low, as well as feeding data into the cradle-to-career pipeline.”
All that and more.