Ok, since the election we’ve been learning about the economic policy being planned by the incoming administration. And foreign affairs, defense, security…
Some of us, however, would like to know something about their plans for how the federal government will direct education policy in the next few years.
A couple of writers in the current issue of Newsweek suggest we might find a few clues as to what Obama will do in a proposal by Michelle Rhee, the Chancellor of Schools in the District of Columbia.
The core of Rhee’s plan is to install a generous merit pay system in exchange for teachers agreeing to give up their tenure. Many also see this as a way for her to get the teachers unions out of her hair.
It would be easy to think that this is just a local issue, one confined to a single school district, but it’s not that simple.
Remember that, rather than being a sovereign entity, everything done by the government of the District of Columbia is subject to review by their
overlords nannies review committees in Congress.
Depending on whether President Obama and select members of Congress support Rhee’s plans (or propose something of their own) will signal where the federal government will be headed in terms of school reform.
However, the big problem is that Rhee is mostly trying to make her job of running the DC schools easier. She isn’t proposing any real changes when it comes to the classroom.
She will simply plans to pay teachers more for doing pretty much the same thing, which is preparing students to take standardized tests.
Only now she won’t have to go through a mess of union bureaucracy to fire people when kids keep doing pretty much the same thing, which is not learning beyond the skills necessary to be better test takers.
And that brings the writers to the “reformer” who is leading the Obama education transition team, Linda-Darling Hammond, someone who is also very committed to keeping cemented in place, the current traditional educational structure.
Reformers view Darling-Hammond as “anti-accountability” because she is a critic of standardized testing and teachers’ performance pay being linked to test scores. She has been very critical of Teach for America, the organization that sends thousands of recent college grads into inner-city schools each year. Darling-Hammond has argued that the answer is not to bring young, eager and untrained teachers into classrooms, but rather to better train the teachers already there. “People don’t want to say anything publicly, because of the ‘No-Drama Obama’ stuff,” says one well-placed reformer with ties to the incoming administration. “But many of us were stunned that Linda Darling-Hammond is still as influential as she is. We see her as very symbolic of the ‘old school’ of reform.” Darling-Hammond responds, “The critiques of being ‘old school’ are particularly ironic since I have been fighting for a lot of reforms before they were recently on the national radar.”
Let’s face it, the teacher unions and others like Darling-Hammond who support simply tweaking the status quo are only a small part of the problems faced by American education.
The larger issue is that we are stuck with a structure and vision of teaching and learning that increasingly is not working.
One that is fast becoming a very poor fit with the massive alterations now going on in the way society deals with information, knowledge, and communication out there in the real world.
We’ve reached a point where just reforming the current system is not enough change.