In yesterday’s NYTimes Barry Schwartz article, “Rethinking Work”, described how Adam Smith’s assumptions about workers and the importance of efficiency serve as the basis for work as we know it over two centuries later. The article suggests the need for us to reconsider the way we define work in our culture and includes these paragraph:
The transformation I have in mind goes something like this: You enter an occupation with a variety of aspirations aside from receiving your pay. But then you discover that your work is structured so that most of those aspirations will be unmet. Maybe you’re a call center employee who wants to help customers solve their problems — but you find out that all that matters is how quickly you terminate each call. Or you’re a teacher who wants to educate kids — but you discover that only their test scores matter. Or you’re a corporate lawyer who wants to serve his client with care and professionalism — but you learn that racking up billable hours is all that really counts.
Pretty soon, you lose your lofty aspirations. And over time, later generations don’t even develop the lofty aspirations in the first place. Compensation becomes the measure of all that is possible from work. When employees negotiate, they negotiate for improved compensation, since nothing else is on the table. And when this goes on long enough, we become just the kind of creatures that Adam Smith thought we always were. (Even Smith, in one passage, seemed to acknowledge this possibility, noting that mindless, routinized work typically made people “stupid and ignorant.”)
…How can we do this? By giving employees more of a say in how they do their jobs. By making sure we offer them opportunities to learn and grow. And by encouraging them to suggest improvements to the work process and listening to what they say.
Needless to say this resonated with me as one who deplores the “reform” movement that reduces he measurement of teaching to a single test score measuring skills that measure student performance on material provided in “teacher proof” curriculum guides, skills that were imposed without the direct involvement of teachers and whose suggestions and ideas are dismissed as unimportant.
For those politicians and businessmen who value efficiency over humanity, their spreadsheet analyses over the observations in classrooms, their belief that money is the primary motivator for employees, and their desire for saving money over improving the lives of children and their employees, the aspirations of teachers are unimportant…. and the consequence is that the routinized work they are creating in the classrooms will not appeal to those with creativity and intelligence.
Diane Ravitch and the National Education Policy Center have offered a counterweight to the politicians and mainstream media who repeat the “feel good” story about how NOLA schools are evidence of the rebirth of the city. 50% unemployment and poverty rates are hardly evidence of a renaissance.
All day long, I have posted about the free-market reform of the schools in New Orleans. I have done so because the mainstream media has been touting the success of privatization for almost ten years. States and districts have declared their intention to copy the New Orleans model, believing it was a great success. I just heard a CNN news report stating that the elimination of public schools was controversial, but test scores are up, and the city is investing in its children’s futures. The same report said that 50% of black men are unemployed and 50% of black children live in poverty.
As this report from the National Education Policy Center shows, the test score gains have disproportionately benefited the most advantaged students.
The rhetoric of corporate reform is always about “saving poor black kids.” In New Orleans, they have not yet been saved.
Natalie Wexler wrote an op-ed column in yesterday’s NYTimes advocating that teachers and schools focus on teaching E.D. Hirsch’s Core Knowledge, which focusses on facts students should learn by a particular age instead of the bright new Common Core, which focusses more on skills students should learn by a particular age. As the title of this blog post indicates, this whole debate on WHAT we teach should be a sideshow!
Three years ago I wrote a post titled “Learning is Constant, Time is the Variable” that described the basis for advocating a complete change to the way schools are organized. Instead of batching children into age based on their age and holding schools accountable for when students master skills and gain knowledge, we should batch students by skills learned and knowledge acquired regardless of their age. This would have been a daunting (but not impossible) task three decades ago when Ron Edmunds suggested it, but with today’s technological advances it can and should be done.
One state, Vermont, is implementing a plan that might help break this mold. In December 2013 the State Board adopted a set of Education Quality Standards that includes one element that has the potential to break the mold of the factory school. Beginning this school year all seventh grade students need to develop a Personalized Learning Plan that defines “…the scope and rigor of academic and experiential opportunities necessary for the student to successfully complete secondary school and attain college and career readiness.” This will not be a one-size-fits-all plan that will be measured by standardized tests administered in grades 7, 8, and 11 but a plan that is uniquely tailored to each student. The plan is intended to be reviewed annually and ideally could drive the “curriculum” offered at the secondary level.
Students are not pieces of clay to be molded into pre-determined figurines defined by “standards”… and whether those standards are skill-based or knowledge based is beside the point. Students are unique individuals who have unique and varied talents and unique and varied aspirations. The faster we move away from standards and move toward Personalized Learning Plans the better off we will be… and the better off our children in schools will be.
When “independent journalism” is funded by philanthropists who favor “reform” do you think anyone in LA will know the results of the Phi Delta Kappa poll I posted about yesterday? About the shenanigans in Ohio with their corrupt charters? About the opt out movement? About the fact that states with unions outscore so-called “right to work” states?