Are You Being Served?
This was the title I used when I originally posted about a year ago in my column at The Examiner. However, it seems fitting to repost it here, again, a year later as the heat on higher education is being turned up. I share this post in honor of Barbara Madeloni, a lecturer at UMass, whose has courageously been fighting the corporate takeover of teacher preparation at her institution. According to EdRadio (one of the few real shows out there, At The Chalk Face notwithstanding, left that speaks truth to power):
“The attempt to impose a corporate sponsored standard assessment on pre-service teachers is one more example of the corporatization of public education and the surveillance, silencing and demands for obedience that accompany it.”
The development of a national Teacher Performance Assessment (TPA), driven by the testing giant, Pearson, Inc. is being used to drive the National Common Core Standards into higher education and will perpetuate fear and test driven instruction that will be required of all teacher educators. While I saw this tidal wave off in the horizon just a year ago when i wrote the original post, its now looming right over our heads like the sword of Damacles. University of Massachusetts Amherst student teachers and instructors are refusing to take part in the field test of a Teacher Performance Assessment being implemented by Pearson, Inc., a private company and the largest assessment and testing provider in the United States.
But it seems her institution doesn’t want saving. They denied her a renewed contract for next fall 2013, as a thanks for her efforts (though she has some union protection under discussion).
Coincidence? If you think I am exaggerating, I guess you’ll have to wait until they come for you and me to be sure. We are all being “served” now-our pink slips that is.
TPA is becoming the surveillance technique du jour, where Pearson will collect data and evaluate educator effectiveness. Corporations will hold the keys to curriculum and pedagogy kingdoms. And criticisms over the Common Core and its unholy alliance with TPA are being silenced.
But all of us, like Barbara and others at UMass and all over the country, can serve their shit right back. Not only can we speak up and say no
ARE YOU BEING SERVED?
McDonald’s is famous for its large signs bragging “8 millions served daily.” While the numbers may be accurate, the question has loomed ever since Super Size Me as to exactly WHAT it is that is being served.
Public education in the United States similarly has been serving millions of children each year for generations- sometimes performing this task well, and other times not. And historically there have been complex and heated debates as to what knowledge is best to be “served” to students, and how that knowledge might be best served. We, in the United States, have never arrived at a singular concrete answer to this debate, yet the one positive is that debate has been at least possible. Higher education is one place where research conducted by scores of educational scholars (both quantitative and qualitative) has for decades offered up a variety of perspectives on the issue. If the most recent policy proposals now on the table are passed successfully (see article In Education Week by Alyson Klein), then the debates might finally be silenced. The bill which is called “Growing Excellent Achievement Training Academies for Teachers and Principals Act” was introduced June 22nd by Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Barbara Mikulski, D-Md. Apparently the Department of Education will decide for all of us in the academie how to define and measure student achievement.
Colleges of Education across the country are intended to be places where research and practice can be collected as data, analyzed, or summarized; ideally offering a wide variety of new alternative ways to conceive of and practice public education. But this newest policy, following on tail of Michelle Rhee’s mastermind plan ironically entitled Students First to hold K-12 teachers accountable for students test scores by attaching testing to salary and even job retention, has now reached its claws into the halls of higher education. In essence the dominos of disaster are falling “upward.” In the bill proposed June 22nd 2011, student-teachers (often called interns or pre service teachers) will be required even before graduating to demonstrate improved test scores in their internship classrooms in order to graduate with an education degree and teaching certificate. So connect the dots:
In order for K-12 classroom teachers to improve test scores, they are more than likely required to follow the mandated and tightly scripted curriculum guides (written by text book and testing companies, and policy makers-rarely classroom teachers themselves). Regardless of what students needs or interests are, regardless of funding provided to these teachers to accomplish this goal, regardless of the socio-economic conditions of their students (see the volumes of research proving that poverty affects learning more than any other factor), and most importantly, regardless of whether or not the knowledge in these curriculum guides and tests are even the knowledge that students REALLY NEED, teachers will, out of fear for their very jobs, teach to the test.
In order for student-teachers to successfully graduate and receive their diploma they too (out of fear) follow suit. Now, in order for teacher educators to assist their student teachers toward this goal, their classrooms will now be required to teach not rich democratic approaches to pedagogy, not multiple learning styles, not differentiation, not creative learning that motivates and reaches students; they will teach their student teachers how to teach to the test. While at minimum this will become an infringement of academic freedom which includes and rich and diverse perspectives, supposedly one of the valued tenets of higher education, college professors with PhD’s and generations of experience will kowtow to text book companies for how to teach their classes. According to Klein “States that choose to participate in the program would have to designate state ‘authorizers’ who would approve and oversee the academies.” The State will oversee the academie? Or should we just send our thank you notes straight to Pearson?
Look up the definition of facism in Wikpedia to see the parallels.
Teacher educators and colleges of education who are opposed to this bill are not opposed to the importance of being accountable for producing effective educators. Yet, without examining the volumes of diverse data, research and experiences around what defines an “effective educator” and how we might assess their effectiveness, the decision has been made for all of us. “Good” education will be defined by what is in the Core Curriculum and assessment of a “good education” will defined by test scores.
And “good teachers” will be defined by student achievement (read student test scores.) Despite the findings that show teaching to the test actually decreases student performance no significant challenge by the general public (parents sadly included) have been made to examine whether or not the knowledge in the Core Curriculum and the methods dictated by the curriculum guides and the tests are even the best education for our students.
And in one fell swoop of policies beginning at the k-12 levels and now moving up into higher education, the possibility of educating educators themselves to even know how to challenge these “reforms” will be eliminated.
Children are no longer being served by public education. Saying that these new reforms are “education” is like calling a McDonald’s Big Mac “food.” Both are only so in the broadest definition of the word. And we don’t examine the contents critically enough. Where there should be substance we inject fillers because it’s cheaper and more efficient. The economic profits of fast food companies like McDonald’s have come at the expense of the health of our nation, and likewise, the profits to textbook companies, testing companies, and business owners turned school “innovators” will come at the expense of the educational health of our nation’s children.
Worse yet, children are soon no longer even going to be the consumers (8 million served every day) of this educational “bad food.” They are becoming the products, the cogs in the wheels to be” produced” in order to make profits for the latest in the privatized for- profit educational industry led, not by educators, but the business world in the shape of the business model (the same folks who brought us ENRON, AIG, FANNY MAY AND FREDDY MAC.)
I wrote a previous post entitled The Curriculum of Fear in which I described how teachers are afraid to teach in meaningful and complex ways because of the latest reform movement. I admit now that I too am deeply afraid for public education and the future of our society, as we allow for the erasure of diverse perspectives, freedom of ideas and critical thinking for generations of students, who will graduate to become educational “fast food” citizens; leaving them only with fear and a bubble dot test to ponder.