Education

Giving Teachers Freedom

Teachers know their classrooms better than administrators do. Why don't they have more power to act on that knowledge?

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The Allure of Order: High Hopes, Dashed Expectations, and the Troubled Quest to Remake American Schooling, by Jal Mehta, Oxford University Press, 416 pages, $29.95.

Last year there was a major change at the private Waldorf elementary school my son attends. His second-grade class had only about 10 kids, and the third-grade class above him had a similarly small number. The teachers were concerned that so few kids in the class would hurt learning; in a tiny class, they felt, kids would have fewer opportunities to form friendships and fewer opportunities to learn from and teach each other. So the teachers consulted with the board, and they eventually decided to combine the two classes into a 15- to 20-student third/fourth-grade class. The change seems to have worked out well.

In some sense, the way this decision was made seems natural. Teachers know what's going on in the classroom; teachers, therefore, should be the main people making major decisions about their classes. And yet in most public schools, this local knowledge is ignored. Teachers are rarely consulted about administrative changes. And this is not an accident. Subjecting teachers to outside control has been the major goal of school reform policies for the past century, as Jal Mehta, an assistant professor of education at Harvard, explains in The Allure of Order.

Most people think of the current wave of school reform—the push for centrally defined standards, testing, and "accountability"—as something that began in the 1990s. Mehta suggests that the blueprint was set in the Progressive Era. It was tried again in the 1960s and '70s before finally culminating in George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind Act and our current rage for standardized tests.

All of these movements, Mehta explains, were based on the idea of rationalizing schools. The Progressives worked to systematize and control (mostly female) teachers under the control of (mostly male) superintendents and administrators. The reformers of the '60s and '70s worked, with sporadic success, to establish standards and increase state control over district schooling. And Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama have overseen a nationalization of education policy, demanding testing and "accountability" nationwide. The effort to control schools from afar through a stern bureaucracy, and to impose excellence by fiat—this is not a new solution. It's the same old problem.

For Mehta, the issue is not so much teachers themselves as the teaching profession. That profession—in part because it was early on dominated by women, and so was considered low-status—never fully professionalized. Unlike medicine or law or higher education, teaching never staked out a rigorous body of knowledge which practitioners had to master; it never established self-imposed criteria for proficiency; it never created self-administered barriers to entrance.

Because teachers were never systematically able to separate themselves from laborers, Mehta argues, they have been unable to defend themselves from outside administrators who seek to impose a factory discipline upon them. They are not viewed as professionals striving for excellence, but as recalcitrant, incompetent workers who need managing if they are going to work at all. In reaction, teachers, understandably, did what workers have often done when they feel alienated from management, and unionized. But while this gave them a better bargaining position in terms of benefits and wages, it compounded the problem; in acceding to the definition of themselves as workers, teachers ceded the professional claim to moral authority and expertise. Rather than participating in shaping the educational direction of their schools (as they do at my son's Waldorf school), they instead hunkered down into the traditional antipathy between management and labor.

One result, Mehta argues, is that teaching has little cultural ground on which to defend itself. Teachers unions can protects instructors' jobs, but they have had little ability to combat the testing regime. Thus educators have gotten swept along (with mostly ineffective protest) by the vacillating administrative dictats of the moment. The Chicago school system decides to create small schools; five years later they change their mind and get rid of the small schools. They decide they need to build new schools; then they decide that 50+ schools need to be closed. Or they decide that Persepolis should be banned, and while teachers can criticize, they can't really launch a counterattack. After all, reading Persepolis isn't going to help you on tests. And what else are schools there for, if not for the tests? The idea that education has a value in itself, or that schools are first and foremost communities of learning, has little cachet and little power. Instead, first the administrative bureaucracy and then teachers themselves have locked themselves into a vision in which educators are little more than balky automatons hammering out widgets in accord with an endless succession of government-imposed Five-Year Plans.

Children aren't in fact widgets, so it's not much surprise that treating them as such has not worked especially well. But when you fail to turn children into widgets, the answer offered is more reforms aimed at making better widgets. And then that fails, and there are more reforms, and on and on, scantron without end.

Mehta suggests suggests several alternatives. Pay teachers a lot more. (Mehta points out that in the high-achieving South Korean school system, teachers are paid more than lawyers or engineers.) Shift education research away from theory (traditionally considered high-status) and towards practical questions of pedagogy (traditionally disdained). Use tests as guides to improve teacher practice rather than as cudgels to punish. Give local schools control over hiring. Make tenure (which Mehta sees as a potentially useful tool of professionalization) more dependent on performance—and have teachers themselves be the ones who assess their colleagues for this purpose. Stop micromanaging teachers in the classroom, and instead work to hire good people in the first place. In sum, Mehta believes that if you take steps to start treating teachers like professionals, more and higher skilled people will want to enter the profession, so that people start treating teachers like professionals, producing a spiral of increasing quality and improvement.

In addition to finding models in Finland, South Korea, and other foreign countries, Mehta thinks we can look to the more successful stateside charter schools—those which treat teachers as knowledgeable contributors to a culture of learning. You can look, for that matter, to Waldorf schools, where the faculty body is in large part responsible for administration and school policy. The key to good schools is not to punish untrustworthy workers until they somehow, despite themselves, do what some distant bureaucrat decides is the right thing. The key is to hire good people who care about learning and students, then give them the support and resources they need to do their jobs. Support and resources here means more money, especially for schools in poor or segregated neighborhoods. (For Mehta, it doesn't matter whether that money comes from direct subsidies, from vouchers, or from some other means.)

Mehta is pessimistic that anything will change soon. Government bureaucrats don't let go of money, or control, willingly. Neither do unions. Nor, for that matter, will university researchers happily start turning their attention to lower-status practical research. Teachers are likely to embrace the idea of higher pay, but not so much the idea of clearing out the deadwood and getting better people in the profession. Charter school reforms can be a means to decentralize the system and create communities of learning—but they can also be an excuse for even more obsessive micromanagement, and even lower pay. In practical terms, teachers being treated contemptuously by local corporate school administrators isn't much different from teachers being treated contemptuously by distant federal bureaucrats.

The libertarian argument, of course, is that teachers should in effect be managed by parents. If school funding is distributed through vouchers, parents can choose the schools that serve them best, those schools will thrive, and the education system will improve. Mehta doesn't necessarily share libertarians' desire to empower parents and distribute funds through market mechanisms rather than political grants. But he doesn't have a doctrinaire objection to that scenario either, and he seems to believe that, in many ways, charter schools can push back against the century-long wave of centralization.

Yet Mehta makes a good case that vouchers and charters can't work without an effort to improve teachers' status. As long as teachers do not have control over their work, someone else is going to have control over it. And if control comes from outside, teachers are going to feel like manipulated widgets. It is difficult to hire adventurous, engaged, talented widgets. Perhaps some charters will manage to create learning communities that respect teachers and their local knowledge. But as long as teacher status in general is low, another wave of reform will come along and another wave of accountability and centralization, and those learning communities will be swept away in the interest of making it look like some politician is keeping busy.

Not that professionalization is always or everywhere a magic solution to everything. The doctors' guild, for example, has marginalized midwives, with disastrous results. Mehta doesn't discuss these potential pitfalls of legally enforced monopoly power, but he acknowledges that there has been increasing public accountability for doctors and lawyers in recent years, and that this is a good thing. Complete professional autonomy is dangerous—but so is obsessive micromanagement by distant politicians or nearby bureaucrats. If we don't want our kids taught by slavish, debased drones, then we need to stop treating teachers like slavish, debased drones.

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  1. Those who talk about how our school system if inferior to Europe need to see this chart from VDare.

    Asian Americans outscored every Asian country, and lost out only to the city of Shanghai, China’s financial capital.

    White Americans students outperformed the national average in every one of the 37 historically white countries tested, except Finland (which is, perhaps not coincidentally, an immigration restrictionist nation where whites make up about 99 percent of the population).

    Hispanic Americans beat all eight Latin American countries.

    African Americans would likely have outscored any sub-Saharan country, if any had bothered to compete. The closest thing to a black country out of PISA’s 65 participants is the fairly prosperous oil-refining Caribbean country of Trinidad and Tobago, which is roughly evenly divided between blacks and South Asians. African Americans outscored Trinidadians by 25 points.

    1. Go home Merican. Back to VD.

      1. Ah, Virginia Dare, the first “anchor baby” who was assimilated either into the Croatoan or the Tuscaroa tribe, and spent the rest of her life pumping out half-English/half-Iroquois babies for all the braves of the tribe.

        A fitting mascot for mouth-breathing, gravy-sweating racist yokels, like Murkin.

        1. Logically, the Asian descended Americans should be organizing to expel the white, black, and Hispanic Americans. I mean, after all, science proves that we are all inferior to Asians.

          So when will you leave America for somewhere else. You are intellectually inferior to the Asian race, and thus your own ideology says you should leave.

          1. Obviously directed at American.

          2. That’s not even getting into the Indian immigrants. They have the largest median income of any American group, at nearly $90,000.

            They are clearly our superiors.

            1. The Indians do control my access to cigarettes and alcohol. They are pretty important.

          3. There’s nothing RACIST about saying Mexican-Americans outperform Mexicans and Asian-Americans outperform Asians and African-Americans outperform Africans and European-Americans outperform Europeans. And it’s simple rational, good sense that when making international comparisons in education, you control for language and culture and economic disadvantages, instead of comparing apples to oranges. It isn’t racist. It’s simply good statistics. As P.J. O’Rourke once quipped (I paraphrase), “You say there’s no poverty in Sweden? Well, among Swedes in American there’s no poverty either.”

            1. Yes, but it is racist to use such differences to justify discriminatory policies for or against any group.

              When push comes to shove, American and his ilk will advocate for affirmative action for his favored white people the instant they can’t compete.

              After all they’re not complaining that Mexicans are taking the jobs of white doctors or other skilled workers but that they’re taking the jobs of white lawn mowers and unskilled construction laborers.

              A hundred years ago American’s predecessors were complaining about blacks taking the jobs of white laborers and set about getting the favorable union-favoring labor legislation that put blacks at a disadvantage in getting jobs for the next sixty years or so.

        2. How do you guys know it’s Murikan? How can you tell?

          1. Are you joking?

            1. It’s pretty obvious he’s joking.

              1. I just got up, you’ll have to excuse my perception as it’s not too good right now.

                1. my perception as it’s not too good right now.

                  Well, if you hadn’t stayed up all night drankin, druggin, and whorin, you wouldn’t be in such a sad state, now would you?

                  Ha, it’s 2:15 already here on the EC, time to get down to some hard drankin.

                  1. Considering that I did all three of those things last night, you are right on the money. But now I must go lift, since it is time for that. Then I will drink by the pool because the weather is that amazing right now and I can’t miss the opportunity.

                    1. because the weather is that amazing right now and I can’t miss the opportunity.

                      The weather is quite spectacular here today as well, mid 70s, clear blue skies, not even a slight breeze.

                      Time for brew and grill.

                    2. But now I must go lift,

                      Say hi to Dunphy for us at Curves.

                    3. Haha! Beat me to it, I was going to ask if he might run into Super Dunphy.

              2. I forgot the /sarc

                Now I’m off to the sin shop down the road to buy evil alcohol containing concoctions of the devil.

    2. Jesus dude, you posted this same thing three weeks ago. At least find some new material. You are tiresome.

    3. like Wendy responded I’m alarmed that someone can profit $7727 in 1 month on the internet. did you read this web site http://WWW.DAZ7.COM

    4. like Wendy responded I’m alarmed that someone can profit $7727 in 1 month on the internet. did you read this web site http://WWW.DAZ7.COM

  2. The doctors’ guild, for example, has marginalized midwives, with disastrous results.

    Huh? Other than raising costs for childbirth, how so?

    1. Yeah usually when you assert disastrous results you have something to back it up.

      1. Well, the dude does send his kid to a Waldorf school…

        Jus’ sayin’

        1. “Is that the Roosevelt mansion?”
          “Yeah, its a shitbox, they’re weird”

        2. Well, the dude does send his kid to a Waldorf school…

          Is there a Statler school too?

    2. Darn it; I thought I’d put a link in. I talk about our messed up childcare system here:

      http://www.splicetoday.com/pop…..c-sections

      You can also read Jessica Mitford’s The American Way of Birth, which is old but sadly still relevant.

      The short version is that American obstetrics is both very expensive and has crappy outcomes compared to most places in the west. The reason is that obstetrics is controlled by surgical specialists, who are very helpful and good in emergency situations, but don’t do very well with just plain old regular birth where interventions are more likely to do harm than good.

      I’m sort of surprised that libertarians aren’t more familiar with this? It’s a really obvious case where professional barriers keeping out certain practitioners (in this case marginalizing midwives) lead to bad outcomes.

      1. I do agree that it seems to me that C-sections are extremely over-represented, but I’m not an OB/Gyn, so what do I know? If so, it seems to me to be more about a hospital putting pressure on doctors to to “upsell” more than anything else. What I don’t get is that an OB can do anything a midwife can do, right? So other than what is mentioned above, what is the inherent disadvantage to using an OB? I mean, given a choice, I would always choose to receive medical care from an MD as opposed to a Physician’s Assistant.

      2. Aren’t midwives legal in most places? Doesn’t that mean that people are just expressing their preference for hospital births?

      3. Darn it; I thought I’d put a link in.

        I’ve just added the link to the article.

    3. I’m assuming he’s referring to the high rate of C-Section in the US.

  3. OT: No one wants to bury the deceased Boston bomber.

    Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s body was released by the state medical examiner Thursday. It initially was taken to a North Attleborough funeral home, where it was greeted by about 20 protesters, before being taken to Stefan’s Graham Putnam and Mahoney Funeral Parlors, which is familiar with Muslim services.

    “My problem here is trying to find a gravesite. A lot of people don’t want to do it. They don’t want to be involved with this,” said Stefan, who said dozens of protesters gathered outside his funeral home, upset with his decision to handle the service. “I keep bringing up the point of Lee Harvey Oswald, Timothy McVeigh or Ted Bundy. Somebody had to do those, too.”

    Yeah, I think the protesters are pretty stupid. He’s dead, what more do you want?

    1. Torch him, put him in an urn, call it a day.

      1. It would be odd if we gave bin Laden a proper Muslim burial at sea but not this guy since cremation is forbidden by Islamic law.

    2. I find it hard to believe that Boston doesn’t have a municipal cemetery intended for the indigent.

    3. I kinda like it. Very Roman.

  4. “His second-grade class had only about 10 kids, and the third-grade class above him had a similarly small number. The teachers were concerned that so few kids in the class would hurt learning; in a tiny class, they felt, kids would have fewer opportunities to form friendships and fewer opportunities to learn from and teach each other.”

    Why is this assertion accepted so readily? My children all went to a parochial school, and depending on the year, some class sizes were that small and it was considered by the parents to be a good thing. Small class size meant better supervision, more one-on-one attention, and more opportunities for kids who might be left out in larger classes to be part of this small class.

    What could possibly be wrong with a small class size? “(L)earn from and teach each other”??? Really?

    1. So the teachers union has been wrong all these years, what we need is not small class size but large class size.

      Also they don’t mention if the two teachers are still employed in the now combined class. I am guessing that since its now the 3rd/fourth grade class then both teachers are still there and so their work is the same and they can individually take more time off since one teacher can watch both classes.

      “”””””‘(L)earn from and teach each other”??? “”””‘

      Not unless they totally change the top down teaching methods that most schools use. Especially when the top extends up through the State and into the Federal Government.

    2. You really don’t need more than 10 kids to “form friendship and teach other.”

      That’s got to be one of the most ridiculous complaints I’ve ever heard.

    3. Yeah, I thought this was weird. At the private school to which I send my kids, class size varies widely between 5 and 19 students depending on enrollment that particular year, but they never choose to combine classes. Sure, they often combine grades to work on particular projects or special events (such as plays), but as classes they are separate. (Of course, in a small school, there is more everday social interaction between the grades than in a large school anyway.) It wouldn’t really make sense to combine classes, as they have completely different curricula and are at very different places in their history timeline, grammar skills, math skills, etc. and it would be extremely difficult to stick to the systematic curriculum which builds very nicely on previously acquired skills and information. But I gather Waldorf frowns on set curricula and systematic skill building anyway. It’s more play-based at the elementary level, and so if you are NOT concerned with transmitting a fixed store of knowledge, you really don’t need to divide the classes, and having a lot of kids to interact makes more sense.

    4. The teachers are the ones teaching; if they say they find it easier with 15 rather than 8, why would you doubt them? What do they have to gain? And why do you think you know better than they do?

      1. I doubt them because I know differently. I’ve heard from teacher’s unions over and over that smaller class sizes are better. I know first hand there is no difference between a class size of 15 and 8.

        The have a lot of free time to gain. If you combine two classes, that frees one teacher at least part of the day. They certainly will not be fired (otherwise they wouldn’t have brought it up).

        And I know better because we aren’t discussing something other than common sense here.

        1. No; their schedules aren’t any different with more kids in the class. And actually the school did let go a teacher who wasn’t working out. Though why it would be better for teachers to be so terrified of being fired that they’re afraid to address administrative or educational issues is pretty unclear to me.

          As for common sense…you need to do better if you want me to believe you have any.

  5. They are not viewed as professionals striving for excellence, but as recalcitrant, incompetent workers who need managing if they are going to work at all.

    I’m sure the author will take this as the slur this anecdote is intended to be, but I’ve encountered more incompetent teachers in the public school system than competent ones, teachers who would likely be as helpless as babes in the woods when it comes to their subject-matter, if they didn’t have the Teacher’s Edition to call on.

    in acceding to the definition of themselves as workers, teachers ceded the professional claim to moral authority and expertise.

    Maybe it’s because they all ran out and got credentials in “education” rather than in any particular subject. They are essentially CDL holders, but less useful.

    1. Maybe it’s because they all ran out and got credentials in “education” rather than in any particular subject.

      If you’re teaching grades K-5, why would you need to study “any particular subject”? At the higher grades, I agree with you.

      1. As opposed to any single subject, they should have a good basic grounding on the wide range of subjects they teach. Do teachers colleges do that?

        Or do they teach how to teach and leave the subject matter up to the teacher to learn.

        I was an instructor in the Navy for a few years, instructor school took four weeks, its not hard to learn how to teach. Learning the subject matters was the hard part.

        1. It doesn’t help that the ease of teacher’s college means that the people who end up becoming teachers are frequently the least educated people at the college.

          Education majors have the lowest incoming GPA and test scores of any major. That’s not a good sign.

        2. As opposed to any single subject, they should have a good basic grounding on the wide range of subjects they teach. Do teachers colleges do that?

          Considering how basic the skills taught at the level are for everyday life, I would consider anyone over the age of 18 who can feed themselves to have the basic grounding necessary for elementary education.

          I was an instructor in the Navy for a few years, instructor school took four weeks, its not hard to learn how to teach.

          Teaching adults is different than teaching kids, which is why I chose to teach adults.

        3. You don’t need to major in education to teach elementary school. You just need to take a hnadful of mickey mouse classes in educational theroy, etc. on TOP of your major in any liberal subjec – economics, English, sociology, history, math – whatever. I don’t know what percentage of teachers are actually education majors, but my guess would be roughly half. Really, if you have a B.A., you SHOULD have a basic grounding in math and liberal arts. Theoretically, you should not be able to graudate from a college with a B.A. without meeting certain general requirements.

  6. The teachers were concerned that so few kids in the class would hurt learning

    Wait, what? So more attention per pupil is bad now? So when public school teachers complain that class sizes are too big, they’re right too? I’m so fucking sick of this education bullshit. Every fucking asshole on the planet whines and complains about it, but you know what it really is? Your kid is dumb. That’s right, your kid is dumb. The smart ones will succeed and excel whether the class is large or small, because they are smart. Your kid probably isn’t. I know that bunches up your panties, but suck it up, because your kid isn’t special. If they were, they’d be being above and beyond. Oops, sorry.

    1. I’m probably jumping into the briar patch here, but the point was that the teachers themselves made the decision, not a bunch of faceless administrators. It’s the same logic as vouchers: whether or not the parents make the right decision, it’s better to have them make the decision than an unaccountable bureaucracy shuffling numbers in a spreadsheet.

      1. I’m not buying that the principal didn’t have a say in that decision. Even in a private school, teachers don’t just up and say, “Let’s combine classes!” without running it by the principal.

        1. There’s no principal. It’s a start up school, and they’re building administration as they add grades. At the moment, the teachers, in consulatation with the board, made the decision.

    2. Thinking that it’s stupid to be forced to learn subjects you’re not interested in and passively refusing to participate in that process of forced temporary memorization is, in no way, an indication of being “stupid.”

      Round pegs that don’t fit into square holes aren’t necessarily stupid. A few are, but mostly the problem is that they’re round and all the grownups think they should be square.

      1. This reminds me of something David Foster Wallace wrote in an article about the English language. He pointed out that kids that all the grownups really like tend not to be popular with their peers. The reason is that the kids who speak in the way that grownups like also speak in a way completely different than other kids and come off like douchebags to their peers.

        People are different, and trying to make them all be the same, which is basically the purpose of institutional progressivism, is absurd, dangerous and destroys the possibility of innovation.

        1. I was that kid! Have a link to the article?

          1. The article is long as hell, and the part I’m talking about is a very short part of it. It’s his article on English Usage, I believe, and I can’t find it online. It’s in his book ‘Consider the Lobster.’ I could have the wrong article, but I think that’s the right one.

            I personally can’t stand Wallace’s fiction, but his nonfiction work tends to be very good.

      2. Thinking that it’s stupid to be forced to learn subjects you’re not interested in and passively refusing to participate in that process of forced temporary memorization is, in no way, an indication of being “stupid.”

        This is pretty much what John Holt’s career is based upon.

        It’s one of the reason’s I plan on doing child-directed learning with my son.

        1. It’s the reason I’m doing that right now. He’s 13 and we’re learning together how much outside guidance and motivation he needs.

          He spends his days learning the Python programming language, doing exercises out of a book about game design, reading, learning guitar on the Xbox (with Rocksmith), reading whatever books and watching whatever documentaries he wants. After he’s done all that, he focuses on Magic the Gathering and Minecraft.

          As a bit of a control freak, it’s kind of terrifying for me. But it seems to be working, in that he’s happy and learning things that are important to him. Fingers crossed.

          And good luck to you!

          1. Thanks! He’s only 8 months, so I see this really as just being a continuation of his young childhood into his “school years.”

      3. Actually, I would say it is stupid to think that you should only ever exert effort to learn that which already happens to interest you. Acquring a broad cultural knowledge base is a SMART thing to do. Of course you will dedicate MORE time to the topics that interest you, but if you are indeed SMART, you will be smart enough to know that a base knowledge in a wide vareity of subjects will serve you well.

        1. Actually, I would say it is stupid to think that you should only ever exert effort to learn that which already happens to interest you.

          And there you have a perfect illustration of why education is so personal.

          Acquring a broad cultural knowledge base is a SMART thing to do.

          This, of course, is profoundly subjective. Unless, of course, you can clearly demonstrate which subjects and how much of those subjects every single person needs to understand in order to be “smart.”

          Since you can’t do this, the idea that what you consider to be the “smart” things to learn are what everyone should learn, is not really a smart idea at all.

          but if you are indeed SMART, you will be smart enough to know that a base knowledge in a wide vareity of subjects will serve you well.

          Okay, which subjects? Which parts of those subjects? Who will be served well by having a base knowledge in these subjects? How will they be served well?

          Here’s the thing. There are lots and lots of successful, kind, curious, and happy individuals who couldn’t pass a third grade general science quiz, and there there are miserable, cruel, lonely, selfish people with a “PhD” after their name.

          What we learn and how we learn is profoundly personal and individual in its pathway and value. Pretending to know which things outside of reading, writing, and basic math are likely to lead a person to where they want to go, flies in the face of reality (and, therefore, isn’t really smart).

        2. What’s great is that you can attempt to teach all the subjects you want to someone and make an attempt to imput all this “required knowledge” into their brains, but if they aren’t interested in it they wont really learn it. It may seem like they’re learning it, and they may show signs of comprehension and memorization, but in a couple years they wont have retained much of it because they we’re ever engaged to begin with.

  7. “The idea that education has a value in itself, or that schools are first and foremost communities of learning, has little cachet and little power.”

    Perhaps because the teachers themselves ruined the idea for everyone else by passing off mediocre teaching as creative, student-centered, etc. If all the teachers who pretend to be great student-centered innovators actually were, there would have been less pressure for standardized testing.

    Some schools manage to pull it off, but they are generally schools of choice, not the collective educational farms which so many public schools still are.

    1. If all the teachers who pretend to be great student-centered innovators actually were, there would have been less pressure for standardized testing.

      Or, if all the parents who decided that it was a school’s responsibility to make sure their kids could read, write, and do math had taken primary responsibility for their kids’ education, they wouldn’t have forced politicians to create worthless standardized tests.

      There’s plenty of blame to go around and everyone ignores the primary reason schools fail students: school sucks and it always has.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U

    2. The hatred of teachers is of longstanding. And is very much part of the problem.

  8. Every few years someone writes a manifesto about how bad the public schools are and how such-and-such a technique will improve them.

    IIRC, Why Johnny Can’t Read came out in the 1950s.

    Before debating reform, we need to discuss *meta-reform* – creating a climate in which useful school reforms will be more widely adopted and faddish, ineffective reforms will wither and die.

    Having centrally-run govt schools with little choice is a method of encouraging faddish reforms which need not be effective. Letting parents choose schools is a far more effective (though of course not perfect) way to weed out the bad and faddish and encourage the schools which actually get good results.

    So in other words, the reform debate needs to be in a context where informed, engaged parents do comparison shopping, not a context which puts a premium on plausible-sounding PowerPoint presentations and legislative lobbying aimed at policymakers whose children probably aren’t being affected.

    With the parents guiding the system, then if the reforms this author advocates are so great, schools run that way will get more kids and more money. Even the unengaged parents, who sit in front of the TV and mutter “that’s great honey” as their kids talk about their school experience will have access to better schools thanks to the engaged parents, just as the average Wal Mart shopper has better access to consumer goods than the average Soviet breadline-stander.

    1. “”””encouraging faddish reforms “”‘”

      I think the latest fad is even earlier pre-school.

      I know for myself that would not have helped me one bit since when I went to kindergarten I just made the age cutoff and was the youngest in my class. And for most of kindergarten and half of first grade I was mostly in a fog and did not learn much of anything. Luckily a few brain cells kicked in half way through first grade so I was able to learn enough to go onto second grade but for most of grade school I was behind the other kids in school.

      I was just too young to start school and starting it earlier would not have helped and probably have hurt since I would have spent more time in a fog and feeling bad about how the other kids were smarter.

      1. I think the latest fad is even earlier pre-school.

        I laughed when Obama brought this up in the State of the Union. Not a single study has shown that earlier preschool has any impact on a child’s future. Many studies have shown that Head Start doesn’t work.

        Therefore, we just need to spend a few more billion on a program for which there is no evidence of efficacy. /Obamalogic

        1. But John Stewart says the problem is the schools need to be better – the preschool programs did their part, but the advantage goes away in the early grades. So therefore Head Start is good, we just need to reform the school system so those early advantages persist!

    2. My mother was a public school teacher for over 30 years. She saw the same educational fads come around again every 9 years or so, each time with a different name. There would be the fad for a year or two, followed by a “back to basics” movement, followed by another fad, followed by back to basics, followed by the previous fad under a different name, and so forth and so on in perpetual cycle. She always taught the same way regardless of the current fad, and she was always a highly rated teacher with students who would come back years later and say, “I didn’t like you at the time, but then I realized?.” She always made her own worksheets and her own tests, her entire career. The thing is, she wouldn’t have the freedom to do all that today ? she wouldn’t get away with it. She saw the administrative, state, and federal control creeping in more and more toward the end of her career. She told me how she would teach the way she wanted, and then when an evaluator came in, she would pull out the current faddish methodology or curriculum for the hour they happened to be there watching, and then she would revert to her old tested ways when the evaluator was gone. But current systems make it increasingly difficult for teachers to get away with teaching the way they feel is best.

  9. Teachers are not, and have never been professionals. NOTHING about their work is “professional”. They do not negotiate their own salaries, they do not negotiate their work, and most clearly they are union members. They are, like members of most unions, fungible and interchangeable.

    This is, in fact, the attitude progressives (an ideology which most teachers are either active participants or at most not horribly opposed to) bring to most professions. Systematize, categorize, label and presto, interchangeable units.

    I especially do not feel sorry for the teaching “profession” as they’ve been the vangard of the progressive crap we’re now fighting.

    1. As a former teacher, I can attest to the fact that there are lots and lots of very bad teachers.

      Just as there are lots and lots of very bad soldiers and cops and DA’s, etc.

      You can argue that there is something inherent in the system that allows bad actors to thrive, but it doesn’t change the fact that the good actors are amazing, accomplished, and yes, professional individuals.

      1. I may need to pick your brain sometime on teaching, if you look below.

      2. Yes, but no one is compelled by law to attend a performance by a bad actor 180 days of the year.

        1. No doubt compulsory education is wrong. That doesn’t change the point of my post, which is, there ARE effective, selfless, and professional teachers out there.

    2. They unionized because they weren’t being treated as professionals. It’s the effect, not the cause, of lack of professionalization.

      1. They unionized because they weren’t being treated as professionals. It’s the effect, not the cause, of lack of professionalization.

        Oh fucking Jesus, what a load of bullshit.

        1. Profanity is fun, but not really an argument of any sort.

  10. So OT I got my first h/t but it was in 24/7. I was wondering how many of those I have to accumulate before I can turn them in to upgrade my monocle. I’m new to commenting and am not sure of the exchange rates for h/ts and the market for monocles, top hats, child labors, etc.

  11. Stephen Harper’s government turned two today, and the Evil Harper meme is alive and well:

    http://www.thestar.com/news/ca…..arper.html

    Oh no! Not deleting data from the long gun registry and ignoring environmental bullshit!

    1. Harper’s done some shitty things. The things pointed out in that particular article are not those shitty things.

      1. It is very telling that they THINK those are the shitty things, though, isn’t it?

        1. It’s the Toronto Star so it’s not like they are going to attack him on libertarian grounds.

          Also that article reminds me of one reason I don’t like to read antiwar.com comments anymore. I recall some commenters supporting the gun registry and the mandatory census against the Evil American Neocon stooge Harper. Good example of the problem with the Rothbardian/Rockwellian kneejerk anti-Americanism.

  12. Confession: I am actually currently applying to Master of Education programs so I can become a high school social studies teacher. I would do just a certification program, but some schools require the Master even for teachers (mostly private, but I would probably rather work with them anyway).

    While not explicitly ideological, I definitely plan not to teach the standard reheated Howard Zinn crap most kids these days hear. I also plan to hit at least Reagan, because the fact that so many history classes barely cover WW2 is insane. Seriously, kids never learn about Vietnam, Watergate, the rise of the security state, etc. Because of this, I will probably need to do at least a charter school where I have greater freedom in lesson planning, etc.

    I am in no way looking forward to dealing with the union. On the other hand, because I also do amateur stand up comedy and love it, tenure sounds appealing. Look, I went through public schools, I know it is abused and bullshit and should be ended. But I also fear telling a joke, it doing well, but later some busybody soccer mom asshole deciding that because I joked about Jesus/Budha/the environment/sex in a way they didn’t approve of (on my own time, not on school premises, and in a way that will never affect the education their child receives) that I need to be fired.

    1. “Because of this, I will probably need to do at least a charter school where I have greater freedom in lesson planning, etc.”

      I would take care in choosing your charter school. My understanding is that some are more restrictive, not less.

  13. “I also plan to hit at least Reagan, because the fact that so many history classes barely cover WW2 is insane.”

    I am a product of the Virginia education system. As far as I know, American History ended immediately after Reconstruction.

    1. You mean the Occupation, which followed the War of Northern Aggression.

      Seriously, VA actually has pretty good schools. Even though northern liberals often sneer. I remember once this insufferable New Yorker (redundant, right?) sneered “I bet Jerry Falwell sponsored the sex ed in your school.” He didn’t believe me when I told him it was actually Planned Parenthood.

      1. You mean the Occupation, which followed the War of Northern Aggression.

        I wonder what the libertarian/Reason take is on the attempt to nation build the former Confederate states? An example of the Right People actually in charge or not?

        1. a true libertarian abhors the south’s slavery, and the northern states’ aggression.

  14. uptil I looked at the receipt ov $6160, I be certain that my neighbour woz really taking home money part time at their laptop.. there sisters neighbour had bean doing this for only about nineteen months and just repaid the depts on there cottage and got a great GMC. read more at, http://WWW.DAZ7.COM

  15. Dude, can we roll that beautiful bean footage or what?

    http://www.Total-Anon.tk

  16. The author of this book review begins an important paragraph so: “The libertarian argument, of course, is that teachers should in effect be managed by parents. If school funding is distributed through vouchers…” In these, and subsequent sentences, the author seems to link libertarians with voucher proposals, and to attribute to them the desire to use “market mechanisms” (as opposed to actual markets themselves???) to cure education’s ills. I think it is more correct to say that vouchers, far from being central to “libertarian arguments” for education reform, are actually one of many libertarian suggestions to alleviate the dysfunction exhibited by a school system that is, and will probably continue to be, run by the state. The real libertarian argument supports the separation of school and state. Parents wouldn’t “in effect” manage teachers — they would directly employ them, and any necessary management, via the payment of tuition.

    (continued in reply comment)

    1. (continued from comment above)

      It is vitally important that parents be directly responsible for paying tuition, whether they make it happen from their own incomes, by securing scholarships, or by arranging loan financing. Without a true sense of the cost of an education, parents will be ill-equipped to serve as the firm managers and tough customers that educational reform, not to mention their children’s successful upbringing, require.

      A real libertarian declares and defends the right to make decisions in his or her own life, or on behalf of dependents. It is merely libertarianish to leave authority for such decisions in the hands of government, in exchange for a limited privilege to make some of them.

  17. So Noah Berlatsky, your child attends a PRIVATE Waldorf school? Good for you, and for anyone else who doesn’t participate in the government system. But in that case, I would have expected a little more mention of the private school sector in your review of Mehta’s book. Charter schools are, in their way, as much a sloppy compromise as vouchers. between the government establishment and what libertarians really want: Completely privatized education. Charter schools are still government schools, authorized and ultimately managed by government school districts, and funded overwhelmingly with public tax revenues.

    (continued in reply msg)

    1. (continued from previous message)

      If public schools were to be transformed overnight into pleasant, spectacularly effective learning communities that supported and benefited from true teacher professionalism, and that responded to parental wishes because of the “market mechamism” of vouchers, they would still be wrong because of the ultimate political source of their management and funding. Considering ideas such as Mehta’s, I find myself conflicted. If his and other worthy reforms are adopted and prove successful, the symptoms of the education’s illness might be held at bay, but the disease would be more firmly rooted than ever. How can I, in good conscience, oppose good ideas, but also, how can I, again in good conscience, abide using those good ideas to bolster a hateful and dangerous regime that might, on caprice, sooner or later nullify any gains attained through reform? If kidnappers take my kids, should my primary focus be on making their captivity more comfortable or on securing their freedom? You freed your kid, Mr. Berlatsky! I am surprised that your review doesn’t seem to be written as much from that perspective as we libertarian readers of Reason might expect.

      1. I don’t really see any way to provide decent education for kids without having the government involved. The public system isn’t great, but a completely private system would de facto mean that the poor had even fewer options, I think ? and exacerbating desperation and poverty, and giving the disadvantaged no way out, isn’t good for anyone, is my view.

        I also in general think that just chucking institutions becuase you think you can do better starting from scratch often creates more of a mess than you started with.

        So there are both liberal and conservative reasons I don’t really follow the libertarian line….

  18. Compare health care and education. Health care (in this country, at least) began with professionals operating as private actors, and is moving toward unionized commoditization under government authority. So is higher-education. K-12 education, on the other hand, was always overwhelmingly controlled by government (i.e., political authority) and we are now suggesting privatization and “greater professionalism.” Perhaps these sectors will someday meet in the middle of a hopelessly muddled, “mixed-economy” approach…?

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