Reading Education In Year Five
I didn't study education so I never read, formally, in the field. My Teach For America training was theoretically grounded, and solidly so, but was praxis-based, so I did not read. My credentialing experience required nothing more rigorous than the periodic group presentation of a jig-sawed chapter, so I didn't read there either. But I'm reading now, despite the predilection of my Masters course designers to opt for the oh-so-intellectually fascinating jigsaw. I'm not reading much because little is asked and even less is functionally required, but I'm doing it.
I read Meier and Darling-Hammond and Banks and Ladson-Billings and there's this refrain that teachers need more autonomy, that competency-based education is awful, that all forms of standardized assessment have ruined everything for everyone who is not a test-designer. Five years ago I would have ate this up and asked for more, pounded my mental chest and over-utilized phrases like canned curriculum and teacher in a box. Five years ago I think I did do this, was one of the loudest and most persistent member of the I-Hate-High-Point club. Five years later, after closing the reading gap, I'm not buying. I'm still looking, but I'm not ready to pull out the wallet.
Because you can't have it both ways. As teachers, you cannot simultaneously negotiate evaluation-proof work conditions on the one hand, and instructional autonomy on the other. If evaluations continue to focus on teacher actions -- objectives posted, adherence to 5-step lesson plan, etc. -- rather than student outcomes, if there continues to be no accepted tool to measure teacher effectiveness, if we reject the very notion that certain educators may be superior instructors because of what they do and not what the kids bring relative to their demographics, than you don't get autonomy. You can't.
Dig it: As a teacher I should get to teach whatever I want because I know best and no one is allowed to determine if what I taught or how I taught it was important, valid, or successful because I earned tenure in the name of academic freedom.
That's the argument our profession makes. It's weak sauce.
And it's unfortunate because teachers do need autonomy. Many state- and board-adopted curricula are damn near awful, poorly designed and poorly realized. Which is somewhat besides the point, because there is no program in existence that can meet the needs of all learners all of the time, no matter how faithfully implemented. It is more than naive and foolish to think otherwise. At the same time, it's probably equally naive to assume that if teachers were given carte blanche to do as thy will, student achievement would dramatically increase. It can't, not in the absence of true accountability and valid assessment.
As I read these endless teacher accounts of being subjected to controlled curriculum, I grow tired rather than invigored, and think shut up rather than right on. And I wonder how many teachers would trade their contractual safety for the accountability they seem to crave, and I wonder how much it would cost a district to negotiate that kind of agreement.