Reform Without Teachers

In keeping with Eduflack’s ongoing discussion of what is needed to improve our schools (and remember, Eduflack doesn’t believe in using the term reform, because it lacks outcome, I’m focused on improvements), following is a guest post from Doug Little.  No one can say Eduflack’s not open to opposing viewpoints.
Writing from a Canadian perspective, the American education ‘Reform’ movement seems to be attempting education reform without listening to teachers, particularly organized teachers in NEA-AFT. This means reform is doomed. The literature is clear. Education reform without significant teacher buy in never works. Periodically people get frustrated and attempt to blame teachers for example, for the achievement gap. The achievement gap has nothing to do with teachers, it is based in the deep inequality that is tolerated in the USA to date that is not tolerated in any other democracy.

Jurisdictions periodically get the idea that they are going to get tough on teachers as Duncan, Obama, etc are doing now. You can predict the results as the night follows the day, an exacerbated teacher shortage.New Zealand made a serious attempt at education reform without listening to the teachers and instituting policies they opposed. The result was an overnight serious teacher shortage. OK we’ll deal with that by having non-teachers teach, once again failure. Things get worse. You have a serious legacy problem with black, hispanic, poor white and AmerIndian achievement because you have never historically made efforts to educate these groups and now you want to close the gap overnight. It won’t happen. You already have a serious teacher problem in schools teachers consider undesirable to work in. Merit pay and Teach for America kids will not solve this problem. The job must be made desirable with pay raises for all teachers, and radically improved working conditions in safe schools. It seems to all the other democracies where social-democratic reforms are popular, that Americans are just not willing to pay the price for this in taxes. There always seems to be an American sense that there is a silver bullet to education improvement. There is not, it is very expensive and very hard work.

To quote Stanford education professor Larry Cuban “It is very difficult for the schools to make students equal within a society that is otherwise dedicated to making them unequal.”

What need to do:

1) Massively invest in early childhood education free for every child from toilet training to kindergarten if parents make below $40 000, $5-10/day for all other children.

2) Abandon standardized tests. Finland, the world’s best education system doesn’t use them.

3) Dramatically reduce class sizes in all poor schools to 15 and all others to 20 students. (STAR project Tennessee)

4) Dramatically improve all teacher pay. Add bonuses for Master’s degrees. 

5) Dismantle charter and voucher schools, they are part of the problem not part of the solution.

6) Dramatically improve teacher education but also only allow university students with straight A’s to apply to be teachers.

7) Don’t make any reforms not approved of by NEA-AFT.

8) Offer free MA to math and science teachers if they teach for ten years after degree.

We think along these lines in Canada but we are not satisfied. We have only the world’s second best system after Finland.

(This post was contributed by Doug Little of The Little Education Report.  It represents Doug’s opinions only.)  

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