I'm baaaaaaack.

Hoarding All the Glitter Since 2001.

03 November 2012

Yes on 30, But Man Those Union Teacher Thugs.


The San Francisco Chronicle is recommending a yes vote on Proposition 30, but based on their recent water-carrying for ed deform consultants reporting, I think they must be having second thoughts.

A few days ago they published this story.  In brief:

  • SFUSD and OUSD have given up on Race to the Top funding.
  • This money would have purchased incredible math education.
  • And TECHNOLOGY.  Which is awesome.
  • By "technology" we mean data systems for administrative offices, but we could mean technology for schools.
  • The money in question is fifteen million dollars over several years $100 million.
  • But there will be no money because teachers don't want to be held accountable.
  • Which proves teachers don't care about children.
  • And apparently teachers think there's just plenty of money around since they turned down this cash.
  • Not that this has any implication for upcoming elections.
  • We're just reporting some of the facts.
Anyway, the myriad problems with this story are noted decisively in UESF's response at BeyondChron.  That is no impediment to me adding my comments on this story.  More specifically, I'd like to comment on its assumptions about education and its innumeracy.

Let's start with the latter.  Fifteen million dollars is a lot of money indeed.  In the context of school funding, though, it's nothing.  The district budget is hundreds of millions of dollars annually.  This money provides a few million for a few years.  Moreover, it will leave in its wake new unfunded mandates: the programs it supports in their infancy are to be continued by the school districts, now on their own funding.

Nor is this free cash money the Districts can spend any way they want (you know, by buying back furlough days or reducing class size or providing legally-mandated clean drinking water to students).  The money is available only to fund a certain set of new programs.  So it doesn't even free up existing money for other uses.

And then there are the core assumptions, which rest on no evidence but are so basic to the education reform mindset they don't bother providing any proof of them.  One of these is the assumption that TECHNOLOGY IS THE ANSWER.

It's not.

Beyond the reality that technology has been THE ANSWER for decades now - I speak as a survivor of BASIC programming, LOGO, and old-school, Apple II Oregon Trail - without making a noticeable difference to education outcomes, technology is a massive cash outlay.

If TECHNOLOGY IS THE ANSWER, schools need technology.  It is provided by for-profit private interests.  Schools are a huge market for tech corporations.  Moreover, it is an ongoing expense: great for corporate profits, not so great for classrooms.

For instance, THE ANSWER in my classroom is one eMac.  It is eighteen years old and can no longer access the internet.  Every other piece of technology in my classroom - from the electric pencil sharpener to the listening center - is either a donation or something I bought.

My school has been given two laptop carts full of THE ANSWER.  My wing of the school can't use the carts because they would overwhelm the electrical system - as it is, four outlets in my room are presently blown out because I attempted to sharpen pencils while charging my phone after school on Monday.

Even if we had the juice, THE ANSWER could still not be networked and used.  The District attempted to contract out wifi installation a few years back.  It ends up the contractor installed some nice boxes and colorful wires but no wifi.  (Really: the contractor went to prison).  My school is one of those caught in the scam, so we don't have working wifi in my building (we use phone cords and ethernet - not a solution for laptop carts).

Even though we did not hire the contractor and we are not responsible for the lack of wireless, we are expected to pay the District if we want it: $3,000 a classroom.  Our school budget does not have $24,000 sitting around for this purpose.

What I'm saying is that today's ANSWER is tomorrow's unafforable upgrade.  When ed reformers tell us about the wonders of interactive whiteboards and online courses, they should not just show the research that these interventions work (they don't have any, but the media isn't asking).  They should also explain how keeping technology functioning and current is budgeted in their plan.

The other big issue is the usual "bad unions don't want accountability".  Hey, I'll be the first to say that I find it interesting that my job should rest on my students' performance on tests alone, whether we have two furlough days or ten, twenty two learners or thirty, functioning heat or not.  Apparently, such is my power that no matter what the District throws at me, I will inspire ever-higher test scores in my students.  Moreover, the District is never accountable.  I mean, it kind of sucks I'm in my sixth year without a working heating system, but Kindergartners have coats, right?  And sclerodactyly isn't so bad, right?  I'm a teacher: I'll find a way around it.  And that bootstrap-pulling needs to start young.

That said, I AM ACCOUNTABLE.  The first grade teachers count on me to make sure their incoming students are prepared.  My students' parents trust their babies to me and I am accountable to them.  My students are bright, capable, and in need of my best: you'd better believe I feel accountable for their safety, happiness, and academic  progress.

BECAUSE I feel accountable to my students, I am not interested in any scheme that links my job security and their pay to their test performance.  All data show the same predictable results of this strategy: curricular narrowing, widespread cheating, lowered student happiness, and Scantron for five year olds.  Moreover, performance is never improved.

I assess my students because I need to know what they need to learn and what they've mastered.  The assessment is centrally reported and has been for ages (it's not the southeast side schools freaking out about the new TK/K assessment).  The kind of one-on-one observational assessment I do is not compatible with the reformers' accountability schemes - it's too time-consuming, requires too much knowledge to administer and interpret, and does not prescribe one-size-fits-all solutions.

So really, what the Chronicle published was some of its usual anti-union nonsense dressed up as reporting.  It's not really a surprise.  Given the current climate and the absolute importance of 30 passing, it's a real disservice.  I also have to wonder about the math teachers of Chronicle reporters: is it too late to go back and hold them accountable?  

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