Teachers stand up against cookie-cutter education
Comments from Annie: Steve Strauss lays it out for those who haven’t yet found the capacity to define the impact of NCLB on teachers.
He describes the policies of NCLB as a “New layer of oppressive working conditions for teachers at all levels” and details them as follows:
Elementary school teachers are increasingly pressured to conform to a state approved, one-size-fits-all lesson plan
Many elementary teachers are now forced to use scripted lesson plans.
Secondary teachers are now forced to align the curriculum to fit the tests.
Schools face takeover by private “education maintenance organizations,” like the Edison Corporation, or by the state itself, if test scores don't show “adequate yearly progress.”
Teachers are spending valuable class time “teaching to the test.”
College level education professors, who help train future teachers, are now increasingly required to submit their course descriptions for state approval.
Traditional teacher certification via a university degree is slowly being replaced with a new category of “highly qualified teacher.”
He says: “…a new resistance to this “education reform” is emerging from the ranks of unionized teachers. It promises explosive class battles ahead.”
And he suggests: “Rediscovering their fighting, militant history is the key to teachers successfully defending both their own working conditions and quality public education for all.”
The article was published in Australia where, no doubt, they are waiting to read more about courageous teachers, in growing numbers, uniting forces against the intrusion.
Published in Australia
Freedom Socialist • Vol. 27, No. 5 •
Teachers stand up against cookie-cutter education
Shortly following the 1991 Gulf War, corporate America put another piece of territory in its sights. This time the objective was on the home front.
“Competition in the international marketplace is, in reality, a battle for the classroom.” With this 1993 salvo, the Business Roundtable, an association of about 150 CEOs from the nation's most powerful corporations, announced its intention to occupy U.S. public schools. The goal? To turn public schools into “workforce development systems,” an assembly line model of schooling designed to manufacture a new U.S. labor force that would ensure corporate America's competitive edge over European and Asian rivals.
No more “frills” for young people. Art, music, and literature don't generate surplus value for defense contractors and information technology giants. The new “standards” are math, science, and technical reading. And no more real teaching. Teachers' aim now is to drill kids for the new educational bottom line — “high stakes tests” to divide the workforce into two tiers, a high-skilled elite vs. the foot soldiers for battlefields and service industries.
But a new resistance to this “education reform” is emerging from the ranks of unionized teachers. It promises explosive class battles ahead.
Oppressive working conditions.
Teachers in poor schools have always faced overcrowded classrooms, rodent-infested buildings, no air conditioning, libraries with few books, outdated texts, and lack of modern classroom equipment. But now federal and state education mandates are adding a new layer of oppressive working conditions for teachers at all levels.
Previously, teachers contributed to classroom curriculum, taking individual student needs into consideration. Now elementary school teachers are increasingly pressured to conform to a state approved, one-size-fits-all lesson plan, and secondary teachers to align the curriculum to fit the tests.
To discourage any straying from the plan, schools face takeover by private “education maintenance organizations,” like the Edison Corporation, or by the state itself, if test scores don't show “adequate yearly progress.” Teachers' jobs are at risk and new hiring can occur outside the teachers union. Already, non-profit “charter” schools, darling of the Democrats, hire outside of the union. With superintendents breathing down their necks, teachers are spending valuable class time “teaching to the test,” as if that is what education is all about.
In Gadsden, Alabama, for example, naptime was eliminated for kindergartners to allow teachers more time to drill the little ones for testing! The national Parent Teacher Association is on a campaign to save recess!
In an insulting move to “teacher-proof” the classroom, many elementary teachers are now forced to use scripted lesson plans. They literally recite prepared lines, await the kids' responses, and move to the next line. Teachers correctly recall that they were never taught such perverse “education theory” in their college classes on how children learn.
College level education professors, who help train future teachers, are now increasingly required to submit their course descriptions for state approval. Otherwise, the graduating students will not be awarded their teacher certifications. To eventually bypass professors who refuse to submit to this attack on academic freedom, traditional teacher certification via a university degree is slowly being replaced with a new category of “highly qualified teacher.”
This gimmick allows private companies to train new teachers in the “standards” and methods of big business' education revamp. These graduates are called “highly qualified.” One of the leading entrepreneurs in this new venture is Reid Lyon, close advisor to President Bush, and anarchitect of No Child Left Behind.
Unionized women workers.
For corporate America, the ideal scenario for its education makeover includes a completely docile workforce. It is counting on the fact that already 30 percent of teachers leave the profession within the first five years, having discovered that the average starting salary of about $29,000 does not compensate for all the hours of preparation at home. With such a turnover rate, those who stay will have increasingly accommodated to the “test and punish” factory model of education.
Traditionally low pay for teachers is the legacy of sex discrimination. In California, 76 percent of teachers are women whereas 90 percent of superintendents are men. The salaries of the superintendents are two or three times those of the teachers. In the past, school administrators could rely on antifeminist sentiment to keep teachers divided. But with the fight for women's rights, this situation has dramatically changed.
There was a time when men and women high school teachers were in separate unions, with men receiving higher pay. But politically active women teachers fought for solidarity and equality, showing the labor movement that the fight for women's rights is in the interests of all workers.
Prior to the modern women's movement, teaching was considered a temporary job that, at best, would supplement that of the primary bread- winner. Now, however, a state such as Texas reports that 41 percent of its public school teachers are the primary provider for their families. Teachers have that much more reason to look to the union to defend their interests.
Anticipating resistance, thought control is making its appearance. Recently, for example, the Tucson school board voted to require of teachers a loyalty oath “to uphold the constitution ... against all enemies foreign and domestic.” Enemies like children of undocumented immigrant workers?
Teachers fight back.
Despite all these pressures, the lid could not be kept down on five courageous teachers at Downer Elementary School in Richmond, California. In October 2005, the “Downer Five” wrote a letter of resistance to their coworkers. Working in a low income school district where 12,600 of the over 14,000 students are children of color, they charged that attacks on public education are felt mostly by “poor children of color,” and that teachers “have a moral obligation to look out for the best interests of our students.”
“It is time to stand up for the children entrusted to us,” they wrote. And they directly challenged the corporate agenda: “With the current focus on accountability, teachers are required to administer (and students to endure) more and more testing. Most of these tests are ill-conceived.... We will not give these tests.” Their letter called for solidarity. “It is our sense that we are not alone in feeling as we do. We hope that you will join us.”
Fellow teachers joined parents and students at a subsequent school board meeting in giving a standing ovation to Elizabeth Jaeger and Lina Prairie, the two women teachers of the Downer Five, and the first to receive “involuntary transfer” notices. Union leaders stayed away from the battle.
A century ago, radical women unionists in the American Federation of
Teachers (AFT) opposed U.S. entry into World War I and struggled against efforts to outlaw the right of public employees to strike. Rediscovering their fighting, militant history is the key to teachers successfully defending both their own working conditions and quality public education for all. They and all working people need to demand:
• Rescind the “involuntary transfers” of the Downer Five!
• No to high-stakes testing! No corporate takeover of public schools!
• Eliminate funding disparities: Adequate funding for all schools!
• Classroom Democracy: Teachers, parents, and students decide on curriculum!
• Full education rights for children of undocumented workers! Union teachers at all public schools!
Freedom Socialist Party
4710 University Way NE, #100
Seattle, WA 98105
PO Box 2066
Brunswick, VIC 3055
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES