Friday, February 08, 2008

Responding to Bill...


But I wanted to say something about school reform and how it is framed

People have been talking about radical school reform for a hundred years (Dewey, Holt, Illich, Papert etc.) but it never happens in a way that scales significantly.

If you're talking about radical reform, well, one reason that hasn't happened in the US is that we don't have a radical society. Radicalism in education, and the culture of schools, has tended to ebb and flow with larger cultural currents.

Now we have a new radical school reform movement (web2.0) with bloggers becoming frustrated that it's not scaling and whinging about it - why don't other teachers follow my example and do what I do?

It is also not clear how "radical" this movement is. Or even real consensus on what it is about. In particular, I think many teachers are confusing something that has genuinely transformed their classroom with something that fundamentally changes schooling or education. You can, for example, integrate lots of international collaborations via the internet into your classroom without threatening or disturbing the overall structure of school in the least.

On TFA: I don't know much about TFA first hand. I don't think it is evil or anything, but it is a pretty small band aid. From what I can tell, it manages to generate a small number of talented teachers who stick with the profession each year. The overwhelming majority don't stay in the classroom; I don't see why the ones who do wouldn't have been better off just getting a proper teaching degree in the first place. My wife sometimes mentors undergraduates in Brown's undergraduate education program, which would be pretty similar to kids doing TFA, and they all need more than a few weeks prep to be effective teachers. See also my friend Bil Johnson on the subject. TFA is no panacea.


Bill Kerr said...

I liked Trevor Stutz's reply to Bill Johnson

The Teach for Australia proposal includes pairing of experienced teachers with new recruits - also a slightly longer crash course in teaching (8 weeks)

Not a panacea but strange to see "progressives" in opposition to a proposal that is making some positive impact on disadvantaged schools. Bill Johnson seems annoyed that the "right" is doing something about which the "left" sees as its area of moral competence. Given the real state of teacher training courses in my country, his remarks about "genuine teacher preparation programs" ring hollow - is it different in the USA?

In Australia this is the only proposal so far that has any chance of making a real difference to the disaster area of remote indigenous education

Tom Hoffman said...

Why can't we just give real professional training to people who want to make teaching a career?

Bill Kerr said...

Relating this to remote indigenous Australians - it could be that the "professionals" have failed and their bureaucracy perpetuates and attempts to conceal their failure - hence we find the strongest opponents to TFA coming from Unions because the role of Unions is to protect their members interests, not to help the most disadvantaged members of society

Certainly the welfare bureaucracy in Australia has failed the aboriginal people:

"There's a big industry involved in Aboriginal dysfunction. There's jobs involved. So whilst in other areas of the government we have a great deal of support, it's in the family services and welfare services area where we have the most bitter resistance. The last stand in favour of government intervention in our lives is going to be at the family services area, ironically enough....

For me it was initially, strange at first, that the welfare bureaucracy just didn’t see this very good thing happening here, and embrace it and support and see that yes, this is something that we should be expanding. If it is working, we should be doing everything we can to support and expand it. There are people within the bureaucracy and I’ve got to say, in sheer numbers terms, they are the majority, it’s not just a kind of marginal resistance, it’s a structural resistance amongst, not all, but a great majority of the people within the family services system, that have got an entrenched dislike for the program, and will do everything at every turn to discredit and resist it.

I saw a letter from the Sergeant at Aurukun that said, well this program’s been working really well, it’s combatted petrol sniffing and it’s helped to eliminate juvenile crime. So, we had a lot of praise and support from the police in that situation, and yet we had very strong resistance and opposition from the family services bureaucracy. It’s really a fight for responsibility that we’re having with the welfare state. I mean people might think I’m overplaying that, but it is a fight with the structure ... The family welfare services structure has built an industry around the problem and it’s not willing for that industry to disappear. It’s not willing for the problem to disappear, because the industry will have to disappear if the problem disappears ...

And I think that we’ve got to succeed with this. You know, there’s a big industry in corrective services, there’s a big industry in Aboriginal dysfunction. But in trying to get rid of the problems, we’re going to have a battle against that industry and I don’t think that they will retreat from the role that’s developed. There’s heaps of people, there’s jobs, there’s programs, there’s arms of government departments that have grown up around these problems. And you can’t just eliminate the problem, because there’s jobs at stake and people who’ve put a lot of thinking into maintaining these programs and so on ... " (Noel Pearson)

Now does that also apply to the education industry? ie. that it might be blocking alternative ways to help the most disadvantaged - TFA, OLPC? I think it might.

What is "professionalism", at least in some cases it perpetuates dysfunction.