Ani McHugh, a high school teacher of the year from Delran, New Jersey wrote a letter to the Burlington County (NJ) Times which describes the heart of education “reform” as the depersonalization of both teachers and students.
Depersonalization is at the heart of education reform
For decades, newspapers have published letters from people who describe teachers as lazy, greedy and ineffective — and responses from teachers who defend their work ethic, their passion and their profession as a whole.
The problem, though, is one that’s older and more deeply rooted than much of this banter addresses. It’s one on which the current educational “reform” movement thrives: depersonalization.
To label all teachers as anything is ignorant at best, just as to label all members of any group of people based on commonly-accepted stereotypes is dangerous, derisive and wildly offensive. Are all lawyers corrupt? Are all Irish people drunks? Are all Muslims terrorists? You get the point. It’s dangerous.
Yet this kind of depersonalization is the foundation of the “reform” movement. Students have no identity in the eyes of reformers. Instead, they’re numbers in a database that are examined for the sole purpose of evaluating teachers, who are also nameless, faceless statistics.
In New Jersey, teachers will be evaluated using student growth percentiles, which track students’ scores on flawed standardized tests to check for yearly “progress.” Consider this: A student performs well on high-stakes tests for two straight years. Then, he experiences a death in the family, has problems at home, is plagued by a serious illness, or begins to abuse drugs or alcohol. Would his ability to focus, to try and to care about a meaningless multiple-choice test be affected? Probably. Would his test score that year go down? Probably.
Yet reformers, who have no interest in this student or knowledge of his struggles, would blindly, categorically and authoritatively blame the child’s teacher, who obviously failed to do his or her job because the student didn’t show adequate “growth” from the year before.
Reformers oversimplify the learning process and ignore the very basic fact that children and teachers are individuals. They stereotype students by categorizing them with others to whom they’re “similar” based solely on single test scores. They insist that teachers’ lessons address diverse learning styles, yet devalue diversity by forcing all students to pass the same flawed standardized test.
But most alarming is that reformers, who recognize that many people know little about public education but will leap to attack it, use empty jargon that sounds reasonable to promote their dangerous agenda.
In this culture, good teachers will flee the profession because their intellect, individuality, vision and judgment are devalued. They’ll become dispensable — and easily replaceable — because the curriculum will be narrow, prescribed and designed by non-educators so that those who can follow a script can teach it. Public schools, a cornerstone of our society, will be replaced by for-profit charters that make rich corporations richer at taxpayers’ expense.
Good teachers are invaluable, and the profound ways in which they influence their students are immeasurable. Calling teachers lazy, greedy and ineffective is no different than promoting any other stereotype that lumps all people with a commonality into one group, and evaluating teachers based on a testing system that strips any type of human characteristics away from our children promotes this same kind of injustice.
— Ani McHugh
The national trend of depersonalizing educators and students has allowed “reformers” to de-professionalize public education.
In state after state teachers have lost employee rights such as collective bargaining. The call for improved teaching has been accompanied by lowered standards for entrance into the teaching profession. In Indiana you don’t need teaching credentials to be a public school teacher, you don’t need administrative training or substantial years of teaching experience to be either a principal or superintendent. This “fast-track” of educator preparation is not going to improve teacher or school quality.
The evaluation of teachers based on student test scores has been shown to be invalid and unreliable, yet it continues. The strongest correlation with achievement levels based on standardized tests is a child’s family income, yet the number of states employing VAM measures continues to increase.
The de-professionalization of education — the constant blame heaped upon teachers for things outside of their control, the denial of teachers’ expertise, the loss of employee rights, the micromanagement of classrooms…have all contributed to the lowest morale among educators in decades.
Is this the way to improve public education? Do “reformers” really want to improve public education?
All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.