Thursday, November 12, 2015

Neoliberal Education and the Male Gaze

Over at Curmudgucation, Peter Greene writes about the snazzy misdirection found in reports like The Gates Foundation's Promising Evidence on Personalized Learning.  Green concludes that the report isn't worth reading, but he also cautions that somewhere, somebody is using the fancy, color process report to lead people astray.

TNTP (a.k.a. The New Teacher Project), came out with a similar glossy report entitled The Mirage - Confronting the Hard Truth About Our Quest for Teacher Development. The report is a fancy screed that hides behind the "path-to-success" cloak. The report isn't worth reading, but I guess we should really be cautious about the spectacle of these media blitzes.

Below are a few examples of how the report misdirects and obfuscates, and then essentially blames teachers:

1) I wish the authors were clearer on what "...putting students on the path to success..." means. (p. 5)

Your gaze hits the side of my face. Barbara Kruger, 1982.
2) I appreciate their finding that "Teacher development appears to be a highly individualized process, one that has been dramatically oversimplified." (p. 7) I think this applies to the experiences of our students, as well.

Scientifically, there’s no way to honor our student’s individualism while emphasizing high-stakes standardized tests that simplify “knowing” and “experiencing” to a series of check-off boxes. [See the AERA report: State Value-Added Performance Measures Do Not Reflect the Content or Quality of Teachers’ Instruction, Nov, 2015.]

3) This is an ad for the Common Core: "For example, teachers need to demonstrate to their observers that they are posing meaningful questions to students, which lead students to critically assess information and rely on evidence to put forth a point of view." (p. 21) Let's not pretend that this is THE accepted standard for students' engagement with text.

And who are these observers? This is a variation of the male gaze.

4) The recommendation to provide “rewards and consequences [emphasis added]” for teacher improvement is a symptom of the problem . From the report: “Changing one’s professional practice can be difficult and uncomfortable. It often requires teachers to confront weaknesses, disrupt old routines and learn new skills. Even the most intrinsically motivated educator may need additional incentives to start and persist through the improvement process.” (p. 40)

If we’re going to grow (growth doesn't have to be painful, unless you’re a fan of Dweck, apologists or behaviorists), we should ask “Towards what end?”

5) The beatings will continue until morale improves. From the report: “Creating meaningful rewards and consequences [emphasis added] can send a clear message that improvement should be a top priority, and energize teachers about opportunities to innovate and grow."(p. 40)

6) This makes no sense: “Even as districts continue trying to help more teachers improve on the job, they should also prioritize recruiting teachers who already have a track record of success and retaining teachers after they actually become highly effective. In these areas, there are proven strategies, such as hiring teachers earlier and by mutual consent….” (p. 42) How do teachers who “already have a track record of success” get hired in the first place?

And what does "mutual consent" mean? Is this code for at-will employment, i.e. no unions? I value labor history and it’s role on creating safe and effective working conditions, so where are the authors going with this?

7) When the authors suggest that teachers’ jobs be “reconstructed,” I wonder if this is a cost-savings strategy that actually de-skills teachers (p. 42). As for on-ramping new teachers, I think it would be great to have hybrid teachers who work ½ time with the their classes, and half-time with new, fully-paid teachers who also work ½ time with the their classes, and 1/2 with their mentors. (Hey Gates Foundation! Ring me up if you want to talk about a Green Teacher Network led by hybrid teachers and smart education  policy. We can do this -- and -- this is an offer, not a request.)

8) And BOOM! There it is: “Rather, it’s worth exploring ways to combine the disaggregation of the teacher’s role, as described above, with alternative models for school design that allow higher-performing teachers to reach more students.” (p. 43) Is this a recipe for dystopian "personalization," in which computers manage students' learning?

I love the idea of efficiencies, but education is a social, people-centered, labor-intensive endeavor. Sure, I’d like my well-supervised 10th graders to work with gaggles of 6th graders doing field studies, but the ratio should always honor the development of community, student safety, and well-rounded learning. Are these the criteria for TNTP's conception of personalization?

It’s amazing how terms like “blended learning” and "personalization" can be so easily co-opted by for-profit corporate interests with little understanding of the human dimensions of learning. How does this happen? How do smart people within the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation get so distracted?

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