re·form: noun 1. the improvement or amendment of what is wrong, corrupt, unsatisfactory, etc.
In the wake of the Chicago teachers strike, many of us who follow education policy are wondering what the implications are for efforts to improve America’s public schools. American Prospect ran a thoughtful analysis of one of the few published public opinion polls, noting the disconnect between the perceptions of white professional parents and minority working-class parents. In addition to the points they make around historical relationships with unions, I think there may be another factor working against those would like to build consensus around what needs to change in our schools: the word “reform.”
Reform has always had an aggressive, judgmental and negative connotation. Reform schools are where we send delinquent children. The Reformation was an attack on corruption within the Roman Catholic Church that led to splinter groups who formed the mainline Protestant churches.
Is it any wonder that many of the teachers working in our schools react negatively to the notion that they are in need of reform?
The strongest and weakest teachers receive most of the public attention, but most people agree that the average teacher is neither wrong, corrupt or even unsatisfactory. We know that most teachers spend their own money to make their classrooms welcoming for students and to provide them with supplies. I have known more than one teacher who kept healthy snacks on hand for the kids who didn’t get enough to eat at home.
No, the majority teachers aren’t in need of reform. Nor, typically, are the schools in which they work. But it is clear from the data on graduation and college admission and completion rates that they need to improve.
im·prove: verb 1. to bring into a more desirable or excellent condition.
State and local education agencies use the term “school improvement” quite a bit–they rarely apply the word “reform” to their efforts. These administrators and politicians understand that they are much more likely to get the necessary groups to buy-in to their efforts by focusing on the positive. Who couldn’t use a little improvement, after all? No one is perfect.
One of the lessons reinforced by the polling around the Chicago strike is that urban minority public school parents support teacher unions and are suspicious of the education reform movement. The education reform movement will never be truly successful if it fails to engage the very families it purports to help.
As Eduwonk notes, the “reform unionism” field is littered with the bodies of union leaders voted out of office after appearing too accommodating with management or school reformers. But reform unionism had a powerful pragmatic argument in its favor: Until the Chicago strike the political choice for unions looked like accommodation and collaboration or irrelevance. Last week Lewis added a third credible option to the mix – strident resistance.
Perhaps it is time for the leaders of the ed reform movement to regroup and consider a new name; one that doesn’t bring to mind the feeling of being rapped with a ruler.
Today’s Huffington Post blog by Larry Strauss addresses head-on the concern some teachers have of being replaced by technology. Anyone who has observed the link between technology innovation and downsizing in other industries would have to acknowledge this is not an irrational fear. Andrew Coulson’s Wall Street Journal Op-Ed lamenting the “teacher surplus” likely heightens this anxiety.
But, this notion of a virtual classroom without real human interaction is hard to embrace as a real possibility for the masses, because, for most students, the social part of school is what keeps them coming back. We’ve become so overwhelmed by the media’s hyped bullying coverage that we’ve forgotten that the majority of kids enjoy school, both because that’s where their friends are, and because they enjoy interacting with their teachers. Numerous studies have noted that students who have a strong relationship with at least one adult in their school are significantly less likely to drop out.
This makes complete sense. When kids are young, they are shameless about expressing their overwhelming preference to spend time with their parents above all other human beings. Once they enter school, those same kids start to shift their affection to their teachers. (Do you remember the first time you called your teacher “Mom?”) As they evolve into adolescence and beyond, some kids more readily express affinity for their favorite teacher than for either parent (though, we parents know they still really need us deep down inside.)
I am not alone in believing that technology can and should be doing more to improve K-12 education. But, the value of that technology will be realized in the hands of skilled teachers who develop emotional connections with their students. Teachers v. technology is a false choice. Teachers well-supported by technology is where we are headed.
The saying goes: don’t bring a knife to a gun fight. But, in communications, that is not always good advice. When it comes to the issue fueling talk shows across the country–women’s reproductive rights and services–the gunslingers are drawing damaging attention to themselves.
For decades, pro-life groups have worked steadily to erode access to abortions in a series of well-organized state-based legislative campaigns. Recognizing that the Supreme Court was unlikely to overturn Roe v. Wade and that national public opinion supported access to abortions, they made state legislatures in more conservative states their battlegrounds. This “knife” strategy has been extremely effective, because it kept the battle localized and didn’t mobilize opponents at a national level.
Over the last year, some pro-life supporters brought their knives to the national forum. First, there was the heated congressional debate over federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Then, it appears one influential conservative group pressured Susan G. Komen for the Cure into cutting its funding for Planned Parenthood. In both cases, pro-choice organizations and women’s health advocates roared about the perceived attack not just on abortion funding, but to women’s health funding, particularly for low-income women. And, in both cases, they effectively rallied grassroots support to retain their funding.
The current debate about insurance coverage for birth control is one where both sides pulled out their big guns. The Obama administration decided to mandate zero co-pay coverage from all employers except for churches or official places of worship. This riled the Catholic Bishops, who’d been readying their weapons for months in anticipation. As a result of savvy strategic planning, they won an early concession from Obama who realized he did not want to be embroiled in a fight with men of the cloth in an election year.
At the same time, a law made its way through the legislature in D.C.’s neighboring Virginia that mandated vaginal probe ultrasounds for women seeking abortions. The degree to which this law insinuated the government between a woman and her doctor captured national attention, leading to a public retreat by the sitting Republican governor.
But, the real excitement came when Republican presidential not-quite-frontrunner Rick Santorum harnessed his bully pulpit to express his opposition not just to forcing religious employers to pay for birth control, but for birth control in general. This was capped off last week when Rush Limbaugh branded a Georgetown University Law student a “slut” and “prostitute” for advocating for insurance coverage of contraceptives by all US employers and universities.
In the span of one year, the debate shifted from abortion to birth control. In the span of a few weeks, it shifted from the boundaries of religious liberty to something reminiscent of the 1640s.
Pundits on both sides have speculated about whether it was Obama’s plan all along to lure the social conservatives into a birth control debate. The reason they think it might have been is because they sense, and a few recent polls bear out, that the Republicans may have just lost the women’s vote. Advertisers and Republican party officials pressured Limbaugh to apologize. George Will is now encouraging the party to shift its focus to congressional races.
I have spoken about this battle with women from all parts of the political spectrum, from the red state in which I grew up and from the blue state in which I currently reside. The one thing about which we all agree is that we can’t believe the presidential election has turned into a fight about birth control and a debate about whether the GOP is waging a war on women. But it has. Because when someone pulls out a gun, everyone pays attention.
For a play-by-play of the current debate, click here: http://dyn.politico.com/tag/BirthControl
On the Chinese sweatshops, outrage is beginning to percolate. How dare they?! We didn’t know! Actually, we kinda knew, we just didn’t want to know, so we looked the other way. It has been public knowledge for some time that Apple’s ability to produce such beautiful devices in record time with astronomical profit margins was related to their China-based manufacturing. We may not have known exactly how bad the conditions were, but deep down inside, we knew they had to be pretty awful. Steve Jobs closed Apple’s corporate philanthropy shop when he rejoined as CEO. He was never shy about the primacy of well-designed products and profits above social issues.
Google has been in the crosshairs of government agencies and privacy organizations around the globe for years, and we’re now surprised that they are doing what we always suspected they were or would do? They are currently motivated by their need to compete with Facebook–the current uber-player in “helping” people disclose personal information to the masses (also known as advertisers and data aggregators). Is that really so bad?
At least with Google and Facebook, no one is getting hurt, and we get to use their services for free. Well, not exactly. According to law professor Lori Andrews, many people are being denied everything from employment to mortgages to health insurance based on what they search and share online. And, because of our lack of online privacy laws in the US, there is no requirement that those companies share their reasoning or prove its relevance. Those economists were on to something: there is no such thing as a free lunch.
How did we get here? Does the American consumer really value fast new versions of cool technology and free, efficient search and communications vehicles more than we value human dignity, privacy or even human life? Are we so busy between work and family that we’ll accept any fine print tradeoff a company puts past us? To some degree, yes.
But, the blame is not entirely ours. Facebook has been rightly criticized for being downright tricky in its attempts to create more sharing outside people’s network of “friends.” In addition to trying some of Facebook’s old tricks with Google+, Google’s promises to anonymize data after a set period of time have always been marred by questions about the quality of their eraser. Apple only released its full review of its China operations within the last few months.
In the environmental space, American consumers have demonstrated a willingness to choose, and in some cases, pay more for green products. So much so, that “greenwashing” emerged as a problem earlier this century. As the fog of ambivalence starts to burn off, technology companies may find there is more money to be made from selling us on their virtue than they can make in profits from vice.