Unions Aren’t The Enemy

Well, I’ve said unions are not the enemy of education reform many, many times. Unions just refuse to allow their members to lose ground when it comes to compensation, benefits, and working conditions. Plus, union leaders recognize that the recent trends in education are often about privatizing education, providing another hand-out to corporations.

And now, the Washington Post has included a guest editorial saying that unions are not the enemy. Marion Brady, a former teacher and administrator, says:

That said, when it comes to education reform, teachers unions get an undeserved bad rap.

No way are they the major obstacle to school improvement. Mark that problem up to institutional inertia, innovation-stifling bureaucracy, and misguided state and federal policy. Trace union bad press back to its origins and it’s clear that much of it comes from ideologues and organizations less interested in improving education than in destroying union political clout and privatizing public schools.

In addition to this attempt to undermine public education, the measurements used in education also force schools into using unproven and illogical methods for determining success and showing improvement.

Bottom line: It’s impossible to count how much kids really know. Period. Standardized tests are an appalling, monumental waste of time, money, and brains. Especially brains.

To the “standards and accountability” cheerleaders—the Business Roundtable, the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Governors Association, the US Department of Education, newspaper editorial boards, syndicated columnists, and so on—the complex, counterintuitive, kid-controlled, impossible-to-measure learning process I’m describing is alien.

But that process lies at the very heart of teaching and learning. Trying to shield it from destruction is why older, experienced teachers are the most vocal, determined opponents of the present reform fiasco. They know the “blank paper,” count-the-right-answers theory propelling the standards and accountability fad is an intellect-gutting, society-destroying myth.

And they know that adopting national standards and tests will lock that myth in place far, far into the future.

Of course, using standardized tests repeatedly is another way to give textbook companies a chance to cash in on the attempts to reform education. Why use authentic, classroom-based measures when a company can be paid to do the work for you?

Todd S. Farley, in another guest editorial in the Washington Post, adds that test makers purposely mislead the education industry and the public while having a significant impact determining who passes and who doesn’t. He mentions scoring problems existing on every standardized test: “I’d say there aren’t scoring problems on some standardized tests—my experience suggests there are scoring problems on all of them.”

He then proceeds to describe who scores these exams:

Many end up working in test-scoring centers only because they can’t get jobs elsewhere, and over the years I worked with every kind of drunk (a fellow in Iowa City who started every day wan and shaky but ended it—after tippling his way through break time—ruddy and rambunctious); and dingbat (one scorer who gave every student response the score of 2 one day, every single one of them!); and dilettante (a scorer in Phoenix who told me his real job was as an ultimate fighter and who after three weeks on the job thought he was being tested, not that the students were). Are these some of the people who should be making decisions about American education?

Farley directly states he witnessed cheating in the testing industry:

It cheats on qualification tests to make sure there is enough personnel to meet deadlines/get tests scored; it cheats on reliability scores to give off the appearance of standardization even when that doesn’t exist; it cheats on validity scores and calibration scores and anything else that might be needed. I don’t want to just point fingers here, because I am guilty too, and over the years I fudged the numbers like everyone else.

Statistical tomfoolery and corporate chicanery were the hallmark of my test-scoring career, and while I’m not proud of that, it is a fact. Remember, I was never in the testing business for any reason other than to earn a pay check, just like many of the testing companies are in it solely to make a buck.

Too many corporations are not involved in education to educate; it’s not even their fault really. Corporations are built to make money. That’s what they do, and to expect otherwise is imbecilic. However, the leaders in education, not union leaders, but those in a position to influence public policy and to dictate educational norms have slowly over the last 20 years or so begun to undermine public education and to inject Big Business into the mix.

Instead of experts leading education reform with student learning being the central focus and goal, we have allowed corporations to run education with profit margins deciding the students’ educational focus. Teachers unions do not do this and have fought against this, but then they have also been branded as archaic, backward thinking, and stodgy. While I do not believe teacher unions are perfect–they do make mistakes–I do not see them advocating for corporations to make educational decisions; politicians and other education “leaders” do.

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