May 8, 2012

BOOK: The Blackboard and the Bottom Line

Recently, I finished this book by Larry Cuban. The subtitle is Why Schools Can't Be Businesses. I made lots of notes about points I wanted to share, but I'm going to control myself. Not wanted to steal all of his thunder, I'll ask you to read Mr. Cuban's book.

From the jacket: In this provocative new book, Larry Cuban takes aim at the alluring cliche that schools should be more businesslike,and shows that in its long history in business-minded America, no one has shown that a business model can be successfully applied to education.

"Few members of reform coalitions openly acknowledge the undeniable fact that most policy changes entering schools undergo adaptation by teachers. And even among the occasional policymakers and CEOs who do recognize the inevitability of classroom adaptations, few figure out how to determine whether the new policy itself, teachers' modifications, some other factor, or a combination of all of these produced the desired (or undesired) outcomes" (37).

Because of this, he states, we'll continue to argue over the meanings of success and failure.

"Because principals and teachers are gatekeepers to school and classroom improvements, their perceptions, beliefs, knowledge, attention, motivation, and skills come into play when policies from state, federal, and district levels arrive at the schoolhouse steps. Many factors shape what happens to those policies once the classroom door closes" (106).

"Teachers are, in the crisp phrase used by Andrew Porter and his colleagues, active 'policy brokers'" (109).

Unfortunately, decision-makers are under the impression that they are qualified to influence my classroom. Unless a majority of their time is spent in the classroom, they are too far removed to make a difference. Thankfully, as a gatekeeper, I'm able to make the best decisions for my students.

"Let me reassert the obvious: well-organized, politically powerful groups holding defective theories of action aimed at effecting school reforms trump facts time and again" (162).

Yep. And that's monumentally disappointing. How do teachers fight against powerful decision-makers who make life-drainingly bad choices?

"Little evidence is available to demonstrate that scores on standardized tests translate to getting a college degree or a well-paid job. The linked assumptions remain unfounded. Even new autos get tested for safety before they go into full production. No standards-based testing and accountability policies have been yet field-tested and found effective" (175). 

Recently, the New York test questions are a perfect example of crap quality assurance.

You know, doctors know medicine and attorneys know the law. Teachers know education. Just leave us alone. Let's try that for a while. We've tried your ideas--for years. The experiment has run its course... and failed miserably. It's our turn. But, I'm no idiot--that's not going to happen. So, teachers and administrators, if we want to find success, we'll become a collective of "policy brokers."

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