Friday, December 09, 2005

More on education, accountability and privatization

Read this post over at the Christian Kantianist if you haven't yet, comment on it, then come back here and read this post. And give me my freaking sweater back.

I have two comments I want to make, and I think they deserve their own post.

First is the issue of accountability. I think that when we talk about holding teachers accountable, we're really conflating at least two issues: the broad, abstract question of "To whom are teachers accountable?" and the procedural, pragmatic question of how we measure teacher success and what we do with the results. This comment is concerned with the former.

Secondary school teachers are accountable to their students, to their students' parents, to their peers, to the chairs of their departments, to their school administrators, to their county administrators, and to every taxpayer in their jurisdiction. The parents of every single one of my wife's students have her e-mail address and her cell phone number. The students can come during her office hours and during scheduled tutoring times to get tutored or to discuss classroom approaches. Her department is responsible for making decisions among themselves about the way they want things handled, the equipment and supplies they want, and the ideas they have, and presenting those decisions to the rest of the faculty and the administrators. She is evaluted several times a year by her boss, an assistant principal, and those results are seen and discussed by different groups of teachers and administrators at different levels. On multiple back-to-school nights each year, parents and other members of the public are invited to discuss the progress of the students or educational issues in general.

In what other area is the system set up with more apertures for the public to influence it? What civil servants have more transparent lives than teachers? barnabas18 asked "Why wouldn't schools like the accountability of teachers needing to perform to earn their money?" They do like it, because in good schools, it's already in place.

Second is the issue of government, the view of government that is espoused in posts like this one. standingout's questions, while legitimate and provocative, presuppose "government" as a distinct entity from "the people." This view allows standingout and others with his views to say things like this:

"The government needs to gradually give our society back to us."

I believe I can cast doubt on this distinction with an example. Just up the road from me in Montgomery County, MD, a heated and important debate is taking place on the role of schools in teaching about sex and homosexuality. (Catch up here.) Initially, this seems to support the view of standingout and barnabas: that schools, as a government institution, have the power to go against the will of the people by shoving certain curricula and ideas down our throats whenever they want. But, a close read of the WP article proves that view completely wrong.

The school is merely the place where this debate is happening. It's incorrect to view this as a debate between the school and the people. On one side of the debate are students, parents, teachers, administrators, and elected officials; on the other side of the debate are...students, parents, teachers, administrators, and elected officials. They're merely having this debate in the context of curriculum:

"Jim Kennedy, a Montgomery County parent and member of -- a group that supports comprehensive sex education in the county's public schools, including discussions regarding homosexuality -- said it's important for kids to understand what homosexuality is, in part because they may be struggling with issues of sexual identity."



At 10:09 AM, Blogger Jackscolon said...

"Government institution[s], have the power to go against the will of the people by shoving certain curricula and ideas down our throats whenever they want."

I think your example of homosexuality is extremely relevant here, but I don't think it supports the point you are trying to make.

Homosexuality (especially gay marriage) is an issue that a vast majority of Americans oppose, yet is continually brought to the forefront by things such as activist judges, until the people get angry enough to pass state measures by overwhelming margins.

Check out CNN poll results on gay marriage bans in the 2004 election.

There is absolutely NO way to say that this resembles a close debate. Every time the issue is raised, it gets a limp wristed, open hand slap by the collective populace.

The fact that this debate is between members of the community is irrelevant, the number of members on each side is extremely lopsided and the issue is only raised when groups that aren't aligned with mainstream America's views bring it to the forefront.

To press my point further, the reason schools are under pressure on accountability issues is because a vast majority of public school teachers do NEA kool-aid kegstands on their break, and the NEA touts leftist policies, which are soundly rejected by the majority of Americans. For more on this, check out my sweet, largely ignored post on The Politics of Polarization.

By the way, my confirmation word is yspdhevb, which is how kids in California learn to spell "indoctrinate" using NEA-approved, new public school methods while feeling super good about themselves.

At 11:19 AM, Blogger J. Morgan Caler said...


“Check out CNN poll results on gay marriage bans in the 2004 election.

There is absolutely NO way to say that this resembles a close debate. Every time the issue is raised, it gets a limp wristed, open hand slap by the collective populace.”

a) Charles wasn’t making the case that this was a close debate, but a debate that was taking place between citizens in the context of the school and not between citizens and the school in the context of the community. The point was that schools are not something other that the government has forced into otherwise organic communities, but rather an institution that is part of the community and, because of its centrality to a community, often the context in which debates unfold.

b) You are only right that “there is absolutely NO way to say that this resembles a close debate” if you reduce democratic debate to popular opinion. Close debates, rightly understood, are debates in which the relative merits of opposing cases are fairly even and then deliberated by the populous. Majorities get it wrong a lot these days, mostly because there is a Specter of Fundamental Misunderstanding roaming America.

At 2:38 PM, Blogger Jackscolon said...

J. Morgan- I largely agree with you, however...

A) My point is that-

1) The debate is raised by small numbers of the ultra left out of touch with mainstream America-

2) Teachers have a higher percentage of these lefties-

3) Teachers, as government employees, represent a basically liberal wing of the government-

therefore, the debate occurs in the schools when government teachers push their leftist, unwanted policy.

B) We've had this argument before, but I still stipulate that democracy does not always lend itself to resolving differences based on moral imperatives. Democracy requires voting, which reduces every issue to a numbers game. In this case, majority might makes right. To push legislation opposed by a majority of the populace on a "we few know what's best" (regardless of absolute truth) is a breakdown of democracy.

At 2:50 PM, Blogger RedHurt said...

I'm going to have to agree with Jacks on that last point. I don't believe that the specific debate over homosexual marriage is taking place in schools because it provides a good environment for voices in the community to debate, but rather because educators are using the educational system to push view points the community at large doesn't espouse. Does this mean I'm seeing "educators" as distinct from "the community?" Yes, because by and large the educators in question on this particular issue are a highyl concentrated minority at a place of influence elevated far beyond both their representation and their accountability.

On other issues, such as all of the examples you've used about your wife, Chuck, I'm going to side with you. I don't like seeing the educational system as pushing an agenda - I want to say it's part of the community like everything else, and it takes a whole village, and all that garbage. I just think on the issue of homosexual marriage it's plain not true.


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