Professional Periodical Response : LUSENET : MEd Cohort III : One Thread

Education reform has become a national issue that surrounds local school districts and communities. The issue of reform is examined in depth by Evans Clinchy the senior consultant with the Institute for Responsive Education, Northeastern University. Mr. Clinchy wrote an article entitled "The Educationally Challenged American School District." Essentially, a primary concern today is that public education is "failing" our students. This failure rate is evident in a high drop out rate, strict tracking guidelines, low standards, and my favorite, low test scores. In essence, the message circulating throughout our local communities is our schools must be reformed. Ironically, reforming education was an issue that was brought up last week when Duluth's Superintendent, Julio Almanza spoke with the Cohort III students. The primary focus of the conversation pertained to discussing the Minnesota Graduation Standards. There is a bureaucratic movement throughout Minnesota that has created, designed, and discussed implementing the graduation standards. In conjunction with my personal experience there are a percentage of educators that support and refute the graduation standards. This year I was "asked" to implement a package into my International Studies curriculum. A "package" provides a previously developed curriculum that meets a graduation standard, i.e., diverse perspectives is the standard for International Studies courses. According to this package, teachers must present an event that examines a diverse perspective. I choose to analyze apartheid with my students. The issue of Apartheid is incredibly valuable and an educational must for International Studies. However, the package requested students to create a documentary video, powerpoint presentation, Hyperstudio creation, or multimedia exhibit. This request is fundamentally ridiculous due to the fact that Central has no software for powerpoint presentations, Hyperstudio, or a multimedia room that enables editing to take place. Ultimately, my frustration resides with the administration that mandates teachers to implement an ineffective procedure that outlines failure from the start. I decided to point this out to Mr. Almanza by stating that, "I have no problem being held accountable to my actions as a teacher, in fact, I suggested that the state pay individuals to observe my classroom and teaching style." His reply was, "Catherine, why would you want to be observed if you do not know what you will be held accountable for." This point is well taken but I have found some information in this article that continues to support my original statement. In theory, it is my fundamental belief that teaching is an art and not a categorized substance. Rightly or Wrongly, many people throughout the state of Minnesota see the standardization agenda as maintaining and even reinforcing the traditional, established, essentially centralized top-down structure that has governed the American education for the past century. Less than one hundred years ago a primary goal of education was used to track the upper class from the lower echelons of society. A primary focus of the school system was used to assimilate different cultures and teach cleanliness, godliness, or civic virtue. These ideas were inflicted upon Native Americans in countless boarding schools, immigrants, and social groups. Control of these establishments came from a top authority that controlled how and what teachers taught. Many educators are blamed of being inflexible and adverse to change but this adversity rises in the eyes of history. As stated by Clinchy, this reform movement, "is not really a reform but a restructuring. Rather, it is simply a return to and a shoring up of the traditional, top down, highly centralized, bureaucratic school system that we have had in this country for roughly the past century" (Clinchy 273). This system of factory production became a science during this century's Progressive Era. Frederick Taylor introduced the concept of efficiency by simplifying tasks into repetitive movements. So you see, Henry Ford did not invent the concept of an assembly line, but rather, Frederick Taylor adopted this theory. Not surprisingly, "scientific management" entered into the school systems. Clinchy reports that, "as a result of the application of that industrial model to our public schools, efficiency and low cost became the order of the day, not only in our factories but also in our schools. This rigid system created a demand for standardization. As a history teacher I tell my students that history is cyclical with minor twists. I see this implementation of the graduation standard as vaguely similar component to Taylor's ideas of efficiency. Clinchy plays the role of a skeptic. He questions standards by inquiring about the agenda merely, "promoting the continuation of the existing factory system with its orthodox academic disciplines, its traditional age-graded structures, and its traditional information and skill transmission mode of teaching often aimed at covering the allotted amounts of academic content mandated by the new standards" ( Clinchy 276). It is quite possible that standards and standardized tests contributes or requires teachers to "teach to the test." These are all valuable arguments that need to be addressed by our legislature, school board, and administrators or is our educational system protecting the structured top-down power structure? Where do we go from here? The adversity on the educational system is extreme with relatively few answers to the perplexing problems of educating youth today. Do educators become "straitjacket" teachers and teach to the standard and shy away from evoking emotion and inquiry among our students? I truly believe that public schools are a central component to carry the vision of democracy, justice, and inclusion to all students. As a nation we all have a fundamental stake in the youth entering into our public schools. The question is how will we control education? Autonomy? Standards? Rigid Top-down control? Ironically, I choose education as a career because I foolishly thought education was a career that provided autonomy and choices. Instead, I have found administrative chaos....

-- Anonymous, December 19, 1998

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