The Contradiction of Educational Reform and the Paradox of Great Teachers

Contradiction versus paradox. They are not that different, but in actuality they are.

Merriam Webster defines a “contradiction” as,

  • : the act of saying something that is opposite or very different in meaning to something else
  • : a difference or disagreement between two things which means that both cannot be true

Here are some examples:

  • “Do what I say, not as I do.”
  • “Sure the food is fresh. We microwave it right here.”
  • “After I work out at the YMCA, I go to Krispy Kreme and reward myself with a dozen donuts.”
  • Corporate reform initiatives work well in public education.

Merriam Webster defines a “paradox” as,

  • : something (such as a situation) that is made up of two opposite things and that seems impossible but is actually true or possible
  • : someone who does two things that seem to be opposite to each other or who has qualities that are opposite
  • : a statement that seems to say two opposite things but that may be true

Here are some examples:

  • “You can’t keep it unless you give it away.”
  • “You must surrender to win.”
  • “You learn to fail before you learn to succeed.”
  • Teachers still raising student achievement in the face of debilitating reform measures.

I make mention of public education because there may be no other profession/field/public service that shows the contradiction versus paradox relationship so well.

Since the inception of the No Child Left Behind initiative, American public education has been a hotbed for reform after reform to link student achievement and teacher/school effectiveness to standardized tests. That movement was even further pushed with Race to the Top. And some states like North Carolina have taken so many steps to reform education in such a small time that the shoes of change have no souls/soles left while walking a path with no map.

Contradiction #1You can measure standardized students with standardized tests. Student achievement and student growth are not the same thing. One is a measurable with controlled variables and treats students as a number or a statistic. Student growth is taking the individual student and assessing authentically where he/she began and how far he/she grew to a goal.

If one looks at how schools are graded in North Carolina, then he will see that “test scores” are taken into account much more in assigning school letter grades than student growth. If you look at the grades for schools in NC this past year, you will not only see a lot of high-poverty schools showing up in the “D” an “F” range, but if you look really closely, you will see that these schools do a lot to help students grow.

Contradiction #2There is a one-size fits all curriculum and pedagogical approach for all schools. Not so. Different student populations have different obstacles that may affect student growth like poverty, economic development of the area, access to educational opportunities outside of school, etc. Factors that affect the lives of students outside of class can have everything to do with how they perform in class.

Contradiction #3Giving schools a certain amount of money is the same thing as fully funding them. The state of North Carolina makes many claims that it is spending more money overall on public schools than ever before. However, the state of North Carolina is spending less money per pupil than before the Great Recession. The contradiction here is that just because there is “more” money does not mean that schools are fully funded. Population growth alone can expose that contradiction.

Contradiction #4Allowing for-profit entities to run charter schools, Achievement School Districts, and virtual high schools means you are progressive. It really means you are re-forming education so that someone can make a profit from tax payer money.

Contradiction #5Vouchers work well for students. Ask Milwaukee. Ask any other major system that implemented them if vouchers really worked. The only true statement that can be said about the use of vouchers is that it takes money from the very public schools that need the money in the first place to hire the people and get the resources to educate each student effectively.

Contradiction #6Class sizes do not matter to student performance. North Carolina literally removed class size caps. Any public school teacher could vouch that class size means so much when it comes to student/teacher interaction.

Contradiction #7Teachers with tenure are the ones who are burdening the system. Actually, teachers with due process rights cannot just be dismissed with the swish of a wand. Their records prove their effectiveness or they would not have gotten continuing licenses. Teachers with due-process rights actually work to advocate for schools and students without fear of sudden reprisal.

And there are many more contradictions that could be listed.

Now here’s the lone paradox, and to paraphrase a quote from Andreas Schliecher* – Despite the many, politically-motivated reform efforts by Raleigh and the characterizations by many that public school teachers have an easy job with short hours and months off in the summer, the fact is that our dedicated and successful teachers work long hours all year long to educate students and educate themselves without many needed resources and support on the legislative level.

I’ll take that paradox over all of the contradictions any day.





The original quote is, “Despite the characterization of some that teaching is an easy job, with short hours and summers off, the fact is that successful, dedicated teachers in the U.S. work long hours for little pay and, in many cases, insufficient support from their leadership.”

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