Civil Discourse in Public Education “Reform” Cannot Happen If You Refuse to Involve Teachers

civil discourse

Over the last year (and week), much has been said about the need for civility and constructive dialogue especially when discussing the topic of public education.

John Hood has a recent op-ed in EdNC.org entitled “Carolina needs civil, curious leaders.” It begins,

If you are involved in politics and public policy in North Carolina, I have some unwelcome news: lots of North Carolinians are dissatisfied with the quality of our political discourse and leadership (https://www.ednc.org/2017/11/22/carolina-needs-civil-curious-leaders/).

I am usually not in agreement with Hood on many things, but I do agree with this statement. He makes a good point.

However, I do take issue with the context in which it is said and the unrevised history that predates it. Hopefully, this post will be civil enough to explain. And yes, it is a little ironic that the subject of civil discourse be the central topic on a post by someone who named his blog Caffeinated Rage.

When you write a blog, you can control the dialogue. If someone makes a comment on a post who does not agree with what is said, it can be dismissed and never posted, but I do not make disagreement a reason for not posting a comment (although cursing and profanity are not published as well as threats to a person).

The issue that this teacher takes is that in order for civil discourse to happen, all parties need to be at least invited to the conversation. And there are a lot of people who have been deliberately not invite to the table, namely teachers.

Mr. Hood has written extensively about the educational reforms that have happened in North Carolina, mostly in praise of what the North Carolina General Assembly has done in the past five years. Just recently he published “On reform, quicken the pace” (https://www.ednc.org/2017/09/25/reform-quicken-pace/). He began that one with the following:

The annual testing data and report cards for North Carolina’s public schools are out. Here are the headlines. Achievement rose in some areas and declined in others, with most changes being fairly small. Our graduation rate continued to rise, but other data suggest some of these graduates aren’t really college- or career-ready.

The testing mechanisms, the formulas used to measure and disseminate data, and the criteria of the report card grades were constructed by lawmakers and their appointed officials. What civil discourse was there in the creation of those measures?

The “requirements,” the “evaluation protocols,” and the funding of resources were also in the control of lawmakers. Was there any civil discourse when those were created and enacted?

And data about being “college – or career ready?” Betsy DeVos recently gave an interview to the Wall Street Journal and made the following claim:

Children starting kindergarten this year face a prospect of having 65 percent of the jobs they will ultimately fill not yet having been created” (http://www.chalkbeat.com/posts/us/2017/11/21/to-back-up-claim-that-schools-must-change-devos-cites-made-up-statistic-about-the-future-of-work/).

There is absolutely no evidence for that data. Just read the rest of the Chalkbeat report referenced above.

DeVos is not one to be able to bring a lot of people to the table for a civil discourse. She is too polarizing. And while Hood has defended her (“DeVos attackers surrender higher ground”) with a nice armor, he seems to forget that in the discussion of public education, it probably would help if the people in the discussion actually were knowledgeable of public education. In that defense Hood said,

Conservatives like DeVos who believe that applying conservative principles to education policy would benefit students and the public at large could certainly be mistaken. But we have good reasons for advocating the reforms we do. Those reasons stem from personal experience, empirical evidence, and basic insights about why organizations succeed or fail. In our view, those who question our motives are implicitly granting that they can’t refute our arguments. They are surrendering the high ground, not fighting for it” (https://www.carolinajournal.com/opinion-article/devos-attackers-surrender-high-ground/).

The use of “we” with Betsy DeVos, the claim of “personal experiences” about public education, “empirical evidence” that was not evidenced by DeVos’s earlier claim on future jobs, and “basic insights” about a public good that is not an organization is not grounds for claiming the high ground.

In fact (and in the most civil way possible), the very reforms that Hood and others in the conservative movement have championed have done more to hurt public education than help it. Consider:

  • Opportunity Grants
  • Unregulated charter school growth
  • Push for merit pay
  • Removal of due-process rights
  • Removal of graduate degree pay
  • Principal pay restructuring
  • Change in standardized tests
  • Changes in how schools are graded
  • Changed in teacher recruitment
  • Teacher pay unevenly restructured
  • School funding debated in a hurried fashion
  • State Board suing the State Superintendent over unconstitutional transfer of power
  • An Innovative School District that has little public support

And that’s just a small sampling of “reforms” by a General Assembly that has had more laws overturned in court than they had special sessions to come up with those laws. That’s the same General Assembly that forced a Voter ID law in gerrymandered districts.

Where was the civil discourse in those actions? That is not a rhetorical question. Where was the civil discourse there?

Those actions have literally thrown public school teachers (especially veterans) out of the very room where the discourse is supposed to happen. How else can we be heard and more importantly the students whom we serve be heard without raising our voices with higher pitched tones?

Hood stated in the originally referenced op-ed,

“I believe in the value of structured, face-to-face programs. But they can’t scale up large enough to solve the problem on their own. Everyone has a role to play.

We can start by making concerted efforts to avoid politicizing all our personal and professional relationships, or thinking we can always know why “they” disagree with us. Why not ask them?”

Hard to be “face-to-face” when you aren’t allowed in the room. And yes, everyone has a “role to play,” but when a few are constantly redefining the very roles that others are playing, then it is already an uncivil situation.

And veteran teachers are not being “asked” about why they disagree with these “reforms.”

Because someone claims to have taken the “high ground” does not dismiss the fact that many have been thrown out of the conversation. Because someone claims to have taken the “high ground” does not dismiss that there is no empirical evidence that what North Carolina has done as far as “reforms” are concerned has actually helped the public education system. Because someone claims to have taken the “high ground” does not dismiss the fact that someone who is highly financed tends to be able to command a least a sizable reading audience.

But those claims do not make that someone “more correct.”

It means that public school advocates are having to speak up more frequently and with more volume to at least be heard with the hopes of being listened to. And many of those advocates are the very teachers who civilly discourse with hundreds of students, parents, and public school stakeholders on daily basis without politicizing the very issues that bring them all together.

It is why some of us drink a lot of coffee and write a blog.

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