Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Far Side of Educational Reform

This was written by Andy Hargreaves and Dennis Shirley from Lynch School Education at Boston College and authors of The Fourth Way: The Inspiring Future for Educational Change. This was the introduction to a report commissioned by the Canadian Teachers' Federation called The Far Side of Education Reform.

By Andy Hargreaves and Dennis Shirley

Teachers are at the far end of educational reform. Apart from students and parents, they are often the very last to be consulted about and connected to agendas of what changes are needed in education, and of how those changes should be managed. Educational change is something that government departments, venture philanthropists, performance-driven economists and election-minded legislators increasingly arrogate to themselves. Even when these policy-setting and policy-transporting bodies speak on behalf of teachers, teachers often have little or no voice. Teachers are rarely asked to speak on their own account.

When international delegations visit high performing jurisdictions, including those in Canada, it is not teachers they typically get to meet but rather ministers, administrators and advisors – those who command and commandeer a view from the top, along with an official version of what everyone else is supposed to see. This is not only a bias of judgment, but it leads to a bias of evidence and perception. Diane Wood’s research (2007) has shown that professional learning communities, like many reforms, are often viewed more favourably by people at the top than by those at the bottom. Quantitative survey research on leadership and trust, reveals that “site and district administrators view themselves…and each other…as exhibiting trust behaviors consistently higher on every trust factor when compared with teacher respondents. Moreover, the gap between teachers and administrators is the greatest in regard to trust factors” (Daly & Chrispeels, 2008, p. 44; also Daly 2009). To put it more directly, administrators at the top tend to see themselves as more full of trust and to put a more positive spin on their reforms than their teachers do. Teachers are the end-point of educational reform – the last to hear, the last to know, the last to speak. They are mainly the objects of reform, not its participants.

Not surprisingly, therefore, teachers are also often at the far end with educational reform. They are at the end of their tether. Targets and testing, capricious and contradictory changes, political climates that feed on failure and foment professional fear, insecurity and instability, cut-throat competition and rampant privatization – these are the enemies of teaching that erode confidence and betray trust throughout the teaching profession, although they are more prominent south of the border than within Canada itself. However, less obvious adversaries in Canada and elsewhere can still make teachers feel at their wits end today. Hackneyed harangues against whole-class teaching that equate it with factory-style schooling; excessive exaltation of technologically-driven instruction; reduction of deep personalization to slick customization; data warehouses that drive teachers to distraction; and exploitation of international performance comparisons to the domestic disadvantage of public school teachers in almost every developed country – these are the gimmicky Goliaths of educational change today. They are the surreal Far Side of school reform.

If it is indeed the case, as is now commonly claimed, that the teacher is the most important within-school influence on a child’s educational achievement, then it is time to stop insulting teachers, excluding teachers and inflicting change after change upon them. It is time to bring teachers back in: to make them part of the solution and not just part of the problem.

1 comment:

  1. Joe, I find this disconcerting. Parents are ill-informed and not a substantial part of educational reform (deformation is a better word). That being the case, it is pretty scary to say teachers are even further removed.

    I am not surprised by the findings i.e. teachers, because I have held for some time that this supposed reform is happening in the places furthest removed from classrooms i.e. political, bureaucratic, and academic suites and enforced by those who are furthest removed from the day-to-day art of teaching and learning in the classroom i.e. administrators, bureaucrats, politicians, and academics.

    It is not promising.



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