Sunday, March 11, 2012

Perpetual School Reform: an American Insanity?

Striving to better, oft we mar what's well. -- William Shakespeare, King Lear
Efforts for perpetual reform rests on the belief that all good things are compatible: that ever more of everything desirable is sustainable. Overlooked is the possibility that good things may be competitive: to pursue one may undermine our ability to obtain another. Yet most people can understand that you can't drive fast and at the same time save gas -- the shorter trip in time may not offset the gas wasted in fighting wind resistance. Athletes know that you can't build up for extreme strength and endurance at the same time.

The basic mechanism of perpetual reform is easy to understand. It takes a disregard for history and unending complaint about the present situation proclaimed in newsmedia much more concerned to attract the greatest attention than to report fact.
The costs of the present, since they are with us, look so much worse than the costs of any future alternatives, which, being future costs have the benefit, at least, of not existing, yet.

The benefits of the present, taken for granted and oh! so boring!, look much less attractive than the benefits of some alternative future. And so we blunder into yet another here-today-gone-tomorrow “revolution.”

So it goes with teacher certification efforts. On the one hand we hear much talk about the need to upgrade teacher training. This concern to "improve the quality of teachers" generally comes from those seen as having a “vested interest” in extending and complicating the certification process, e.g. teachers' unions, universities, professors of education and certification organizations. In the scandal mongering that characterizes many editorial columns "vested interest" easily becomes "selfish desire to exploit" therefore something any upright citizen ought to oppose and undo.

Yet this undoing is blindly pursued by school boards who, for example, facing teacher shortages, look for ways to put warm bodies in classrooms. Or, by the legislators who assist the downgrading of teacher preparation by allowing, even recommending, alternative routes into teaching. Seldom, however, do the media suggest that such school boards or legislatures are merely self-serving.

To examine these issues further, see The Dynamics of Teacher Certification: mythologies of competition


-- EGR