Think [the box] ing discussion

71 views
Current Affairs > public education as a consumer good?

Comments Showing 1-26 of 26 (26 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Shannon (new)

Shannon  (giraffe_days) The big thing in education news this week is the Ontario Ministry of Education's decision to have, on their website, information on the test scores, socio-economic backgrounds etc. of the students at every school in the province. They did have a "shopping cart" feature where you could select schools and the site would compare the results for you, but due to complaints they've removed that function - but the information has remained.

What is so wrong with this is the focus on competition, as if public schools were some kind of private company.

As Rick Salutin, a feature writer for the Globe and Mail, wrote in today's paper:

"The odd thing about this approach is it invokes the very articles of free-market economic faith that have now flamed out, without seeming to realize it. The idea is to pressure schools, led by CEO-types, to improve by competing for "consumers", who can compare test results. It also enhances inequality by channelling the education shoppers in terms of income brackets. Yet, a widening social gulf is probably the single most destructive component of the current crisis.

"Never mind. 'Competition makes for better schools,' said a Globe and Mail editorial, without a shred of evidence, since there is none. The U.S. No Child Left Behind program was a model of the mindset, and only 15 per cent of educators there think it improved things. Both presidential candidates were ready to leave it behind. England had the same experience.

"'If the quality of public education did no benefit from competition and informed consumer choice, it would be the only consumer good in the universe that didn't,' chimed in the National Post. Excuse me, but I thought education was a public and social good, like the environment, democracy or the armed forces. It's not a cellphone. Different considerations apply. Maybe these people should take a civics course, if there are any that weren't chopped to add more time to prep the kids for the compulsory math tests.

"It is an odd time in history to extol the virtues of unrestrained shopping and markets. Ontario education guru Michael Fullan says England just didn't go far enough, the way free-market dead-enders say about the economy: Let's push this sucker right over the cliff and see if it bounces back. It's a religious mentality; you can't argue very well with it.

"Are there alternate ways to improve schools that clearly work? Uh, yes. Increase parent involvement. Build on local situations. Add libraries, music, art and extracurricular programs that get kids to like coming to school. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty backs the competition juju of his advisor, Michael Fullan. But kids say things like, 'If you're not happy and having fun, it's really hard to learn.' Listen up, Premier."



Sorry, I had to include the whole thing - he says it so well. But this competitive bent concerns me. What they didn't talk about much was the ability for parents to see the demographics of the student population - not that this should be a secret, as such, but the province is all about encouraging diversity yet have given some less diversity-minded parents the ability to pick more homogeneous schools.

It's also bad to compare test scores based on the raw numbers. The scores don't take into consideration, for example, how long the students have been speaking English. There's no achievement score.

This turned into a bit of a rant, sorry. What do you think?


message 2: by Bob (new)

Bob Myer | 39 comments The competition model is only a good thing if the following are properly defined: product, consumer, producer. I've written on this subject previously (http://ednews.org/articles/31404/1/De...).

One of the biggest problems I see, outside of the above mentioned issue, is that education "reformers" have a twisted belief that one solution - usually the reformer's own solution - is a "fits all" solution. Thus, we get No Child Left Behind across the entire US. Localities are severely limited in what they can do to creatively solve public education problems. In the end, everyone must answer to the central government - not a good situation.

I personally like competition. I use it in my classroom. I would prefer to be judged on my performance in the classroom (as opposed to on my students' test results), which is a form of competition. I believe that competition tends to make individuals work harder. I also believe that those who claim that all competition is bad are the ones who tend to not do so well in competitive environments. But perhaps I'm getting a bit off topic.

A word on the diversity aspect of your post. In the US, No Child forces schools to report based on racial/ethnic and economic "sub-populations", which to me seems to indicate that these uncontrollable aspects of a child may be seen as a barometer for success or failure. I proposed to my state legislators that we ought to use more accurate predictors: child criminal record, school discipline report status, and parental support. But I suppose it's not PC to sub-divide students based on things which can be controlled.


message 3: by Shannon (new)

Shannon  (giraffe_days) I have to agree with you Charly, and I think most educators here do as well.

It's funny, because so much work has been done on multiple intelligences and it's pretty well established (and pretty obvious) that we all learn in different ways and react differently to different kinds of stimulus. Some of us are more visual, others hands-on etc. There's a whole slew of them.

Testing only tests one kind of learning, and there are always going to be people who are better at tests than others - but this doesn't necessarily mean that they know the content etc. better, merely that the test format works for them.

Of course, there're no clear lines and we can't really generalise - but that's just it isn't it, testing does try to put everyone in the same box when really you can't. Though I don't know how you can get around it in some situations.

Which ties into Bob's comment about solutions that "fits all" - though from what I've heard about the program, answering to the federal gov't hasn't been the biggest problem.

I don't think competition is a good thing, not in the classroom anyway. And no, I don't do very well in competitive situations - but that in itself isn't a bad thing. I'm not against competitiveness because I'm not good at it, but because I don't think the benefits outweigh the problems. The ironic thing is, I get very competitive when playing games, and I like to win. When it comes to studying things though, I don't see how competitiveness even has a place in the equation.

The bottom line is, getting back to the original topic, education is not nor should ever be a consumer product.


message 4: by Kristjan, Ye Olde Bard of Fate (new)

Kristjan (booktroll) | 51 comments Mod
Shannon wrote: "The big thing in education news this week is the Ontario Ministry of Education's decision to have, on their website, information on the test scores, socio-economic backgrounds etc. of the students ..."

Well, I would have to disagree extensively. Let's start with testing ...

Education represents the sum total of an individuals experience, both in and out of a classroom. This ... as the article tries to point out ... is not a consumer good or product; it is a social characteristic or concept which helps to determine our productivity. Like the environment, the armed forces, etc. Everybody has one ... so what? Of course, you could bring in a discussion about Quality here ... but you see, that would also require a means to measure said quality and then to improve it. To date, the only metric we have that at least has some legitimate correlation success is in fact testing. You may not like it, but that is what we have. It is imperfect ... but that is what we have. And to equate test results as SOLELY the result of testing taking ability is an absurd argument on its face. Ability is a factor, but it is by no means the dominate factor here. The alternative is not to measure quality at all ... which of course would mean that we would have absolutely no really means to determine if a particular method, technique, curriculum was succeeding (and I have seem some incredibly ridiculous stuff passed as educational theory in the past). Testing should not be used in competition between organizations or even between students … it should remain a measure used by administrators to determine if THEY are succeeding (i.e. improving their process), not the students; because it is impossible to control all the environmental variables that impact these scores.

Competition … I would like to state for the record here that the Armed Forces of the United States is fiercely competitive, almost to the determent of teamwork in some cases (especially the officer corps with their up or out policy … where they throw out a significant percent of their officers when they don’t get promoted on time). While Mr. Salutin displays his master of logical fallacies in his attack against equating education as a consumer good, he completely sidesteps the issue about whether or not competition increases productivity … whether or not what you are producing is a winning performance on the pitch or a collection of experiences known as an education or even a VW Beatle … does competition improve what you are doing? Keep in mind that it is not really competition is one side does not actually have a chance of winning right? So … given that we have a fairly significant amount of data that shows a lack of competition is truly detrimental to productivity … it seems pretty clear that competition in some form is a necessary component of any system to realize its potential. To return to education as a consumer good … it is not; however, educational delivery services most certainly IS! And what we are really talking about is the ability of our community to delivery the best education possible for the resources provided … so to restate the Post … if the quality of the education system did not benefit from competition (generally through consumer choice), then it would be the only human endeavor which failed to do so …
\
In answer to diversity on NCLB reporting … the categories are there not because there are a metric with which to predict failure but because there are an environmental factor for which the student has no control and should therefore not be discriminated for it. These factors has huge impacts on educational delivery and ultimate success and should highlight areas for increased resources or other mitigation policy.



message 5: by Shannon (new)

Shannon  (giraffe_days) Testing should not be used in competition between organizations or even between students … it should remain a measure used by administrators to determine if THEY are succeeding (i.e. improving their process), not the students; because it is impossible to control all the environmental variables that impact these scores.

I whole-heartedly agree with you there. Sadly, it's not used that way - which is the point of this post.

Private schools can be as competitive as they like, because they are selling their institution, in a manner of speaking, but public education is supposed to be the same wherever you go. Of course it's not, but still.

But I disagree with you about competition. It's part of the free-market economic thinking so prevalent today that the only way to improve things is through competition - if you look at what happens when public services, such as telecommunications, is privatised - with the argument that this will make it perform better because competition will be opened up etc. etc. - it actually gets worse.

... it seems pretty clear that competition in some form is a necessary component of any system to realize its potential.

This does not automatically or necessarily follow. Competition can work in the most obvious sense of the word: when students from different schools, say, compete for a prize in, I don't know, debating or something. That's a healthy kind of competition. But students should be able to go to a school that delivers the program they want to study, for example, not one that boasts high test scores. And the problem with testing, again, is that the raw scores don't take into consideration the achievement of the students, such as how long they've been speaking the language.





message 6: by Bob (new)

Bob Myer | 39 comments Shannon wrote: "but public education is supposed to be the same wherever you go. Of course it's not, but still."

Shannon, I humbly suggest that this sort of homogeneity is precisely the problem that education has at the moment. In seeking to make all education equal and identical, a sort of sterilization occurs as well. Creativity - in the form of creative solutions for educating - tend to be shunned so as not to draw unwanted attention from the judges of equality.

Bringing this back to the competition discussion, here's a thought regarding teaching: if I want to be the most effective teacher I can, should I strive to become "better" than my peers? If I do, have I harmed someone in some way, and if so, should I worry? Or should I seek a common denominator for us all to teach at? Which do you suppose would result in a more beneficial learning environment for students?

Take the same idea and apply it to students. Should a student seek to meet the class average of learning (whatever that may be), or should he strive to do the best job that he can at every given moment (ok...that's utopian. Apologies.)? If you say the latter, then that is a form of competition. The interesting thing is that if all (or most) students buy into competing in this matter, they all win in the long run. They may not - certainly will not - get high marks, but they will learn the value of busting their brains to get the most out of them.


message 7: by Shannon (new)

Shannon  (giraffe_days) Bob, I was just referring to quality and funding (which in itself creates problems for measurement) - in places like Toronto where I'm currently living, funding for schools comes from the property taxes of the neighbourhood - so poorer neighbourhoods suffer poorer schools. The idea of public education is that, no matter where you live or what your economic or ethnic background is, everyone deserves a good education. My point was simply that this "right" isn't always put into practice.

I haven't found, in my experience, any attempt to make education "equal and identical" - the focus is on equity, not equality, which is an important distinction. The education system here and at home, at least, is happily free of "sterilisation", to use your term. I've never been to America so I don't know first-hand what your system is like, but from the little I do know of it I'm not inclined to think well of it.

I'm curious, though: why should becoming a better teacher necessitate competing against your peers? What's wrong with wanting to be a better teacher for your students' sakes? Your argument puzzles me.


message 8: by Britt (new)

Britt | 3 comments I can’t speak for Bob directly, but I see his point. In terms of obtaining student achievement there should be some form of healthy competition, or even peer pressure, between the teachers. And while “wanting to be a better teacher for your students' sakes” is fine and noble, I (sadly) think this is more a wishful utopian idea than a major practice.

Shannon, you are right to think poorly of the US school system. There is little incentive for some teachers to push their students towards significant achievement, which would lead towards educational equity. Salary scales are set by years put in and degrees procured (unions prohibit actual performance reviews making it near impossible to get fired, or even reprimanded, for being a “bad” teacher). Take also into account that getting low-level students to grade level or above takes an inordinate amount of time, resources, and patience that span outside of the classroom. Many teachers (especially ones from crappy schools) feel disillusioned with the lack of support from their administrations, students and the students’ parents. As a result, they do not push themselves to be the best they can be in what they consider a hopeless situation. As a public school teacher, in the US anyway, it is easy to take the path if least resistance and not get results. Does that make it right? No. But it’s important to understand the reality of the situation if it’s to be improved.




message 9: by rebecca j (new)

rebecca j (technophobe) | 18 comments Not only does the US system have the problems you've already pointed out there are a few others: Teachers have on average the lowest beginning salaries for any professional with a 4 yr. degree, the salaries increase very slowly, if at all, most of the teaching jobs are considered "women's" work which traditionally pays less, and people here don't value the job (the see it as about as important as the guy who works in a restaurant or bar, and actually value factory workers more than teachers to judge by attitudes and salaries!). Then there's the whole issue of having to keep increasing your educational level just to keep a job that doesn't pay enough to compensate for the cost of more college classes! Doctors and lawyers, accountants and dentists, don't have to keep taking college classes to maintain a license to practice their professions - so why are we punishing the people who took one of the lowest paying, most thankless jobs, by forcing them to? To teach in the US is to make yourself a second class citizen in the professional world.


message 10: by Kristjan, Ye Olde Bard of Fate (new)

Kristjan (booktroll) | 51 comments Mod
rebecca j wrote: "Doctors and lawyers, accountants and dentists, don't have to keep taking college classes to maintain a license to practice their professions ..."

Incorrect ... there are continuing education requirements for each of these professions if they wish to stay certified.


message 11: by rebecca j (new)

rebecca j (technophobe) | 18 comments But they are only continuing education classes - they are not required to attain another degree to keep practicing! Continuing education can be anything from workshops to actual college classes - a whole other degree is certainly more expensive!


message 12: by Kristjan, Ye Olde Bard of Fate (last edited Apr 16, 2009 06:50AM) (new)

Kristjan (booktroll) | 51 comments Mod
rebecca j wrote: "But they are only continuing education classes - they are not required to attain another degree to keep practicing! Continuing education can be anything from workshops to actual college classes - ..."

With the noted exception of accountant, in order to even GET there you have to have an advance degree. You do not in order to teach (most just require a BS/BA to start ... not even that for private schools). In addition, once a teacher gets a PhD ... THEY don't have to get another degree either (cause they ain't one).


message 13: by Bob (new)

Bob Myer | 39 comments Just to put my two cents in (as a teacher), it is certainly true that not all continuing education is equal. There will always be teachers who do not wish to further their level of education, either through formal or informal means, no matter what. This is not unique to teachers; I've met a lawyer, doctor, and accountant or two who I wouldn't trust as far as I could throw them. Maintaining and advancing professional knowledge is the mark of a...professional. That teachers aren't monetarily rewarded for that is (in my opinion) somewhat beside the point. As a teacher, I had better always be learning, and anyone - anyone - can create a learning environment for themselves. That college classes are necessary for learning is one of the great lies foisted upon our society.


message 14: by rebecca j (new)

rebecca j (technophobe) | 18 comments I am not against teachers continuing their education - I do believe in lifelong learning in every profession. I have taken numerous classes and workshops since getting my teaching certificate. What I find ridiculous is the new law that makes newly graduated teachers return to graduate classes almost immediately - giving them no time to experience the profession before deciding what aspect they want to pursue at the next level. And piling more college debt on before having time to reduce the first debt. We lose enough new teachers to the stress of the job - maybe they should have at least two years of teaching before they have to add classes to the job.


message 15: by Shannon (new)

Shannon  (giraffe_days) Is teaching unionised in America? I'm just surprised at how shitty it is for you there, Rebecca, and yet the profession is usually unionised. Here, for example, your base salary is determined by your degree(s), and goes up with every year of experience to a max of 11 years, and on top of that the pay goes up by three grand every year as well. You don't have to do continuing studies, but if you do a Masters of PhD, you get bumped up to the fourth and highest level of the pay scale. Pay is also determined by location, with incentives to teach in more extreme areas.

It sounds crazy to make new teachers go back to uni straight away. What kinds of things would they study?


message 16: by Kristjan, Ye Olde Bard of Fate (new)

Kristjan (booktroll) | 51 comments Mod
Shannon wrote: "Is teaching unionised in America? I'm just surprised at how shitty it is for you there, Rebecca, and yet the profession is usually unionised. Here, for example, your base salary is determined by yo..."

Teaching is actually one of the more powerful unions in the US. In fact, the union is frequently cited as one of the most significant roadblock to educational reform. While starting salaries are typically very low ... that usually changes pretty quickly as they get more experience. This is also scaled by specialization and age categories ... where the secondary stages (such as High School) make a fair amount more than those in primary education, which has a less complex cirriculum.


message 17: by rebecca j (new)

rebecca j (technophobe) | 18 comments That's not totally fair either - it's not harder to teach teens than small children! And not all teachers belong to a union - many states have strong unions, but many rural areas are still backward and haven't unionized. As far as the beginning pay increasing rapidly - maybe in your state, but not in all of them. And the funds to schools are constantly being cut, and what goes first? The arts and gifted programs! Rarely do the sports programs get cut, but most rural schools no longer have bands, because it was so much easier to pay for vocal music than instruments. My local school could only offer 8 weeks per year of art to the Jr. High students because she also had to do all the elementary classes! My gifted daughter ended up in Vo-Ag classes because they didn't have the funds to offer her any arts classes. I do get tired of all the funds they pour into sports teams, when they ignore art and music and drama and debate!

As for complex curriculum - says who? High School teachers teach one subject area all day, at differing levels. Elementary teachers teach all subjects all day, every day. And yes, we are expected to teach them at various levels, because we have students with a wide range of skills. Plus, if you have younger children, you spend a lot of time working on tying shoes, teaching responsibility, wiping noses, fixing boo-boos, etc. I've heard plenty of upper school teachers say they wanted upper levels so they didn't have to do any of those things. So why should they get better pay for doing what I do - teaching all day.


message 18: by Bob (new)

Bob Myer | 39 comments Not that I want to switch the conversation, but non-unionized states are certainly not "backward". Unions can be a good thing, to a point. Once unions begin protecting all workers regardless of circumstances, they become horribly detrimental to whatever industry they pretend to serve. That is the case with teachers, auto-workers, steel-workers, you name it.




message 19: by rebecca j (new)

rebecca j (technophobe) | 18 comments I refer to my state as backward because we generally score very low when compared to other states on many areas, not just in teaching salaries, but also in services provided, economic challenges, percentage of population under poverty level, etc. Missouri often falls in the lowest 20 percent when compared to other states - not that I don't love my home - I just wish we didn't seem to be 20 yrs. behind everyone else!
That said, we also have a low cost of living, beautiful scenery, southern hospitality, milder winters, and lots of state parks and lakes for outdoor activities. I wouldn't want to live anywhere else on a long term basis. I just get frustrated with some of our problems!


message 20: by Britt (new)

Britt | 3 comments To bring this back to the original topic of competition in education. The unions are one of the main reasons that there is no competition in schools. I am one who agrees that the teaching unions are more of a detriment to education than not. But then again without the unions the teachers would have even less than they already do. I teach in Los Angeles Unified and our union is one of the most unorganized and unprofessional organizations I have ever experienced. Most unions are operating like we're in the last century.

If the unions updated their practices and had actual qualified people running them, the schools would benefit as well. It would be top-down. If the unions running the teachers actually held the tenured teachers accountable (and won them salaries comparable to other professionals), the teachers would make sure the students were learning (to protect their jobs) and the end result would be student achievement.

Of course this wouldn't solve all of the education problems, but I think it would make a considerable dent, especially in the achievement gap.


message 21: by Bob (new)

Bob Myer | 39 comments Rebecca - Thanks for your clarification; I think I get what you mean now.

I teach in a state in which teachers unions are not very powerful. There's good and bad in that. On the good side, I'm not forced to join anything. I can choose which union I participate in (if I choose to at all), which allows for differing political points of view - unions are political institutions, without doubt. The unions have provided for teacher job security at the state level. After a given amount of time, dismissing a teacher can be almost impossible; something I'm less than happy with. On the good side, there is healthy competition for teachers in that individual districts set their pay scales, and the difference in salaries between school districts can be quite significant (sometimes greater than $10k, depending on location).

All that being said, the urban school districts in the state are, to a great extent, not good at all. Which brings me back to a point I made earlier: no one solution will work. What works in one place will not work in another. Those who seek to solve urban education by mandating change across the board will do great harm to rural districts (see ESL, bilingual, and some special education policies) and students in those districts.


message 22: by Shannon (new)

Shannon  (giraffe_days) Britt said: And while “wanting to be a better teacher for your students' sakes” is fine and noble, I (sadly) think this is more a wishful utopian idea than a major practice.

I'm actually stunned that you think so, and puzzled. Having grown up around and with teachers, and having recently completed my own teaching degree which includes in-school practice, I have never come across a teacher who seeks to compete against other teachers in order to be better or "the best".

Dare I say, this competitiveness in the wrong place is an American mentality? Because it seems quite alien to me, as well as sad, ineffective, and ultimately detrimental. There are many good reasons to be a lifelong learner and improve your teaching practices, but trying to get one up on the maths teacher down the hall is the stupidest thing I've ever heard.

Wanting to improve and be a good teacher for your students' sakes is fundamental, not a luxury you can't afford.


message 23: by Britt (new)

Britt | 3 comments I guess I should preface this: I teach in the inner city for an incredibly horrible school (though I cringe to make the comparison, think Dangerous Minds). While there are some truly amazing teachers and admins that teach there, most of the faculty is incompetent, lazy, or some combination of the two. My perspective might be a little different. This supportive and caring school that you were writing about seemed theoretical to me, because, well, it’s not my everyday experience.

Shannon, when I read your comment that you “have never come across a teacher who seeks to compete against other teachers in order to be better or "the best".” I had to laugh a little, because that's not really what I meant. Maybe competition was the wrong word for it, but I do think that teachers should be held accountable for their students’ achievement. In my school I know many teachers who use the students (or anything really) as an excuse for their own laziness, saying “You can’t teach these kids.” In cases such as these I want those teachers to see the scores of the other teacher down the hall, the teacher that is getting results from those same “unteachable” students. And I want somebody to tell those teachers to do their job better. The same goes for school administrations. Unfortunately, because of many factors (unions among them) those teachers are not being held to high performance standards and there is little to no consequence for their lack of effort or performance.

You seem upset to hear that not all teachers are in the profession purely to help students, and you should be. But understand I’m not saying that I personally feel that teachers should disregard their students needs, but I am saying that I know more than a few teachers who took the job for the summer vacations and tenure protections, not the students.




message 24: by Shannon (new)

Shannon  (giraffe_days) No I totally agree with you, Britt.

I was fortunate enough to work with and know some great teachers but I've also heard stories of the worst kind of teachers. I've heard of teachers who tell their students that they're stupid, and mock their names. Teachers should be accountable for their students' success, at least in part - some don't even try.

It always upsets me to hear about them, and in fifty years it will upset me. All I can do is strive to uphold my own personal standards and do the best I can for my students, because they deserve as much. I just don't want us to get in the habit of shrugging off teachers like the ones you describe, who are very much in existence here and everywhere.

What I'm trying to say (poorly), is that even though such teachers exist and we have to work alongside them, that we shouldn't think of them as the norm. At the very least I think they are the exception, and besides that, if they are held up as the norm, it makes everyone who's trying to do a good job look idealistic and naive, and justifies the laziness you were talking about.


message 25: by LeeKnell (last edited Jul 27, 2018 05:02AM) (new)

LeeKnell   | 1 comments Shannon (Giraffe Days) wrote: "No I totally agree with you, Britt.

I was fortunate enough to work with and know some great teachers but I've also heard stories of the worst kind of teachers. I've heard of teachers who tell the..."


Hello!!! I agree with you that teachers should be responsible for the success and failure of their students. And I also agree that teachers should not offend their students. I had a teacher who taught a lesson in writing. She asked me to write a lot of papers. We bought papers here - read more. She gave us good marks for the fact that we wrote good papers. A teacher of mathematics gave us bad grades for good work. It was unfair. What do you think?


message 26: by Jeff (new)

Jeff Myers | 1 comments Education is always good, believe me. Paperleaf browser at https://www.amazon.ca/v-apex-PaperLeaf-Browser/dp/B079TT2DSH/. I hope that this browser will provide you with the best possible quality and overall great experience.


back to top