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The end of teacher sameness and solidarity

Terry Moe and John Chubb say…

[I]n American education, policy making is not guided by what is best for children or the larger public. It is a political process driven by power. And the most powerful groups in that process are special interests, led by the teachers unions, with a stake in keeping the system as it is. . . . Reforms of real consequence are vigorously resisted and watered down. (p. 149)

Traditionally, teachers have taught students face-to-face in classrooms. This is the standard role, common across virtually all teachers, and has allowed for a pervasive sense of occupational sameness that has long been a very good thing for the unions. It encourages teachers to see themselves as having a common set of work interests, as being equally deserving, and as sinking or swimming together. And all of this promotes solidarity, which is critical to the unions’ ability to attract members, gain their financial and emotional support, and mobilize them for economic and political ends. (p. 158)

[T]eachers unions are steadfast in demanding sameness . . . [t]he idea is to minimize all sources of differentiation, because they undermine the common interests and solidarity that so contribute to union success. . . . [H]owever, technology gives rise to a differentiation of roles among teachers. Some may still work face-to-face with students in classroom settings. . . . Some may work with students in computer labs, handling much larger classes than today’s teachers do (because the computers are taking over much of the actual teaching). Some may work with students online but still do it in real time. Some may engage in distance learning but do it asynchronously . . . Some may work mainly with parents, monitoring student progress and assuring proper student oversight. Some may oversee or serve as mentors to the front-line teachers themselves. And more. These and other jobs . . . require different skills and backgrounds, may call for varying levels of pay, . . . offer teachers a vast array of occupational opportunities they didn’t have before, encourage a level of entrepeneurialism and individualism among them . . . The profession of the future will be a much more differentiated and entrepeneurial one, and such a profession spells trouble for the unions . . . it is destined to be a profession that will no longer concentrate teachers in common geographic locations and monopoly employers – and the resulting dispersion of teachers to new locations, combined with the diversity of employers that goes along with it, cannot help but create additional layers of differentiation that affect how teachers see their own interests. (p. 159–160)

[T]he pervasive sameness that the unions have always counted on will slowly fall apart. As the years go by, they will have a harder time generating the solidarity they need to motivate teachers to join, to keep them as members, to mobilize supportive action - and to do the things successful unions need to do if they are to wield power in politics. As sameness and solidarity decline, so too will their political power. (p. 160)

[Liberating Learning: Technology, Politics, and the Future of American Education]

Previous posts in this series

  1. Education’s resistance to technology will be overcome

  2. It would be impossible for the information revolution to unfold and NOT have transformative implications for how children can be educated

  3. Technology will free learning from the dead hand of the past

  4. Technological change is destined to be resisted by the teachers unions

  5. Correlation or causation? Teacher resistance to state technology initiatives

  6. Greater use of technology allows for decreased numbers, but improved quality, of teachers?

Greater use of technology allows for decreased numbers, but improved quality, of teachers?

Terry Moe and John Chubb say…

There is every reason to believe that technology will only become more effective with time. The same cannot be said of the traditional “technology” of education – teachers and classrooms - unless that world changes fundamentally. (p. 77)

Scores of technology-based instructional programs are being used in schools throughout America. . . . A recent survey indicated that the two main issues holding back technology use are “It doesn’t fit in the schedule,” and “There is not sufficient time to train teachers.” Nowhere does it say that the software is inadequate or that technology has dubious instructional value. (p. 77)

If elementary students spend but one hour a day learning electronically, certified staff could be reduced by a sixth. At the middle school level, two hours a day with computers would reduce staff requirements by a third. High schools, with three hours of usage, could reduce staff by up to a half. This level of computer usage is quite feasible given instructional technology that exists today. (p. 80).

The quality of teachers would benefit from the increased use of technology in at least two important ways. Even after investing in hardware and software, which are trivial compared to the cost of teachers, schools would have funds from staff savings to increase teacher pay and to provide more time for teacher training and planning. Added time for professional development, with proper supervision and accountability, would improve teacher quality. Added pay would help attract and retain better talent. Better talent is the most important ingredient of better schools. The [Dayton View Academy and Dayton Academy] charter schools . . . are already demonstrating the feasibility of these ideas – in the toughest of circumstances. (p. 80)

[Liberating Learning: Technology, Politics, and the Future of American Education]

Previous posts in this series

  1. Education’s resistance to technology will be overcome

  2. It would be impossible for the information revolution to unfold and NOT have transformative implications for how children can be educated

  3. Technology will free learning from the dead hand of the past

  4. Technological change is destined to be resisted by the teachers unions

  5. Correlation or causation? Teacher resistance to state technology initiatives

Correlation or causation? Teacher resistance to state technology initiatives

Terry Moe and John Chubb say…

A. “The average technology score [from Education Week’s Technology Counts 2008] drops as union membership grows. . . . technology seems to be advancing more quickly in states where the unions are weakest” (p. 107). [chart is from p. 108]

Liberatinglearningchart1

B. “The percentage of states with state-level virtual schools drops steadily as the unionization of teachers grows” (p. 118). [chart is from p. 119]

Liberatinglearningchart2

C. “[We] look at the percentage of states . . . that have data systems with the capacity to link students and teachers . . . [and see] the same basic pattern as for virtual schools – which is telling, as virtual schools and teacher identifiers have little to do with one another aside from their impact on union interests” (pp. 138–139). [chart is from p. 139]

Liberatinglearningchart3

[Liberating Learning: Technology, Politics, and the Future of American Education]

Previous posts in this series

  1. Education’s resistance to technology will be overcome

  2. It would be impossible for the information revolution to unfold and NOT have transformative implications for how children can be educated

  3. Technology will free learning from the dead hand of the past

  4. Technological change is destined to be resisted by the teachers unions

Technological change is destined to be resisted by the teachers unions

Terry Moe and John Chubb say…

The fact that [technology] offers enormous benefits is not enough to guarantee that it will be embraced by the public schools and its potential fully realized. Technological change will run into the same political roadblocks that all major reforms have run into, and for exactly the same reasons. Powerful groups will try to block it. (pp. 29–30)

It is a fact that the teachers unions have vested interests in preserving the existing educational system, regardless of how poorly it performs. It is a fact that they are more powerful – by far – than any other groups involved in the politics of education. And it is a fact that in a government of checks and balances they can use their power to block or weaken most reforms they do not like. To recognize as much is not to launch ideological attacks against the unions. It is simply to recognize the political world as it is. (p. 54)

If anything is stone-cold certain about the current structure of power, it is that technological change is destined to be resisted by the teachers unions and their allies. This is “their” system, and they are compelled by their own interests to preserve and protect it. They will go to the ramparts to see that technology does not have real transformative effects. (p. 55)

[Liberating Learning: Technology, Politics, and the Future of American Education]

Previous posts in this series

  1. Education’s resistance to technology will be overcome

  2. It would be impossible for the information revolution to unfold and NOT have transformative implications for how children can be educated

  3. Technology will free learning from the dead hand of the past

Technology will free learning from the dead hand of the past

Terry Moe and John Chubb say…

The American education system faces much more than a performance problem. It also faces a political problem that, in the grander scheme of things, is more fundamental than the performance problem itself – because it prevents the performance problem from being seriously addressed and resolved. . . .

What sets technology apart from other sources of reform is that . . . it also has a far-reaching capacity to change politics – and to eat away, relentlessly and effectively, at the political barriers that have long prevented reform. Technology, then, is a double-barreled agent of change. It generates the innovations that make change attractive, and at the same time it undermines the political resistance that would normally prevent change from happening. . . .

This will mean real improvement, and real benefits for the nation and its children. It will also mean something still more profound: the dawning of a new era in which politics is more open, productive ideas are more likely to flourish – and learning is liberated from the dead hand of the past. [Liberating Learning: Technology, Politics, and the Future of American Education, pp. 10–12]

It would be impossible for the information revolution to unfold and NOT have transformative implications for how children can be educated

Terry Moe and John Chubb say…

Even today, with educational technology in its earliest stages:

  • Curricula can be customized to meet the learning styles and life situations of individual students.
  • Education can be freed from geographic constraint.
  • Students can have more interaction with . . . teachers and students who may be thousands of miles away or from different nations or cultures.
  • Parents can readily be included in the communications loop.
  • Teachers can be freed from their tradition-bound classroom roles, employed in more differentiated and productive ways, and offered new career paths.
  • Sophisticated data systems can put the spotlight on performance [and] make progress (or the lack of it) transparent.
  • Schools can be operated at lower cost, relying more on technology (which is relatively cheap) and less on labor (which is relatively expensive). . . .

Information and knowledge are absolutely fundamental to what education is all about . . . and it would be impossible for the information revolution to unfold and not have transformative implications for how children can be educated and how schools and teachers can more productively do their jobs. . . .

Precisely because technology promises to transform the core components of schooling, it is inevitably disruptive to the jobs, routines, and resources of the people whose livelihoods derive from the existing system. [Liberating Learning: Technology, Politics, and the Future of American Education, pp. 7–9]

Education’s resistance to technology will be overcome

Terry Moe and John Chubb say…

The revolution in information technology is historic in its force and scope: reshaping the fundamentals of how human beings from every corner of the globe communicate, interact, conduct their business, and simply live their lives from day to day. Education has so far resisted this revolution, as we could have predicted. But . . . we believe the resistance will be overcome – not simply because technology generates innovations of great value for student learning (which it does), but . . . because it is destined to have surprising and far-reaching effects on politics and power . . . . Technology will triumph. But the story of its triumph is a political story. [Liberating Learning: Technology, Politics, and the Future of American Education, pp. xi-xii]

Two thoughts about President Obama’s speech tomorrow (and my own speech the day after)

Much ado about nothing

I just read the text of President Obama’s hotly-contested speech tomorrow. I encourage you to do the same. Could it be any more innocuous? Whatever happened to waiting to see what happens first and THEN hollering about it? A lot of crying wolf has been going on lately…

If only these opportunities actually existed at scale

I was pleased to see this passage:

What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you’re learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future.

You’ll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment. You’ll need the insights and critical thinking skills you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free. You’ll need the creativity and ingenuity you develop in all your classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy.

I just wish I had more faith in our current schooling system to nurture the problem-solving and critical thinking skills and creativity and ingenuity that the President mentions. Right now I don’t think we’re doing so well in these areas…

On Wednesday I spend the day with 80 or so high school students (juniors and seniors, mostly) in Northwest Iowa. What should I be saying to them about their schools, technology, globalization, and their futures?

Laptops and the Social Web are dangerous!

A while back I shared one of my two favorite passages from Pamela Livingston’s excellent book, 1-to-1 Learning: Laptop Programs That Work. Here's the other one:

[W]e need to make “The Shift.” The Shift: to classrooms that are not solely teacher-centric, with the teacher as lone disseminator of knowledge and the children in the awe-stricken and lesser role of recipients of the knowledge. The Shift: where the teacher sometimes has the central role when he or she explains and coaches and elaborates on work to be done … but not always. The Shift: where the learners sometimes have the central role, either individually or in groups. The Shift: where the roles of teacher and learner are fuzzy; sometimes the teacher learns from the students; sometimes the students learn from one another; and, yes, sometimes the students learn from the teacher. The Shift: where sometimes it’s hard to know who has the central role, where activities are buzzing along, learning is happening, dynamics are shifting, and no one is “looking up” to anyone as the sole source of knowledge.

Nothing jumpstarts The Shift quite like 1–to-1. Because when every student in the room has a [laptop], he or she does not have to look “up” to the teacher for resources or ideas – the student has resources at his or her fingertips. There is no distribution or retrieval of materials, no sole purveyor of information, and no firm start or stop to learning because it can continue beyond the classroom into the library, or home, or anywhere.

Some find The Shift dangerous. And in a way, it is. It’s dangerous to the educator who controls the classroom with an iron fist and wants all the answers on the test to be things he or she said in class, repeated word-for-word. It’s dangerous to educators who have assigned the same report on Gandhi over the past 20 years and haven’t started to require synthesis or analysis of information. It’s dangerous to teachers who physically stay in one place – the front of the classroom – and move only to write on the chalkboard or whiteboard. It’s dangerous to educators who don’t want anyone to “read ahead” or to “think ahead.”

It’s dangerous to educators who view themselves as the most knowledgeable person in the room and are personally invested in staying that way. It’s dangerous to teachers who haven’t paid attention to their unengaged students and keep covering the material anyway, they way they think it ought to be covered, believing students should adapt to their approach.

If you haven’t checked out Pamela’s book, it’s well worth the read. I give it 4 highlighters.

Highlighter4

Locus of control

Here’s a great quote from Jim Collins’ new book, How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In:

Whether you prevail or fail, endure or die, depends more on what you do to yourself than on what the world does to you.

Do most educators believe this or are they instead inclined to point fingers at the world around them? 

[By the way, if you’re a school leader and you haven’t read Collins’ other books, Good to Great or Built to Last, you need to make an immediate trip to the bookstore!]