According to a new report published by McGraw-Hill, if the United States wants to improve the quality of its education system, it needs to elevate the status of the teaching profession by recruiting more qualified candidates, training them better and paying them more. Yes, you heard me. Pay teachers more.
However, while the report did mention that teachers are overworked and underpaid, it also pointed out that many high performing countries (like Finland) pay their teachers less than we do, and emphasized that raising teachers’ status is more about changing public perception. In other words, we don’t really have to offer teachers more money, we just need to be nicer to them and perhaps give them a little more autonomy. This message, of course, should sit nicely with those who want to crush teachers unions and slash their pay and benefits. The report also laid the blame partially on teachers themselves. (Stop whining so much about your health benefits when our children’s future is being torn out from under them!)
Dr. Steven Paine, co-author of the report and a CTB-McGraw-Hill Vice President, completely revamped his state’s curriculum when he was Superintendent of West Virginia. He felt that a similar plan nationwide could lead to much higher outcomes for students of all backgrounds. He also proposed adoption of national content standards (Common Core Standards). Obviously, this would suit McGraw-Hill, as it would force states to purchase new textbooks, tests, and curricular support materials, much of which McGraw-Hill would supply. However, it would do nothing to improve the material well-being of students, which is the most significant factor influencing their academic success. Indeed, poverty creates a significant achievement gap before kids have even started kindergarten. Spending a lot of money on new books, tests and curriculum, while ignoring poverty and stressful home lives, will do little to help poor students and is just another taxpayer give away to edu-profiteers like McGraw-Hill.
Interestingly, the report did mention that socioeconomic factors play a role in students’ academic performance, but offered nothing by way of a solution. Of course that is no surprise. Corporate bosses are not going to propose a redistribution of the wealth or increasing taxes and social spending.
The report held up Ontario, Canada as a model for the U.S., where the “heavily unionized” teachers are NOT a roadblock to “successful education reform.” Dr. Paine related how the Premiere and his staff sat down with the union and established common goals. The message for the U.S. is that we need more employee-management collaboration, something Arne Duncan has been pushing for some time. Of course a true collaboration would be nice, one where the politicians ask what we need, listen to us, and then make it happen. However, the Duncan model is more along the lines of “Do what I say and do it now and I won’t send you to your room without supper.” We are already seeing numerous examples of this with union bosses like Randi Weingarten sitting down with political and corporate bosses to hash out how far she can push teachers before getting pushed down the staircase herself.
Overall, one should be very suspicious of any education reform recommendations coming from corporations that benefit financially from public education. Paying lip service to the deplorable status of the teaching profession is an inexpensive bone to throw teachers in exchange for their support of Common Core Standards and their brand loyalty to McGraw-Hill. In the competition for education dollars, the charter schools and educational management organizations have been winning the biggest victories lately, while the publishers, who were the biggest initial winners under NCLB, are seeing their market share decline. The attacks on NCLB and the threat to modify or alter it (or, God forbid, abolish it entirely) must have the big publishers like McGraw-Hill and Pearson quaking in their boots.