Arne Duncan was in L.A. this week for an education summit. That can only mean one thing: promotion of his latest pet project, employee/boss collaboration. The details of this summit are summarized by Charles Taylor Kerchner (in John Fensterwald’s, Educated Guess).
According to Kerchner, Duncan told listeners that “Crisis gives us a perfect opportunity, not just a perfect storm.” Crises, we should remember, allow entrepreneurs to swoop in to clean up messes created by cumbersome government bureaucracies, as they so beautifully demonstrated in Iraq and Haiti. Crises make it easy to justify extraordinary tactics, even ones that trample personal freedom or common sense, like the idea that labor-boss collaborations will serve the interests of workers.
Yet this is precisely what Duncan was up to. According to Kerchner, incoming superintendent John Deasy and Julie Washington, the “new sheriff in town” at United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), will negotiate in an environment that “expects the labor contract to be used as an instrument of reform.” Although he didn’t say who expected this, we can presume it was the local billionaire Ed Deformers like Eli Broad and Phillip Anschutz. It no doubt was also Duncan, who demanded “productive, tough collaboration to solve problems, not just ‘a kumbaya moment.’ (Anyone else out there getting tired of this dumb cliché? When do teachers and administrators ever hold hands and sing? If we’re lucky, we get a decent contract without too much fighting, hardly a kumbaya moment and hardly typical, either). What Duncan is really saying is that he and Deasy, Anschutz and Broad will determine what needs to happen and it will be up to Washington to convince her members to accept it, that it is in their best interests.
So what kind of rollbacks and burdens are teachers going to be asked to carry in order to help make the corporate education profiteers happy (I mean, in order to improve student achievement?) Merit pay is certainly one of them. According to Kerchner, tying teacher evaluations to student achievement is a “settled issue,” (at least for the bosses.) The question is how to get the workers to buy into it. Kirchner says it will be part of the upcoming contract negotiations. Washington has already bought in, providing a few suggestions for an evaluation system that is differentiated to assess different levels of competency at different career states.
Apparently our teaching and curricula are now in crisis, too. Kirchner caught retired business executive and ambassador Frank Baxter saying “the system’s obsolete.” If we really do have a curricular crisis, then we will need a lot of new books, software, and support materials, which should make the publishers and tech companies very happy. This, of course, is the impetus for Common Core Standards, which is costing California $1.6 billion to implement. Baxter supports the blending of live teachers and computer-aided instruction (by which I think he means firing teachers and replacing them with computer-based lessons and subscription lectures—not the creation of cyborg teachers, which I would support, in hopes that they would get fed up with their exploitation and attack their masters, like Capek’s androids in RUR). Baxter’s plan would actually save the state money as computers and software are much cheaper than public service workers, especially when we factor in their Cadillac pay and benefits.