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Saturday, July 26, 2014

If p then q and What on Earth Else?: On the Unintended Consequences of Educational Reform

If you've ever read a story about time travel, you probably realize how one little change in the past can have millions of unforeseen effects upon the future.  It is the same for the present.  As educational "reformers" with sometimes lofty goals reform away, with little practical experience and less understanding, they institute changes which may have horrific effects upon the future.  Foremost of these side effects in my mind, they experiment on a generation of children who are not their own, making mistakes whose ultimate impact upon young minds we cannot yet grasp.

Then, there are a series of side effects upon teachers.  Some of the effects are seen in higher incidences of teachers quitting the profession.  As in any war of attrition, at some point, not only will the new recruits be less experienced, but they may be fewer in number.  There have been significant drops in student enrollments at teacher-education programs.  I am sure current teachers are suffering more stress-related illnesses.  I would guess some are more serious than the common cold.  It is sad that the people who experience the worst stress are probably the people who work the hardest, even prior to all this micromanagement.  

Then, there are tricky problems created unintentionally for present as well as potential administrators.  The City is currently very interested in ensuring an up-and-coming cadre of high qualified administrators, promoted from the ranks of teachers.  A recent Chalkbeat piece discussed the need to build a "principal pipeline."  The City is trying a variety of new paths as alternatives to the Leadership Academy.  Administrators today have the new and huge added burden of filing numerous observation reports, a responsibility that eats up time and, in my mind, threatens the more meaningful roles which they have played in the past.  Ironically, the UFT has put another roadblock in the way.  If teachers become administrators, or if they made the decision several years ago, they stand to lose a lot.  As per the new contract, they lose out on their retro pay.  Court challenges are, of course, now pending.

These are only a few of the unintentional changes of current educational policy.  There are many more.  And, sadly, I can't envision too many of the side effects as positive.    Reform is necessary, but it ought not to be done by people who are so removed from realities, prove largely inflexible and seemingly unaccountable.  When people play with fire, first, it is inadvisable; second, they ought not to do so in other people's houses, especially when small children are home.

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