Monday, July 30, 2012

So You Think You Can Be an Entrepreneur?

A couple of months ago, there was a twitter exchange between Diane Ravitch and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's press secretary Justin Hamilton about entrepreneurship. Ravitch blogged about it here and there was an especially good summary of it on an Ed Week blog here.

My own tweet was:

Certainly some teachers are entrepreneurial and we should encourage and even teach students to think entrepreneurially (see this amazing project Chad Sansing did with his students). Entrepreneurship plays a unique and needed role in our country, though we should be certain to teach students to be ethical at the same time--to avoid being greedy, avoid treating workers badly, and to not dodge paying taxes

But really, teachers are not entrepreneurs and Diane Ravitch most certainly isn't one (no offense, Diane!). On the contrary, teachers should be intellectuals and thinkers. Indeed a piece in The New Republic, embracing the bill that would eliminate continuing contracts (aka"tenure") in Virginia, putting teachers on one-year contracts, was disturbing as Ravitch said because it's based on the premise that teachers don't have ideas that need protection, that they aren't intellectuals as higher education academics are. Since the majority of K-12 teachers are women, this assertion has a sexist ring to it. However, I mostly find these assumptions and conversations disturbing because they are anti-intellectual. They totally disregard the idea of education as an intellectual endeavor and of teaching as intellectual work.

These ideas also seem rather anti-entrepreneurial. It's a one-size-fits-all concept, that we can fix education by every teacher and educator becoming an entrepreneur. Being a successful entrepreneur--one with a truly original and workable idea--is rare. And now all of these reformy education types are calling themselves entrepreneurs. Are you kidding me?! On what planet does making your greatest goals that all kids will score the same way on the same unreliable tests make you an entrepreneur? That aspiration and the rigidity that accompanies it is not "innovative" or "revolutionary;" it's dreary, dull, and uninspired. So much of current education reform takes the creative, ingenious, critical, and curious elements of the human spirit and just crushes them. Now, I don't believe this is the intent, it's a side effect, but it's a huge, deal-breaking side effect. Furthermore, those who brush aside or ignore such consequences show they fundamentally misunderstand how education and learning works in the first place and hence show they don't belong in the classroom or in any sort educational leadership role.

Then there are the cases where the goals of entrepreneurship conflict with what should be the goals of education, and are achieved successfully at the expense of a rich and meaningful education. For example, the Rocketship schools model is a very entrepreneurial idea: achieve greater efficiency by using more computers to teach kids the content of standardized tests. The adults that run and work for Rocketship make more money; the software, computer, and testing companies profit more than they would; and the government and taxpayers save money. Now I don't think it's a bad idea to have kids practice basic math facts or basic geography facts (see Stack the Countries, for example) on computers; on the contrary, teachers should have access to such tools and if they can cut costs and make better use of their time and expertise using them, so much the better. But with their narrow focus on math and reading and even narrower focus on boosting math and reading test scores (otherwise, they go out of business), I doubt that Rocketship's students are getting a very good education, and while the software they use may be so, Rocketship's instructional practices aren't particularly new or innovative.

So not only are we forgetting about the necessity of intellectuals and actual educators to a well-educated society, we are losing sight of what entrepreneurship means. Just because you call yourself an "entrepreneur" or "innovative" doesn't make it so. Giving central office bureaucrats ridiculous titles like "Chief Talent Officer" and "Success Initiative Portfolio Manager" and "Teacher Effectiveness Systems Support Analyst" and "Director of Special Education Product Solutions" and "Knowledge Management Liaison" won't transform them (or the people who work under them) into entrepreneurs. You're just exchanging one type of evasive, empty jargon for another. They're still bureaucrats, only many of them don't seem to even be good at managing a bureaucracy. Furthermore, just because entrepreneurs are successful at raising test scores or saving money doesn't mean the quality of education they are offering is any good or that their idea is good for students. 

If you want to try to be an entrepreneur, then go into business and product development! If that fails, go run a rental car franchise! Don't stick around education, making it dreadful and being an entrepreneur-wanna-be. It's pathetic. Too bad the amount of harm being done isn't.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

What's With the Lack of Blogging

I have been a lame blogger the past couple of months. By way of explanation:

1) I've been applying for jobs. By "jobs" I mean work that I care about and like and that is paying. When I decided to take a break from the classroom to write, I gave myself a few years to study and be an apprentice of sorts. That time is up and, shockingly, I have received no offers to come be a master writer. I will certainly remain a writer and that will mean being a perpetual student of writing, but the apprenticeship is done. Unless I am doing it for my own edification or for someone or a publication that also does not make any money, I will not work for free or near-free. It just doesn't feel good and won't help sustain the profession for anyone.

Anyhoo, this all means I've been tweaking resumes, getting people who barely remember or know me to write me recommendations (sounds like a winning strategy, no?), struggling to write professional but not boring cover letters, and filling out the same information over and over again. This all takes time, especially when the process is punctured by rejections. Then I have to get through those and resolve to just work harder and to shut down the discouraged voice in my head. 

2) For both my husband, and our families, education is akin to religion. This past school year, we navigated as parents for the first time high-stakes testing. I hope to write more eloquently and in more detail about this at a later time but for now I'll say we felt powerless, helpless, and angry as we watched our children feel angry, anxious, and wiped out from the testing experience (despite everything their school and teachers did to make it as humane and positive an experience as possible), for the first time counting the days until the end of school. It's worse than what I remember experiencing as a teacher, though this may be because I have taught mostly high school and high school students are more equipped to deal with the long, boring, stressful tests than are eight-year-olds. Needless to say, I am more convinced than ever that high-stakes testing must go. I'm done with being nuanced here. High stakes testing is awful and it stinks and it's making my kids hate school. It's awful for the teachers, it's awful for the students, and it's awful for students' parents. The only people it's not awful for are those in the testing industry, those in the testing-as-education-reform industry, and those politicians who rely upon one or both of those industries . My husband and I both see great value in assessment and testing and tell our children that part of life is being bored and anxious sometimes and doing things you'd rather not. We believe that for the right reasons, that anxiety and stress can be productive. But McTests are not one of those reasons. Our children are smarter than those tests, are more curious than those tests, love knowledge more than those tests, and they deserve better than those tests, and so does every other child who is having their education ruined because of them. 

3) People close to you die, they get hurt, they end relationships, they move, they have celebrations. In light of those, your little old education blog and happenings that seem unrelated to your life become much less important.

4) Victoria Young once made the comment on a post of mine that: 

To have a conversation about how to "fix" what is broken with the education system, we actually have to put ourselves in position to have real dialogue. That doesn't happen when it takes place online only.....
I don't think she meant for me to, but I really took that personally, and it helped give me a good kick in the direction of re-prioritizing.

I took me a few months but I realize that I have grown tired of hearing myself talk and talk about the same things over and over again. I feel like I need to read more and to listen more and absorb more and think more and to do more. At a certain point all of this talk about education and education reform gets too meta, like I'm just talking above all of what's actually happening while it's happening without really knowing what's actually happening. Deep thoughts, I know. I love to think, talk, write education, but I'm not sure what or how much I'm helping any more. I'm trying to do a lot more reading and reflecting.

This is not to say I will not be blogging any longer. I have at least few more things to say, which I am working on, but I want to spend more time being useful, doing education rather than just talking education, and also perhaps find some time to focus on a bit more again on some of this writing and some of that writing.