Thursday, April 26, 2012

What top-down looks like

I am continually surprised at how little value school administrators place on any kind of meaningful buy-in by teachers and parents to the latest “reforms.” Three years ago, for example, our district foisted its behavioral rewards program (PBIS) on our schools without regard to whether the teachers, parents, or kids wanted any part of it. (Full diatribe here.) Thus the district created an additional task for itself: managing the teachers, parents, and kids who resisted PBIS.

A recent occurrence at one of our district’s elementary schools illustrates the dynamic. Apparently some higher authority (the district?) determined that the school’s teachers weren’t passing out enough PBIS rewards. The school’s PBIS committee, in response, asked the PTA if it would fund weekly incentives for teachers to boost their support for the program – that is, “$5 gift cards or small tokens that can be drawn for each week by the teachers.” Classic PBIS logic at work: if the teachers are insufficiently enthusiastic about PBIS, we can just use small token rewards to alter their behavior!

Alas, the parents were no more enthusiastic than the teachers. One parent responded that she was “strongly opposed to the PBIS program” and objected to “further emphasizing, through rewards, this focus on obedience and rule following I think sends our children some really unfortunate messages about what’s important and valuable in our learning environments and communities.” She concluded, “My vote would be a resounding ‘no.’” From what I hear, the PTA didn’t pursue the idea any further. If the district learned anything from the incident, it doesn’t show.

One of my objections to PBIS is that it is demeaning. Trying to reason with kids and get them thinking for themselves about how they should act would be a way of treating them with dignity and respect. By contrast, trying to buy their obedience with token rewards is just plain insulting. The point is just as compelling with teachers as with kids: If you were a teacher with reservations about PBIS, how would you feel if the school thought it could buy your cooperation with a five-dollar gift card?


Another Chris said...

This goes hand in hand with the insulting concept of merit pay, which is nothing more than a game of chance. It's been proven not to work repeatedly so now it is encoded in Race to the Top because these mighty titans of business think that teachers are lazy and refuse to teach well without the offer of a bonus/bribe. Welcome to the Business Roundtable's and the Chamber of Commerce's version of school "reform".

Karen W said...

And then the Iowa Department of Education offers the school administrators a special logo to use on their school websites and letterheads if they can move their schools into the ranks of the highest performing schools in Iowa . . . .

Chris said...

Thanks, Another Chris and Karen W. The whole system is suffused with the attitude of “No one would willingly do these things” – kids wouldn’t choose to learn, teachers wouldn’t choose to teach well, etc. And then it’s used as an excuse to take even more autonomy away from kids, teachers, and school districts, which just makes it a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Karen, do we know what that logo looks like? Is there a link to it? It might be fun to do a parody . . .

Another Chris said...

Chris -- I agree. The whole sham of Race to the Top embodies this sick mentality. Race to the top of what? Its very essence is that there will be a few winners and lots of losers because that's what a race is, isn't it?. Which parents and teachers are volunteering to have their school be a loser in this race to nowhere?

When faced with that question Arne Duncan babbles incoherently. Has anyone in power at the top ever stopped and applied logical thinking to this whole enterprise of playing market games with our children and our future? Seems not.

Apparently the powers that be are comfortable with some vague notion that if they can fire enough teachers and create enough private school management companies that market forces and competition will magically provide a perfect school system in some nebulous future where all children are equally compliant and successful drones.

What about all the children and teachers who will become collateral damage in the process of achieving this corporate utopia? Are we, as a country, willing to watch this unfold over a generation or more? The problem with applying business solutions to public schools is that no one mentions that the vast majority of businesses fail and very few people win in capitalism. I guess that's OK nowadays but it makes me sick to my stomach.