THE BLOG
11/18/2010 06:17 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The First Rule of Education

The Fordham Foundation's Mike Petrilli recently told the New York Times that Joel Klein's reforms left "fantastic veteran teachers -- the very people that Klein wanted the rest of the system to emulate... just as frustrated and beaten down by the changes as everyone else."

The reigns of Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee illustrate the first rule of school systems, that the feces roll downhill. The Simpsons illustrated this well-known dynamic where the superintendent dumps on Principal Skinner, because he was the educator that the superintendent could beat down. Due to this destructive cycle, Skinner tries to crush Lisa Simpson's dreams.

The popularity of their management style is understandable as the lives of so many Americans have been coarsened by the same type of corporate domination. I have worked in a nonunion oil fields, in a nonunion packing house, unloaded nonunion trucks, and I've dug out sewers knee-deep in human waste for nonunion construction companies, so I know how much disrespect is dumped on workers today. I have first-hand experience about how little the health and safety of nonunion workers are valued. I know we must find a way to bring organized labor back to its former power. But I do not understand how the dis-empowering of teachers would re-empower other workers.

Neither can I comprehend the logic of "reformers" who seek to attract new talent to teaching by destroying the due process rights of educators.

In fact, there is no educational logic to the scorched earth politics of data-driven accountability hawks. The purpose of their "reforms" is to use the word "ACCOUNTABILITY," to use the word "ACCOUNTABILITY" loudly, and to say "ACCOUNTABILITY" as often as possible. The word "ACCOUNTABILITY" sounds tough, and hard times call for hard-edged political soundbites.

What I do not understand is liberal "reformers" who seem to believe that "ACCOUNTABILITY" can drive improvements. Accountability is one factor in improving schools, or any other institution. The silver bullet of "ACCOUNTABILITY," however, is no different than any other answer to a complex problem that is quick, simple, easy and wrong. Would they trust in one-word solutions for global warming, our financial mess, or war and peace? Such a quick fix would make for a nice song, however, "All we are saying is give ACCOUNTABILITY a chance."

What I really do not understand is progressives who think they can dump so much toxicity on the adults in schools, and not understand how it inevitably flows down onto the students. By making test scores the ACCOUNTABILITY measure, they are imposing nonstop test prep on children.

Klein, Rhee, and many other "reformers" demand a common mindset from their teachers and principals. As Petrilli noted, "reformers" have a vision of the ideal educator who embodies their "culture of accountability," for everyone else to emulate. Their type of educators condemn "touchy feely" pedagogy, using phrases such as "No Excuses!" and "Whatever it Takes!" to spread their tough-guy personas. They do not seem to understand that we need all types of personalities and teaching styles to serve the great diversity of American children.

But that is the point. The message of ACCOUNTABILITY is that those spoiled, liberal, baby boomers, with their high-minded notions of nurturing, diversity and holistic education, need a come-uppance. Beat down the last bastion of the New Deal/Fair Deal/Great Society coalition, and our educational problems may not disappear, but the theory is that it will make some frustrated swing voters feel better.