Is an evidence-based profession, a hidden policy for teachers to secure externally determined goals?
Before I start on the topic which prompted the title for this post, ‘flip the system’ calls for a move away from an uneducational economic approach, to instead embrace all humane, more democratic approach to education. This approach as the authors state, is a “move that places teachers exactly where they need to be-at the steering educational systems worldwide”.
Something to note, both authors claim to each have a teaching bias. Kyneber the traditional and Evers progressive in a bid to claim teaching as a profession, rather than a split camp, seeing a slow introduction of teachers into all levels of policy decision-making.
Both authors agree that the need for a flipped system is urgent. Teachers – across the world – feel lost in terms of what they are working for. We need teachers to safeguard that which makes education educational. There was a time when nobody was telling teachers what to do. The authors write that “perhaps 40 or 50 years ago, education was not subject to furious political debate”. When I qualified in the 1990s, although I was a young and naive, although I recognise that I was entering into a profession that would sap my energies, I was very unaware of the political influences that would be unleashed into my day-to-day work.
The sense of crisis started to reach the shores of England when OECD started to publish its PISA survey in 2000 (OECD 2001). “Although the Pisa results are intended to be used for comparing systems in order to provide countries with system information, they have led, especially among politicians, a feeling of pressure and fear of falling behind”.
The perceived crisis used to push an agenda for ‘raising the bar’.
In many countries, governments turned to neoliberal reform, under the assumption that an education system that resembles a market will, push goals to achieve higher results. Pasi Salhberg has written extensively on the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM):
GERM has emerged since the 1980s and has increasingly become adopted as an educational reform orthodoxy within many education systems throughout the world, including in the U.S., England, Australia and some transition countries. Tellingly, GERM is often promoted through the interests of international development agencies and private enterprises through their interventions in national education reforms and policy formulation.
In his book, he explains the five key features of GERM. The first is standardisation of education. Outcomes-based education reform with detailed and often ambitious performance targets, frequent testing of students and teachers. Second, a focus on core subjects in school, in other words, on literacy and numeracy, and in same case science. This is happening on the expense of social studies, arts, music and physical education that re-diminishing in many school curricula.
The third characteristic is the search for low-risk ways to reach learning goals and a lower the degree of freedom in experimentation and risk-taking in classroom learning. The fourth is use of corporate management models as a main driver of improvement. This process where educational policies and ideas are lent and borrowed from business world which paralyses teachers’ and schools’ attempts to learn from the past and also to learn from each other.
The fifth global trend is adoption of test-based accountability policies for schools. In doing so school performance – especially raising student achievement – is closely tied to processes of accrediting, promoting, inspecting, and, ultimately, rewarding or punishing schools and teachers.
Gert Biesta has a “concern about a very particular development that has been going on in our educational institutions and our societies more generally, which is the disappearance of teaching and the concomitant disappearance of the teacher. And not the actual disappearance of teaching and the teacher, but the disappearance—or at least the erosion—of a certain understanding of teaching and the teacher, an understanding in which it can be acknowledged that teachers are there to teach.”
The paper is fascinating and worth a read.
Phenomenology and Practice, Volume 6 (2012)
It is fairly straightforward for teachers to see themselves as a commodity as more and more privitisation takes grip of our public services in England. Something not of the public, but a system delivered to the public. In Flip the System, “it is clear that the neoliberal shift inform has led, in a more post-modern sense, to the death of the teacher: the death of the very idea that the teacher has something to contribute, the very idea that the teacher has a meaningful voice in regard to his/her work, to walk he/she wants to achieve through his/her work and by which means he/she achieves it.”
It is well-cited, that the quality of teaching cannot exceed the quality of its teachers. But this belief as the authors state – and which you and I will agree – is no benefit to us as a teacher.
It is the following sentence however, that has made me question recent reforms in education, where I – as an individual teacher working with the profession – may have fallen foul of recent policy.
” … The teacher is no longer viewed as a professional, but as a labourer who simply has to follow evidence-based methods in order to secure externally determined goals. [Teachers] proceed as disposable: give someone a crash course in education, teach him/her number of evidence base methods and let him/her grinding the machine until he/she is either burnt out hope you get to work in a different field of work after two or three years”.
As the authors conclude in their introduction, the old days, where teachers decided on matters of curriculum and delivery without any kind of accountability, are well and truly over.
If we are to avoid the death of teachers, we must be collegiate – regardless of our own preferences – and become more aware of reform and its motives.