Silence of the Teachers

Why one young educator rejects Educators 4 Excellence’s corporate agenda and you should too.

By Sean Lords
Teacher-led organization? The voices of classroom teachers? On the surface, Educators 4 Excellence sounds like what education policy needs—the voices of experienced classroom teachers who have inspired students to live fulfilling lives. Nevertheless, a screen full of buzzwords only serves to obscure a tired truth—Educators 4 Excellence has little interest in the experience of dedicated classroom teachers. Instead, they are actively recruiting young educators to affirm the rhetoric that supports top-down educational reform. They certainly have no interest in my voice.

The *excellence* agenda
This is likely no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to the education reform movement’s obsession with “excellence.” But what is excellence? Organizations like the Gates Foundation have made a practice of throwing money behind marketing filled with abstract teacher-friendly language that comes with a metrics-obsessed shadow self that blames these teachers for the “failures” of students. Long before they sit down for their first multiple-choice exam, these students have been failed by an economic structure that couldn’t care less about their well-being. Evan Stone and Sydney Morris, the founders of Educators 4 Excellence, signed onto the Gates Foundation’s agenda in exchange for funding.

Take the pledge
This is reflected in the declaration they expect their members to sign, which states that they “pledge to support using value-added test-score data in evaluations, higher hurdles to achieving tenure, the elimination of seniority-driven layoffs, school choice, and merit pay.” Rather than listening to teachers, most of whom work long days for little pay (and for charter school teachers, little job security), Stone and Morris, Teach for America alums with less than three years of experience, are stuffing the words of the education reform movement right into our mouths.

Thanks but no thanks
I’ve had to reject this pledge more than once as a member of Educators 4 Excellence’s target audience. Not all of my classmates and colleagues have resisted E4E’s appeals. Some have gone as far as setting up E4E happy hours in Boston. Few of these supporters have any interest in making a career in teaching, and why would they when advocating for educational reform pays far better than dealing with the realities of the classroom? Besides, “merit pay” and “higher hurdles to achieving tenure” make it difficult—if not impossible—to establish your career as a teacher.

Measure this
The lack of support for education as opposed to training is the actual hurdle on the path to supporting dedicated career teachers. While I didn’t find my undergraduate teacher training adequate, my education served me well. My exposure to different pedagogies and theories helped me think on my feet as I learned to teach English in Korea. I’m grateful for my non-traditional training (so grateful that I teach TEFL courses in Boston), but it showed me that measurements like test-score data stifle what ultimately made me feel confident in the classroom—things like room to be creative and to respond to my students’ particular needs. Tests only measure whether or not my students are good at taking tests, not whether I was good at imparting knowledge that was relevant to the test, or even that I was good at teaching how to take a test.

When you search for “teachers against Educators 4 Excellence,” there’s barely a whisper of relevant content. E4E’s “voices of classroom teachers” has effectively stomped out the “voices of classroom teachers” that are skeptical of their corporate agenda. In the end, prioritizing the proliferation of corporate capitalism over educating our children to think for themselves not only squelches innovation, but harms the teachers our schools hire to educate them.

Sean Lords is a father and educator who constantly battles nostalgia for his classroom in Korea. He pursues his Master of Education while working for Oxford Seminars. Send comments to seanlords13@gmail.com.

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2 Comments

  1. “Few of these supporters have little interest in making a career in teaching, and why would they when advocating for educational reform pays far better than dealing with the realities of the classroom?”

    What a brilliant yet utterly depressing statement!

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