Potential sources of reforming public education are the institutions of higher education. After all, virtually all of the professionals in the K-12 system are products of higher education, from at least four years for a bachelor’s degree to qualify as a teacher to years more for advanced degrees and for the innumerable specialty degrees.
Yet higher education has not only not helped improve basic education, it has been a major roadblock.
More than a generation ago Martin Haberman in an article entitled "Twenty-Three Reasons Universities Can’t Educate Teachers" wrote, "(T)here isn’t a single example of school change university faculty have researched and advocated that is now accepted practice…Any status survey will reveal that the proverbial-third grade in Peoria grinds on pretty much as it did in 1910."
True then. True now. And it is probably safe to predict that it will be true tomorrow.
This has had at least the acquiescence of teacher unions, if not their outright approval, or they would try to change it.
Proof that unions are a major obstacle to reform, if proof is needed, came in Colorado when a series of reforms were introduced in the state legislature. These included alternative teacher certification, a pilot voucher program, privatization, special contracts and merit pay.
It would be unrealistic to expect a teacher union to endorse such a wide-ranging program. And the state education association did not do so. As might have been anticipated, it termed them "so-called" reforms and announced that it would oppose every one of them.
In Florida the teacher union opposed both master teacher and merit plans, showing its unanimity with other teacher unions across the nation to this day.
In California, teachers were pressured to not sign charter school petitions and to harass those who might circulate or try to sign such petitions. School districts willing to grant charters even faced lawsuits.
In New Jersey, home of one of the strongest state education associations in the nation, that union not only opposed any steps toward privatization but warned its members to look out for such dangerous moves as site-based management, allowing two teachers to work together in the same classroom, and even proposals to provide teachers with computers or telephones.
John I. Goodlad has written that "both the NEA and AFT…support the strange notion that children need two adults at home but can stand only one at a time in a school."
It would be difficult to act much dumber than that. Teachers in their self-contaminated classrooms are the only professionals who consistently work in such isolation. Increasingly, here and there, some teachers have come to recognize that this is not necessarily "the way it’s spozed to be,’as demonstrated by the fact that such classroom technology has not only gradually been introduced here and there since then but has often occurred not only with teacher acceptance but following their active encouragement.
Ironically, the more pressure is exerted on the system to change, and the more the unions are criticized, the more teachers take such criticism personally – a tendency the unions are happy to exploit."
As long as 35 years ago, In What’s Best For the Children, Mario Fantini observed
(R)ank-and-file teachers, afraid of the external forces that are converging on them, turn increasingly to their professional organizations for protection. In return for this protection, the teachers give up their individually and their authority. This is delegated to a small group who will wage the protective war. All the rank and file need to do is to cooperate, to follow faithfully the suggestions of the central leadership group."
That is still true today, except fewer people speak of teacher groups as "professional organizations."
It can also be argued that the constant attacks on unions have actually strengthened them by frightening the teachers. The answer is to make unions unnecessary by implementing teacher independence and choice, which is why most charter schools and private schools are not organized, and why the unions oppose such teacher freedom…
Although, sadly, most schools of choice are not overly innovative either.