Your Contractual Obligations: Teachers, We Must Resist: 2021 and the Perpetual Crisis of Education
Your Contractual Obligations is an education blog on Medium. A recent post lays out the history of education crises as a source of perspective for this year.
My heart sank as I read the title of the op-ed: The Pandemic Will Worsen Our Reading Problem: Another Outcome is Possible. A quick perusal through the article revealed a number of red flags. First, deficit language pops up everywhere. Second, the author pushes a managerial ethos that reduces education to a series of measurable outcomes. And finally, instead of being written by an educator, the piece was authored by a CEO for some educational non-profit organization.
Emily Freitag, the CEO, begins the article with an ominous warning: “the pandemic will widen literacy gaps, but only if we let it.” Things go downhill from there. She ends by calling for 100% reading proficiency by 2032.
Following in the footsteps of the classic crisis narratives of the past, Freitag conjures up a haunting vision of North American public education. She warns that recently released DIBELS test data are a harbinger of a stark future. Freitag projects massive decreases in postsecondary completion, lifetime earnings, and even life expectancy. The consequences will be especially dire for Black and brown students, she warns.
The main idea is explicit and stark: if teachers don’t act now, the nation will suffer.
Luckily, Freitag has a plan. She makes three recommendations to school leaders. First: track student assessment results with unflagging fidelity. Second: ensure every school has a cohesive literacy instructional program. Third: obsess over concrete progress. Freitag suggests that every adult in a school should know exactly what “level” each student is on. The op-ed ends with an exhortation for educators to “commit to getting 100% of the class of 2032 to read on grade level by the end of 5th grade.”
In my opinion, this op-ed is representative of where K-12 education is right now. It’s a signpost that sums up the prevailing discourse around what’s going on inside our schools. Freitag’s three suggestions come bundled with potent and uninterrogated assumptions about teaching, learning, and achievement. I expect to hear similar arguments when I return to school in a couple of weeks.
Therefore, the remainder of this post digs into the context surrounding the article. What are the historical antecedents for Freitag’s arguments? What are the ramifications of the article’s vision of education? And lastly, how does this relate to what’s going to happen in our classrooms in the fall and beyond?
Let’s put the op-ed to the side for the moment and take a look back. Before we begin, I have an important caveat. The following analysis examines the legislative reform cycles of the past in broad strokes. I’ve done my best to keep each explanation as tight and cogent as possible.