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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 17, Number 4, January/February 2005

Web of control

by Pat Clarke

The neo-conservative agenda promotes privatization as a way to maximize profit and demands "accountability" as assurance that public costs are minimal and opportunities for profit unlimited. (See "Who took my Primary Program?" in this issue.)

The neo-con globalization agenda
You may not believe the neo-con globalization agenda has much to do with teachers. It does. The goal of the neo-con agenda is simple: maximize corporate profits and minimize costs. That goal is the source of a web of control that is turning teaching from a profession engaged in child-centred learning to an occupation tied to meeting goals and production quotas.

Public-sector accountability
In the view of the neo-cons, the public sector is a cost and has value only insofar as it can service the corporate sector and help maximize profit. Accountability is the buzzword for ensuring that public services serve the corporate sector. Providing service to the broader public is secondary.

School and school-district goal setting
For teachers, schools and school districts’ accountability takes shape in endless rounds of goal setting and tinkering with accountability contracts. The so-called contracts are narrow in focus and must be measurable and readily testable.

The FSA program and the new graduation program are the B.C. version of accountability testing. Since the accountability contracts are narrowly focussed and are entirely tied to measurable outcomes, the tests also are narrowly focussed. They are big on what can be measured by Scantron and oblivious to aspects of learning such as creativity and critical thinking.

Expand resources for purposes of management
Accountability regimes, like any bureaucratic system, cost money. But in the neo-con view, money spent on management control is well spent. So here in B.C. we have ever-expanding resources for management schemes, testing, and constant cheerleading for accountability, but we have diminishing resources for libraries, special education, and teaching resources.

Expand management’s mandate
To expedite the agenda, tighten control, and ensure that the minutiae of the accountability scheme are attended to, managers need a broad mandate. They must be encouraged and assisted in developing and maintaining an array of mechanisms that will keep the accountability gizmos functioning. This means lots of training of administrators in techniques and procedures that assert management control and discourage the professional autonomy of teachers.

Teacher supervision and evaluation
One of the most important management control devices is supervision and evaluation of teachers. Principals in B.C. are now being encouraged to closely monitor teaching practice in order to ensure that the "goals will be met."

Intensify teacher work
Assure accountability through paperwork. Control teachers and erode their professional autonomy by giving them lots to do, especially paperwork. IEPs, 1701 forms, constant student reporting, testing, evaluation, and retesting all make teachers work like clerks and allow very little creative engagement in teaching. The neo-con agenda wants it that way. Creative teaching can’t be measured.

Isolate teachers from decision making
An expanded management mandate, more control over teachers work, and mechanisms such as supervision have the added advantage of isolating teachers from real decision making and allowing even more top-down control of what happens in schools. Teachers don’t have the time. They are too busy with paperwork, assessment, reporting, and so on and on. But if control is the goal, that’s a good thing.

Control professional development
Accountability is all about results. Never mind what they are about; just get them. Professional development becomes staff development and is concerned only with setting and meeting goals. The professional concerns of teachers about such matters as child-centered learning, developing and modifying curriculum, and using alternative methodologies get no space in the mad dash to gather data, interpret it, set goals, and accomplish the accountability contract.

Diminish the value of the professional teacher
Isolating teachers from decision making, limiting the scope of their contracts, controlling professional development, and marginalizing teachers’ work through economies of scale have the combined effect of turning teaching into an occupation, not a profession. For the neo-cons, that is good. Professionals are characterized by informed independent decision making and control of their working environment and conditions of work, all of which is dangerous to top-down decisions, externally set outcomes, and overall management control.

Develop economies of scale
If one of the desired outcomes is controlling costs unrelated to accountability, then economies of scale are crucial. Closing schools or school libraries, laying off special education teachers, and expanding online learning are examples of economies of scale. All of that of course intensifies teachers’ work, isolates them from decision making and one another, and generally enhances the opportunities for tighter control of the system.

Limit the scope of collective agreements
Limiting the scope of collective agreements is often one of the first strands of the web of control. Since contracts affect working conditions, rates of pay, and other costs, control is vital. But contracts for teachers also apply to professional issues such as teacher autonomy. A web of control can have no space for such a nuisance.

Pat Clarke is director of the BCTF’s Professional and Social Issues Division.

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