The current wave of school reforms is bound to fail and teachers will face an angry backlash unless they try radically different ways of educating children, American Federation of Teachers President Albert Shanker said Saturday.
Shanker, in an interview and in a keynote address to 3,000 delegates at the AFT convention, said, "You can't stay out of the issue of transforming the schools."Nobody else is going to do it," he said. "And if we don't do it, a lot of the hard-won gains of collective bargaining are going to be lost. We're going to be dismantled by breaking up the districts.
"The reform movement has raised very high expectations, and as those expectations are not realized - which I do not believe they will be . . . there will be anger and backlash.
"The threats are there," said Shanker, pointing to New Jersey's recent move to take over the educationally bankrupt Jersey City schools as well as efforts to create a separate district in Milwaukee's inner city and continuing calls for vouchers that parents could use in public or private schools.
He said the dilemma was acute for the AFT, most of whose 670,000 members teach in big cities where public schools face the greatest difficulties.
"Who's going to be in bankruptcy? It's going to be the urban areas. It's not going to be most of the nice NEA (suburban) districts," said Shanker.
The Jersey City teachers actually belong to the rival National Education Association, but Shanker said, "Mostly it will be an AFT problem."
Shanker said the National Assessment of Educational Progress has shown 80 percent or more of the 17-year-olds still in school cannot handle algebra or even write a simple, persuasive letter.
AFT delegates will get a chance over the weekend to debate a resolution endorsing Shanker's call for widespread, radical experimentation with new ways of running schools.
Shanker said his aim is to get "within the next two years more than a thousand locations" trying these new methods.
Shanker said teachers and students should work in teams, with technology allowing teachers to "get away from lecture and talk."
The reform resolution, backed by the AFT's 36-member Executive Council, says that despite some gains, "much that has happened as a result of education reform is bad."
"We are witnessing major efforts to de-skill and and deprofessionalize teachers," it said. "More and more teachers are being told what to do, when to do it and how - old-fashioned `teacher-proofing' in the name of reform."
It adds, "Teacher evaluation systems of the worst sorts have proliferated - `snoopervision' checklists that reduce teaching to a simple and dubious formula."