23 SES 03 A, Policy Reforms and Teacher Professionalism (Part 2)
Paper Session continues from 23 SES 02 A
Drawing from 30 years of educational history in America, this paper presentation examines both sides of the debate as to whether urban teachers need “structure” or “freedom” to be most effective for the students often most in need—urban students. We also make comparisons to trends in other global educational entities.
First, we trace the 30-year development of American educational policy in the area of structuring teaching. Then, we present research from proponents of structuring the work of teaching, who argue that education, and particularly urban education, needs to be standardized and monitored. We then share literature from teacher freedom proponents who argue that educators need to adapt their curriculum and pedagogical approaches based on students’ needs and their own professional judgment.
In a global context, we note a tilt towards structuring the work of teaching, in part due to a misguided deference to American models of education. This has occurred alongside the rapid spread of the concept of “teacher resilience” (see Day & Gu, 2010) which, in some iterations, calls on teachers to develop coping mechanisms to withstand excessively top-down work environments. We conclude by arguing that urban teaching globally needs to be structured to promote freedom, in light of recent developments in the often-ignored fields of neuroscience and neuropsychology.
Additionally, this paper addresses the specific call of Network 23 in how it “highlights the way education policy and politics is shaped by power relations … that play out through social movements and processes of institutional formation” as we ultimately attempt to better “harmonise policies and politics across and beyond the EU.” Further, we nest this policy-political analysis within the larger ECER 2015 conference theme by examining “the very concept of transition” by critically analyzing American policy shifts over the past 30 years, and their relation to European policies.
For the purposes of this paper, “structure” is defined as policies and practices that seek to: standardize curriculum, instruction, and assessment; and place strict limits on the latitude teachers have to make independent decisions. “Freedom” is defined as policies and practices that seek to: develop the decision-making capacity of individual and groups of teachers; and encourage teachers, within a broad framework, to adapt and individualize their instruction based on local needs and contextual conditions within urban schools and of the individual urban child.
We conclude by taking the stand that the work of teaching needs to be structured to promote freedom. In doing so, we draw from a framework rooted in relevant literature from the field of neuroscience in relation to the work of teaching. The links between neuroscience and educational policy and practice have been relatively weak (see Hinton, Miyamoto, & Della-Chiesa, 2008) even though recent scientific advances “shed light on causal relationships” in ways that could improve learning processes by highlighting the interactive relationship (p. 87-88).
More globally, the larger profession of teaching has been put at risk by excessively focusing on fostering individual teacher resilience rather than changing systems that require such levels of resilience. A byproduct of this has been a tragic transition to neglecting important developments in brain research and how insights it offers can support teaching and learning (see Jensen, 2005). This neglect of the learning sciences has particularly been the case in complex urban school systems, where curricular and assessment agency is often outsourced to “big data” companies, and policies promote structure so that urban students fare incrementally better on these companies’ tests. These statistical instruments are then used to make intra and inter-national comparisons in a race for economic superiority, while individual actors are often reduced to data points.
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