Magazine article Monthly Review

Labor and "Ed Deform": The Degradation of Teachers' Work through Standardized Testing and the New York City Evaluation System

Magazine article Monthly Review

Labor and "Ed Deform": The Degradation of Teachers' Work through Standardized Testing and the New York City Evaluation System

Article excerpt

The biggest threat to education today is the corporate education reform movement-what many of us call "Ed Deform." It is also the biggest threat to teachers' working conditions. Changes in education legislation are creating new government-funded markets for education entrepreneurs. Spending is being shifted away from teacher salaries, benefits, and pensions and into standardized tests, curriculum, and technology.1 To maximize this investment opportunity teachers must be reskilled away from deciding on content, assessing students, and tailoring education to meet diverse students' needs and interests. This reduces the room for teachers to implement, for example, the demands of anti-racist advocates and concerned parents for "culturally relevant curriculum" or, indeed, anything that deviates from relevant test-prep skills.2 Standardized test scores provide a simple metric for measuring "productivity" against teacher labor costs. One example of this Taylorist dynamic is New York City's new "Advance" Teacher Evaluation system.

In 2013, State Education Commissioner John King imposed the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) system, "a multiplemeasures evaluation system" for evaluating teachers in the wake of the failure of the city's Department of Education and the UFT (United Federation of Teachers) to come to an agreement. I have been a public high school teacher and UFT member for nearly thirteen years. This is the largest change in our working conditions since our last contract was ratified in 2006. New York's Race to the Top application required the state to pass legislation mandating a new teacher evaluation system that "makes student achievement data [i.e., standardized tests] a substantial component of how educators are assessed and supported." "Advance" imposes greater standardization over teachers' labor and education in other important ways as well.

In Capital, Marx singles out teachers to provide an example of the absurd universality of exploitation under capitalism: "a schoolmaster is a productive worker when, in addition to belabouring the heads of his pupils, he works himself into the ground to enrich the owner of the school. That the latter has laid out his capital in a teaching factory, instead of in a sausage factory, makes no difference to the relation."3

Of course, most New York City public school teachers are employed by the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE), not by private capitalists. However, a growing number of teachers work in charter schools managed by private corporations. More broadly, New York's Mayor Bloomberg, who ended his third and final term in December, was an exemplary Taylorist "gang boss" in his promotion of Ed Deform. As Diane Ravitch put it, Bloomberg "applied business principles to overhaul the nation's largest school system."4 Unfortunately, these trends are likely to continue under our new Mayor, De Blasio, because they are part of Race to the Top.

Harry Braverman explains in Labor and Monopoly Capitalism that for business, "every non-producing hour" someone is employed is a loss. Therefore, management pursues "complete, self conscious, painstaking, and calculating" control over the production process.5 Facing stiff competition in the market, capitalists are driven to streamline production, splitting up skilled work into discrete tasks that can be executed by less skilled workers. This dynamic is "the underlying force governing all forms of work in capitalist society."6 Of course, for the most part the public sector does not directly face market competition, but is subject to political processes. Ed Deform seeks to bring market-type pressures to bear on teachers' labor. This requires a metric for measuring teacher productivity and quality, which is what "Advance" is designed to provide.

Education experts like Diane Ravitch have branded "Value Added Measures"-formulas used to quantify teacher impact on student test scores-as "junk science. …

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