NEWS

Teachers made the scapegoats in education

New measures for the systematic assessment of schools have been introduced over the past few years, with European countries embarking on attempts first pioneered in the USA. Relatively recently, it was decided that American schools would be assessed for the effectiveness of their teaching on the basis of learners’ performance in standardized tests on basic subjects. The next step will be the imposition of sanctions on schools with bad results and rewards for schools which either produce good results or which show significant improvement from year to year. And school evaluation is not confined to the other side of the Atlantic; in Britain, teachers are assessed partly on the basis of the percentage of exam passes, which may cost them their job. In Greece Early in the year, the European Report on Quality of Education was published. The Working Committee that compiled the report consisted of experts appointed by the ministers of education of 26 countries (the 15 European Union member states and 11 acceding countries), and had the aim of identifying a relatively small number of indicators or benchmarks for the evaluation of national systems. The Greek Ministry of Education wasted no time. The bill Organization of primary and secondary education regional services, evaluation of education and teachers, teacher training and other provisions (Article 4) says that the Center for Educational Research (KEE) will undertake the development and standardization of indicators and criteria… at a school, regional or national level. Indicators The term quality indicators used in the European report is the product of a technocratic and extreme, narrowly economic view of education. Under the aegis of neoliberalism, an education policy is being planned and implemented across Europe which aspires to industrialize schools, bestowing on them the characteristic traits of a competitive enterprise. Educational performance in schools is used as a unit of measurement of their productivity and competitiveness. This logic leads to the implementation of evaluation and monitoring models, complete with certificates of quality, which are similar to those in industry and commerce. A typical example is schools in the UK, which use the international business standard ISO 9000 as a certificate of quality to satisfy pupils and parents, who are treated as consumers or clients. Failure or success are seen through the prism of the classroom where everything – social origins, family situation, living and housing conditions, school facilities, types of examination, schoolbooks, educational environment, teaching methods – disappears, apart from the teacher and pupil. The discourse of performance and results, efficiency and competitiveness seeks to legitimize the application of monitoring and assessment systems to the world of education that are drawn from manufacturing. It seeks to underscore that the facets of personality and the mental workings of those involved in the educational process can be measured objectively, including teaching or learning ability, communication skills and behavior, initiative, and so forth. But this measurement of human mental functions is carried out on the basis of the principles and goals of a market-oriented school. Statistical alchemy Variations between neighboring senior high schools can be interpreted only in terms of a qualitative difference in teaching. This reveals the need to implement teachers’ assessment as of next year. (Ministry of Education, August 3, 1999). Two years ago, when the failure rate in the second grade of senior high school reached a staggering 30 percent, the Ministry of Education published a list of schools with variable pupils’ performance, thus suggesting that qualitative differences in teaching were responsible for failure or success at school. Given that state funding, the curriculum and methods are similar, the differences between private and state schools and among the latter were attributed to the lack of teacher assessment, a fact that signals the need for immediate and objective assessment of all the schools in Greece. This interpretation, of course, strikes a chord with people. It is well known that popular belief is prone to interpret success or failure at school solely as the result of the performance and effectiveness of the teacher, since for years the experts’ verdicts have attributed the school crisis to teachers. Countless studies in Greece and abroad, as well as official statistics, have proved, irrefutably, that a host of extra-school factors affect school success or failure, which find fertile soil in social inequality. In every region there are social, economic, and educational differences; class differentiation, in short. As is known, the Athens area is divided into high-income and high-status areas (chiefly the northeastern suburbs) and areas inhabited mostly by workers and low-income employees (chiefly western Athens and a large part of Piraeus). A mere glance at the maps of income distribution and final educational levels confirms that Attica is divided into two or more parts. The class composition of an area is not homogeneous. There are schools in every town which traditionally attract children of well-to-do and educated families. The findings of urban geographical studies substantiate the fact that municipalities are distinguished by a considerable degree of internal inequalities, e.g. Kifissia, Nea Erythraia and Glyfada show sharp internal differences between high-income, middle-income and working-class groups. These are municipalities that are dominated by the former two groups but where a significant number of people are working class. Another form of distributive inequality can be found in the municipalities of Acharnes, Aspropyrgos and Elefsina, which are chiefly working class but have high- and middle-income socio-professional categories concentrated in certain zones. Thus there is nothing strange in the fact that the pupils of two separate schools in the same municipality may perform differently at school. Teachers held responsible Obviously, the top echelons and technocrats of the Ministry of Education are aware of the social factors affecting school performance, but have seen fit to promote the widely held view that teachers are responsible for good or bad school results. After attributing the large proportion of exam failures to the pupils’ deficiencies, and presenting this as a kind of sacrifice and expiation for the good of the educational system, the ministry began on teachers (Everything depends on the teacher). A huge burden of responsibility has been shifted back onto teachers’ shoulders, who have been then made scapegoats for every issue involving school failure or educational crisis. The imposition of autocratic evaluation measures and administrative controls thus becomes an easier task. But the question which is often not asked is: Where do the teacher’s and the State’s responsibilities meet? How is the teacher’s work to be delimited during the exercise of education policy? In no way is it being suggested here that a teacher’s work cannot have positive or negative effects which may last the pupil’s whole life. But factors contributing to educational performance are by no means exhausted by questions of the pupil’s willingness or the teacher’s ability and efficiency. Teachers are neither wholly innocent nor totally guilty. To put it bluntly – even if the best and best-trained teachers were to be transferred to failing schools in Karpenisi, Lefkada, Halkidiki, Samos, Corfu, Perama, Keratsini and Aghia Varvara, few things would change.