Posted by Deepika Narasimhan
In the world of education reform, there has been a lot of talk lately about bringing accountability into the teaching profession. The newest set of policy pursuits is based in research that says that a good teacher is one of the most important factors in student success. As a result, I have seen various attempts to recruit the best, weed out the worst, and measure their success in my last few years working in education policy. But with American spending on education substantially higher per student than most industrialized nations and students still falling behind in reading, math, and science, educators and policymakers alike have been seeking out solutions to this education “problem.” Various proposals have been suggested and/or implemented, including getting tougher on tenure, evaluation frameworks that include measures of student outcomes, and even offering cash incentives to teachers who get students to pass tests.
But in a profession that is overwhelmingly female, (76% in public schools nationwide): why isn’t gender considered to be an important factor in the education reform debate?
Look at Finland, a country being touted for its educational successes. Finland is consistently a top performer in the Programme for International Student Assessment, an international exam from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development given to 15 year olds. The U.S. came in 17th in overall standings, setting off a round of alarmist speeches and spelling out impending doom for America’s educational (and economic) future.
For many reformers, the refrain has become, “How do we copy Finland’s success?”
Well, one of Finland’s top school reformers, Pasi Sahlberg, recently argued that, as evidenced in his country, educational success is connected to other development factors, including gender equality. He contends that the current educational reform movement is a “masculine construction of market rationale and power” and that this business-minded approach to education is a result of minimal female representation in the political and corporate arenas, which is in direct contrast with Finland’s nearly gender-equal political representation (The Answer Sheet).
The numbers in the United States support Sahlberg’s stance. Only 32% of the highest education posts (Superintendents/Commissioners/Secretaries of Education) are held by women. That is to say, even in a female-dominated profession, the majority of top leadership in the United States is male. Add this to the mostly male-funded philanthropic efforts, such as the Broad and Gates Foundations, and female representation in the reform movement is further diminished.
Sahlberg continues to argue that gender equality is a “particularly relevant variable to be included in the analysis of a country’s child welfare and education policies” because women are particularly attuned to children’s needs. He also projects that more women making decisions on education policy would result in a stronger focus on early childhood development programs and better pay for teachers.
We can challenge the validity of such hypotheticals and argue that several other pedagogically-based factors produce more direct results, but bringing more female voices into the reform debate can only have positive outcomes, particularly because the majority of those affected by teacher reforms happen to be women. And by improving the quality of teaching, we can make it a more appealing profession for both men and women.
To find out more about your state's teacher effectiveness action plan, visit the US Department of Education's page on Teacher Quality Grants. You can also find more updated information on each individual state or district's Department of Education websites.
Deepika Narasimhan is an educational media consultant, and has worked with the New York City Department of Education, and on international education in India, Egypt, and South Africa.
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November 21, 2012 | 12:12 pm
Posted by Maya Paley
In Ms. magazine’s Winter 2012 issue, the 40th Anniversary Issue, there is an eight- page long timeline of the last 40 years of feminist history in the United States. As someone who is still under 30, the timeline woke me up. Recall some of these significant accomplishments in recent history:
• 1972: Title IX passes prohibiting sex discrimination in educational institutions that receive funding from the federal government
• 1973: The Supreme Court decides in Roe v. Wade that states cannot ban abortion.
• 1986: The Supreme Court rules that sexual harassment in the workplace is sex discrimination.
Beyond these obvious accomplishments, there were some events listed in the chronology that honestly shocked me:
• There was no shelter for battered women in the entire United States until the first one opened in 1974 in Minnesota.
• Women were not permitted to get credit cards and accounts in their own names until Congress passed a law against this in 1975.
• The word “Ms.” was finally used by the New York Times in 1986 instead of identifying the marital status of women mentioned in newspaper articles.
Women of my generation and younger: is this not shocking to you?
I find it so hard to believe that less than 10 years before I was born women could not get credit cards without a man’s name on them!
I continue reminding myself of the privileges I have, but I also must urge those in my generation to learn about our own history and just how late in the game we obtained these rights, which to us seem so inherently natural. We are privileged because of women and allies in previous generations taking their struggles to the streets and the courts.
Some of us do not believe that we have any obligations to the women’s rights movement, but I disagree. I have obligations to the women who struggled so that I can have a credit card in my name and even to those in earlier eras who fought for my right to vote and own property. The purpose of studying history is to ensure that we remember the past and utilize it to build a better future.
My role is no longer to fight to legalize abortion on the federal level, but I must make sure that this right is upheld. I do not have to prove that sexual harassment is discriminatory, but I have to make sure to speak up when it happens to me or under my watch. We are not equal yet, not under the law, not socially, and not culturally. Abortion is still highly contested, limited, and regularly attacked. Even birth control is back at the frontlines.
On Thanksgiving my family and friends go around the room and say what we are all thankful for this year. For me, it will be my rights, my freedoms, my voice. But with these come responsibility and it is up to my generation to ensure that we are aware of our history and to continue the struggle. I am ecstatic that there is an unprecedented amount of women in Congress this year, but we have yet to achieve anywhere near 50 percent. I am grateful that abortion is legal in the state of California, but I must stand in solidarity with abortion clinics that are operating in constant fear of assault in other U.S. states. I am lucky to be able to work in fields in which women in previous generations were courageous pioneers, but I must remind myself that we are still only getting paid three-quarters of what men are paid in those same fields. Equality means full equality under the law, within societal structures and institutions, and within cultural and social contexts.
Thank you to all the generations of women who stood up for my rights. Happy Thanksgiving!
November 19, 2012 | 1:57 pm
Posted by Maya Paley
It’s that time of year again! College students will be returning home for the holidays for some much needed R&R after weeks of exams and term papers that seemed never to end. Nonetheless, for college seniors approaching graduation, like me, this time of the year brings an ominous sense of dread along with the usual holiday cheer. Our impending graduation always seems to become the center of conversation at the holiday table, and we are bombarded with the same question from uncles, aunts, and grandparents: “what are you going to do after graduation?”
This question not only shakes college seniors to their core because many of us feel like we should know what we want to do by the time we graduate and do not, but also because we hear this question with a twinge of accusation. For those of us who are lucky enough to know what we want to do by the time we have graduated college, we fear that our career choice will not live up to our family’s prescripted list of expectations—lawyer, doctor, engineer.
As a Women’s Studies major, I have always felt like my course of study was not valued by family members, strangers, or society, in general. When I proudly announce my major, people are not shy to let their opinion be known. According to Ms. Magazine, Women’s Studies, as a major, has been around for 40 years, is offered at 700 universities, and is among one of the fastest growing majors in the country. Despite its growth, Women’s Studies still does not get the respect it deserves, and I have constantly had to defend my major from people who say it is not needed anymore or who challenge its validity to academia.
Women’s Studies is still needed because half the population is still restricted by their gender. Although Women’s Studies is predicated on feminism, it is not just the study of women but of all marginalized people who have been oppressed because of their sexuality, race, class, and/or disability. Throughout history, the story of these people was denied, rewritten, and made to be invisible; however, Women’s Studies prioritizes their history and viewpoints in looking at the world and enacting real change. Women’s Studies has not been properly recognized for its contributions to academia, because the knowledge of women and other oppressed people is still subordinated, along with their social status. By defending Women’s Studies, I am not just defending the major, but also the unique knowledge of women and other marginalized people, as well as the equal opportunities we are entitled to in the university and beyond.
People still contend that “Women’s Studies is not a real major.” To this I reply that it is the most real major there is: it is grounded in people’s actual lived experiences and makes visible the systems of inequality that have material effects in their lives. It is also a major that makes you think critically about your own life and engages you in an interdisciplinary field of study that you can actually use to change the world. Women’s Studies students are not just students; they are activists who are engaged with the politics in their communities, nation, and world. Throughout my education, I have been active in various social justice oriented organizations, which has allowed me to bring theory into praxis. According to Ms. Magazine, 72% of Women’s Studies students apply their education in organizational settings. This is proof that if there is any major that prepares their students for “real life,” Women’s Studies is it!
As a Women ’s Studies major, I could be a lawyer or a doctor; my choices are not limited. But I would rather work in a legislative, nonprofit, or social services setting and I know my family will be proud of me. After all, it was the Jewish values they taught me at an early age that inspired me to advocate for others and stay true to my convictions no matter what anyone says.