I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Is Corporate "Reform" Coming to Denmark?

Does this sound familiar? A center-left government is pushing an unproven series of education "reforms," including longer school days and less time for free play, over the objections of many parents.  And to facilitate this, the government has gone out of its way to diminish the collective bargaining rights of teachers, insisting they work more hours without consultation from their unions.

Sounds like Chicago or Philadelphia or Los Angeles, right? Except this is apparently happening in, of all places, the socialist country of Denmark:
The lock-out of teachers in Denmark has ended after the Danish government intervened in the industrial action between the Danish Union of Teachers (DLF) and the municipalities’ association (Local Government Denmark – LGDK [KL]). The DLF is an affiliate of EI. 
“The schools have ended up in a very difficult situation, where teachers have been run over by the partnership between the Government and LGDK,” said DLF President Anders Bondo Christensen on 25 April 2013. “The legislative intervention takes the LGDK demands into consideration to an outrageous degree. No real negotiations were held, because LGDK has always felt sure that it was backed up by the Government. Now we are facing a major school reform that got off to a bad start.” [emphasis mine]
Turns out America isn't the only place where the labor movement has been hung out to dry by the party supposedly on the political left. Good to know...

Some news outlets have characterized this as a strike, but it was really a lockout, where teachers lost a month's pay. And the dispute eerily echoed similar battles in the United States in that government leaders made their case by bad-mouthing both teachers and students:
Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt defended the plan to introduce longer hours in school, and said her government was not yet prepared to intervene in the dispute.

"We cannot accept that an average of three or four children in each class never learn to write at a level that enables them to go on to further education," she said on Tuesday.
Holy cats - it's like she got Rahm Emanuel's or Chris Christie's p.r. people to write her talking points! That last sentence is so ambiguous (probably deliberately) it could mean anything; is the PM saying all children should be above average?*

One of my continuing pet peeves about the "reform" conversation here in America is that the reformy types make lots of comparisons to student outcomes in other countries without exploring how those school systems work (the astonishingly ignorant proclamations of Bill Gates about Shanghai are a perfect example). It turns out that the Danes have traditionally not placed a premium on instructional time - until now:

On the face of it, the disagreement has been about the amount of time Danish teachers have to prepare lessons. Prior to the dispute, they taught a maximum of 25 hours per week and the rest of their 37-hour week was spent doing preparation or other duties. KL wanted to change this so that local headteachers could agree preparation and classroom time individually with their teachers depending on the specific needs of the school and individual classes.

This may sound sensible, but the underlying dispute is more ideological. Danish kids usually split their day between school from about 8am to 1pm and then an after-school club where they get to do what they want: theatre, play board or computer games, cook etc. There is a movement to extend the school day, giving less time for "free" play, which is something the Danes have always prioritised. Generally, the teachers are against this approach, as well as being against the proposed changes for their working week, which is viewed as a preliminary step to making the school day longer in the future. They want to enshrine their right to a specific length of preparation time in a national agreement, rather than leaving it to local heads of school who may be pressurised by budget considerations. They have not been successful in this demand. [emphasis mine]
The Danes really need to think very carefully about whether it makes sense to go down this road. Right across the Baltic Sea, Finland has been regularly besting Denmark in both the quality of their educational system, and in equity in distribution of educational resources. The Finns didn't get where they are by parroting America's corporate "reforms," such as de-unionization and drill-and-kill; instead, they made equity a top priority, and elevated the teaching profession.

As Diane Ravitch recently pointed out, America's test scores on national assessments have flatlined in the last four years after decades of steady growth. This has been during the height of Obama/Duncan/Gates-style corporate "reform"; why, then, would the Danes ever think the educational schemes of our corporatized "center-left" would be worth emulating?

Mermaids need free play, too!

ADDING: Another parallel to the USA: Danish teachers are using social media to get their message out:

You don't have to speak the language to know exactly what these guys are saying. Oh, and can we all agree auto-tune is a crime against humanity and should be banned internationally?

*Corrected to make sense. Where's the coffee?

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