Wednesday, July 6, 2011

My Response to David Brooks and all the Education Deformers

(I wrote this as a comment to http://takingnote.learningmatters.tv/?p=5183 )

I disagree that an entire re-vamping of American education is necessary.  As some commenters have posted above, "the reformers" are not complaining about the state of education in our affluent suburbs or stellar private schools like Sidwell.  I wish that charter schools were the answer, but unfortunately they are not actually performing miracles even with "superhuman effort".  (See http://credo.stanford.edu/  and http://schoolfinance101.wordpress.com/2011/06/03/the-offensively-defensive-ideology-of-charter-schooling/ )  (And by the way, I worked in a public school and we worked OUR BUTTS OFF!  Superhumanly, you could say…)

Teachers are very clear about what could actually make a difference (although not necessarily eradicate the achievement gap) and none of them are the current reforms du jour.  The organizers of an upcoming march on Washington talk about four guiding principles including "equitable funding for all public school communities" and "an end to high stakes testing used for the purpose of student, teacher, and school evaluation".  (See http://www.saveourschoolsmarch.org/about/guiding-principles/).  Diane Ravitch will be there :)

Diane Ravitch is not against testing.  She worked for years with NAEP, for goodness sakes.   All she is opposed to is tying in high-stakes to the test (i.e. punishing schools, firing staff, teacher evaluations, ultimately closing schools, etc.).  The tests are designed to be diagnostic tools.  The current NCLB punishes schools that are struggling instead of giving them EXTRA help, which is what they need.  We need equal funding, we need an experienced well-trained teaching force (TFA is NOT the answer  http://www.scribd.com/doc/36149330/PB-TeachAmerica-Heilig#archive ), and we need rich curriculum with full resources!

I don’t fully understand the current pushback which demonizes anyone who acknowledges that poverty is a problem.  (Watch the clip:  http://theyellowtulips.blogspot.com/2011/06/our-schools-are-not-broken-problem-is.html)  It is a real barrier to learning.   The data is clear (although as in any bell curve, we are talking averages here.  Any one individual can fall anywhere on the curve--See Class and Schools by Richard Rothstein.  By the way, this phenomenon contributes to the outlier “miracle” schools.  They are skimming off the higher achievers or pushing out the lower performers.)

Teachers support Diane Ravitch because she is one of the few voices who actually seems to “get it”.  I became a teacher later in my career so I understand partially where all these “non-educators” are coming from.  Before I worked in the schools, I too thought charters were a great idea and even considered applying for TFA.  But now that I see what the real barriers are, I KNOW more about what reforms are needed.  The fundamental problem is NOT our teaching force.  Listen to the teachers!  Listen to the principals!  Listen to the unions who speak for us and are staffed by us!  And most of all, listen to Diane Ravitch.

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