Saturday, November 5, 2011

More from the Ravitch/Hanushek Debate

Here's another comment from the debate between Eric Hanushek who argues that firing 5-10% of "ineffective" teachers would dramatically improve American education and Diane Ravitch who says, as Linda Darling-Hammond so aptly put it, "you can't fire your way to Finland".  For the full thread, see:  

All I have heard in this silly debate is the same old tired talking points being thrown around. I know I shouldn’t even bother commenting because everyone has already made up their minds.

But still…I cannot help but think of my students, asleep right now in the psychiatric hospital where I work.

I think about “T” who is in the foster care system, was badly abused until he was 9, and has such extreme behavior problems that he requires a 1:1 staff with him at all times. He can’t read well and still does basic addition and subtraction even though he’s in the 5th grade. But today, he saw some older kids learning square roots and he begged me to try and solve them too. And you know what? He figured it out!! He ran up to me so excited that he had accomplished this work that he gave me a great big hug.

I think about “J”, also a ward of the state, living in a group home, who has gang affiliations and a history of school failure. I think about his astute and powerful comments in my class yesterday when someone brought up life in the inner-city. I sensed an anguish in his voice because he is such an intelligent young man and knows EXACTLY what a rotten hand he’s been dealt.

I think about little “A”, who thinks he is thug-tastic, but is actually a scared little 10 year old boy. I saw the cracks in his armor today when he pulled me into his room to speak with his case worker saying “Ms. Katie, tell her I’m doing 8th grade work! Tell her how smart I am!” The smile on that boy’s face was priceless.

None of Mr. Hanushek’s policies help MY kids. All I want for them is a teacher who CARES about them and gives them the chance to succeed. Test scores are nothing. International comparisons are nothing. What will help these children is not being talked about.

Instead, we debate back and forth about evaluation processes, tenure, firing procedures, and speculations not based on reality.

I’m sick of this. I want to talk about income inequality, lack of health care, and lack of mental health services. Even the best teachers cannot give my kids what they need.

Sure I want good teachers in the classroom, but the classroom itself is broken. The only reason I can reach some of my kids is because I work outside the school system. I have no standardized tests hanging over my head, I have no scripted curriculum to follow, I am supported DIRECTLY in my classroom by 2-3 staff members at all times, I have a multi-disciplinary team of people working on every aspect of these children’s lives including social workers helping families, doctors addressing biological and brain issues, and counselors teaching direct social and coping skills. We even have a recreational therapist who guides kids through art and play, addressing the whole child.

I have to go to bed now because I need rest to do a very very difficult job. At least I, unlike my colleagues in the schools, do not need to worry if tomorrow will be the day the firings begin. But do not expect me to stop fighting for what is right for my students. I will resist Hanushek and all those who take the spotlight off the very real issues at play in my students’ lives for as long as it takes.

John Thompson replied: 


Do you think Hanushek is even aware of the difference between students on IEPs for learning disabilities as opposed to emotional or conduct disorders? Are any of his fellow economists aware of such a difference? Are they aware of what happens when there is a critical mass of traumatized kids in classrooms and schools? If so, have they ever tried to control for that difference? If they are aware of those issues, why haven’t we read about studies trying to take that into account?

And I wrote: 

@johnthompson I don’t think any of the education “reformers” of the day have the slightest idea what our kids in the inner-city actually go through. What you said about “a critical mass of traumatized kids in classrooms and schools” is spot on. Our children are sick because of the conditions we let them grow up in. And the impact of this concentrated poverty and excessive violence is taking its toll on our schools. America should be ashamed.

I recently was on Chicago’s NPR station speaking about the mental health of our kids:

I’m not sure if what I was trying to communicate actually got through in the piece, but I wanted to say that you need a dedicated TEAM of experts to work with kids with mental health problems. Too often, schools are being left to deal with too many kids with too many problems (there’s that critical mass, you speak of…) all alone.

Instead of helping these schools with these children, we overcrowd our classrooms full of kids with significant, and I mean truly debilitating, often undiagnosed problems. To add insult to injury, we understaff and underresource those same schools. Heck, we don’t even train some those teachers properly before giving them some of the hardest to educate students.

So no, I will never agree to an evaluation system that inevitably will be primarily based on faulty test scores. I will not agree with firing 5-10% of my colleagues, because the playing field is too unfair. It is unfair for the kids and the staff alike.

I am absolutely baffled and disgusted by people like Hanushek who clearly have no idea what teachers face from day to day, especially in these inner-city schools.

Teachers have been doing what they can for years. It’s not enough and I want change too. But the rest of society has to step in and do its part.

1 comment:

  1. Katie --

    Nothing seems to be changing. The entrenched are still entrenched on both sides. Kids, families, and schools are falling apart, and many in positions of power seem to see assessments as the answer.

    When teachers are asked, the answers tend to be more humane.