Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Like Crud off a Heel

Megan McCardle and Dana Goldstein discuss the state of education at Bloggingheads.  I'm kind of proud of myself.  I made it an entire eleven minutes before I couldn't stand it any longer....

"I'm not really worried about whether the Scarsdale schools are doing a good job evaluating their teachers or not - they seem to be doing OK."

Alright, this is where my hair finally ripped out.  Megan, how could you be so right, and yet so wrong-headed?!!!!  At the beginning of the podcast, you lamented that we are stuck in the same old debate over how much we can expect from teachers and schools, and where people keep arguing it's the kids (poverty, etc.) and that those factors are out of teachers' control - but that this is the real world and "we can't wait until 100% of the world in under your control before we start evaluating you".

Why not?  Because what teachers are saying is simply this: it is unfair to expect the same outcomes out of completely different situations.  If you want the outcomes to be fair, then you need to either change the situation, or change your expectation for outcomes.  Of course, no one wants to lower their expectations for outcomes - this is the achievement gap.  But the real dillema is that one side (which by now includes most of the liberal establishment, including the Obama administration, and the entire right) wants to essentially get a free reduction in the outcome gap, while the other wants more support given to the side that is gertting the raw end of the deal.

Because what we are doing right now is comparing inner city schools with the Scarsdales, and then figuring out how we can make those inner city teachers better (Maybe they weren't top of their class?  Maybe they don't have the right training?  Maybe they need pay-for-performance?  Maybe they need to lose their tenure?  Maybe they need to lose their unions so they can give up prep periods and work longer hours for less pay?  Maybe they need just the perfect kind of curriculum?). 

This is absurd.  If you approached most other industries this way, you'd be laughed out of town.  Yet in education, because the market consists of a belief in human equality and common good, we get to say, "Well, the teachers just need to buck up and sacrifice more." Well, teaching any population is a sacrifice.  But at poor schools, the job is so much harder, for countless reasons, and yet the support teachers get is just about exactly the same as at a Scarsdale.  Minus the extra fundraising.  Minus the parent volunteers and involvement.

When we send troops to Italy, we understand that their job is a lot easier than it is in Afghanistan.  So we spend billions of dollars making sure that in combat zones, they get the support they need, or at least as much of it as possible.  Yet in education, we say to teachers, we're going to give you about the same support, yet expect you to do 2-3x the job.  No, literally.  Poor students often come in to school 2-3 years behind their peers.  And that's just academic skills, not even counting all the behavioral problems and social drama unfolding in their lives.

So for Megan to sit there and scold the teachers of the poor for only being out for their own interests, while they're out there everyday cleaning up the social decay of a society that won't even recognize and hold itself accountable for the dysfunction of a mass low-wage working sector and a legacy of discrimination and poverty. It makes me sick, really.

1 comment:

  1. Red, yellow and green proficiency codes? Do we wear them on our I.D. badges or right there on the upper arm? I started to get queasy at about the third minute of her self serving diatribe as I watched the left screen for any sort of semblance of a response to her self satisfied regurgitation of the latest "race to the top" baseless superficiality. How you stomached 11 minutes of her is a testament to the quality of both your cooking and commitment to this cause. Unfortunately, among many other issues she stumbled through in the first couple of minutes, there simply aren't enough teachers who stay in these schools for the ten years that this Ms. McCardle on the right seems to think is an appropriate amount of time to offer teachers access to the "privileges", i.e. job security, that according to her, are what the majority, if not all, as she so casually phrased it, public school teachers apparently care about? According to the insight she has gathered during her clearly limited time/experience amid the reality of the contemporary urban classroom, as well as apparently "many on the right" seem to concur, teachers no longer care about educating their students, but are instead focused on maintaining the largely unearned cultural prestige and bloated paychecks that comes with being a public school teacher. Where do they find these children who can so brazenly speak to issues they so clearly have no direct exposure to in order to create what seams to be masquerading as some form of public service discussion? Given this woman's didactic, self assured and overwrought sense of her own awareness of the depth and complexity of this issue it would seem she must have a major treatise in the works. I need to get in their and possible inject a modicum of humility and first hand perspective into the book and or education blog she seems to be quoting here. Tell me Obi wan Kanobi, you're my only did you get your head on there in December?