By Bonnie Bracey Sutton
Editor, Policy Issues
As I read about solutions for addressing our nation’s educational problems, I am prompted to ask, Who’s on first in the race toward the best answer?
This question echoes Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First” routine. It is worth listening to if you don’t remember it or haven’t heard it.
My dad was a teacher. He used to say that if education were an airplane, it would never get off the ground because everyone aboard would think they knew enough to fly it. His point was that the arguments in the cockpit would ensure that the plane would never leave the runway.
I’m not trying to make fun of anyone, and I’m not picking on the President. But I am talking about the media and about us, educators. The bottom line is that discussions about education aren’t funny, especially when you think about all the nuances of the problems that make them extremely difficult to solve.
So, who’s on first? Is it Arne Duncan, with his Race to the Top?
Duncan has some great ideas in the making, but the question is, how long will it take for the initiative to shake out, work, and prove itself? Or will it take so long that there will be another administration and another education secretary before it’s finalized? What do you think? Is Duncan and his plan on first?
No, according to Diane Ravitz, who says in a Huffington Post editorial:
The program contains these key elements: Teachers will be evaluated in relation to their students’ test scores. Schools that continue to get low test scores will be closed or turned into charter schools or handed over to private management. In low-performing schools, principals will be fired, and all or half of the staff will be fired. States are encouraged to create many more privately managed charter schools.
“All of these elements are problematic,” she say, e.g., “Evaluating teachers in relation to student test scores will have many adverse consequences.” And one of those is that “Teachers will teach to the test.”
Is Mitchell Resnick, with his focus on early childhood education, on first?
Resnick, “LEGO Professor of Learning Research and head of the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Laboratory, explores how new technologies can engage people in creative learning experiences. . . . Recently, Resnick’s group developed Scratch, an online community where children program and share interactive stories, games, and animations.”
In fact, kindergarten may not be a bad place to focus our resources. In “The Case for $320,000 Kindergarten Teachers” (NY Times, 7.27.10), David Leonhardt discusses research that demonstrates the clear importance of kindergarten to later success. It’s a real eye opener for many people who are involved in public education and real confirmation for those of us who have advocated for true reform in an American public-education system that has been in steady decline for years. Also see Jim Taylor’s “Kindergarten Matters!” (Huffington Post, 8.2.10).
Is Diane Ravitz, with her eagle eyes on education reform, on first? Ravitz, on Larry Miller’s Blog (8.5.10), says:
For the past five years, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein have claimed that, due to their programs, New York City was a national model. They proclaimed that the city had made “historic gains” on state tests, all because of the mayor’s complete control of the policymaking apparatus. . . . It was an exciting and wonderful ride while it lasted. But last week, with the release of the state test results for 2010, New York City’s claims came crashing to the ground. . . . The belief that mayoral control was a panacea for urban ills was no longer sustainable. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has gone around the nation for the past 18 months singing the praises of mayoral control. But in light of the New York City fiasco, he will have to find a new example when he lectures urban audiences, because the New York model just lost its wheels.
Who’s on first? Is it Michelle Rhee, Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools?
Yes she is, if you believe that the failures are the fault of bad teachers. See “Michelle Rhee Gets Transparent About Teacher Firings” (Washington Post letter to the editor, 8.6.10). Also see Eve Conant and Sam Register’s “Why We Must Fire Bad Teachers” (News Week, 3.5.10). As far as I’m concerned, the question remains, Are the troubles in education and our society the fault of teachers?
In her Post letter, Rhee says, “DCPS’s approach to managing human capital is a radically different one for a school system. But we are confident it will get us strong teachers. It’s my job to make sure that happens, and I stand by these decisions.”
My question is, can we solve — or should we solve — all of the problems in education by putting teachers in an evaluation straight jacket and believing in Rhee’s methodology? Do we believe that teachers are the only problem? Furthermore, if a school system actually has a thousand bad teachers, what part of the system is to blame? Food for thought.
So, who’s on First?
A this point in time, I don’t know.
Filed under: Uncategorized Tagged: | 000 Kindergarten Teachers, Abbott and Costello, Arne Duncan, David Leonhardt, Diane Ravitz, Eve Conant, Huffington Post, Jim Taylor, Kindergarten Matters!, Larry Miller's Blog, LEGO, Lifelong Kindergarten, Michelle Rhee, MIT Media Laboratory, Mitchell Resnick, Race to the Top, Sam Register, Scratch, SFGate, The Case for $320, Who's on First