Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

For years I've felt the NYT has provided us with the very worst education reporting in NY. There have been exceptions, like Michael Winerip, but in general they seem way too highfalutin' to bother with what's actually happening in NY. I first noticed this years ago, when some genius reporter criticized us for the February break, saying the city didn't want it. Actually the city wanted non-attendance days for kids and us in school, and had the reporter bothered to speak with a single teacher to prepare his article, he'd have known that.

Occasionally, though, there's a ray of sunlight in the morass of nonsense and reforminess. In fact, this particular ray of sunlight focuses on a truth many teachers know--that it is income and not teacher quality that is a general predictor of standardized test scores. Not only that, but the gap has widened considerably since Ronald Reagan became union-buster in chief. In fact, this disparity affects not only test scores:

These widening disparities are not confined to academic outcomes: new research by the Harvard political scientist Robert D. Putnam and his colleagues shows that the rich-poor gaps in student participation in sports, extracurricular activities, volunteer work and church attendance have grown sharply as well.

So if we're really serious about helping kids, perhaps we ought to address poverty and income disparity. Maybe we should, you know, help struggling families rather than just spouting the same old reformy talking points. Maybe the fact that, after decades of reforminess, we still have all these so-called failing schools indicates that we ought to try something new. Instead, we hire MaryEllen Elia, who walks around pretending to listen to people and promises more of the same anyway.

On the other hand, there's this article marveling at the impending teacher shortage. They're looking everywhere, they're taking anyone, they're lowering standards and you don't even have to bother with credentials, you know, like a degree. Learn as you earn. Who cares?

It is mind-boggling to me that a reporter for the paper of record fails to account for the reforminess that's led to an unprecedented attack on teachers. I see this ignorance amplified over at Eduwonk. Nothing to see here, it's the economy. All this reformy stuff we're doing has no effect whatsoever.

They're wrong, of course. Teachers are being judged by test scores. There is no reliable research to suggest that standardized test scores reflect teacher quality. In fact, the American Statistical Association suggests teachers have precious little to do with these scores. But what's a reformy to do? Bill Gates has invested a gazillion dollars in a Measures of Effective Teaching study. UFT leadership supported it, told us how important our participation was, but its result was a nation of teachers judged by junk science.

There are few things I find more inspiring than seeing my former students become teachers. One of them is now teaching math in my school, and I could not be prouder. I love this job and it's brought me great gratification. I can't promise, though, that it will be the same for my students. We're on the third new evaluation program in three years, and I see no evidence of improvement. Teacher morale is the lowest I've seen in 30 years, bar none.

We are regularly trashed in the media. NYT's Frank Bruni likens us to pigs at a trough as his BFF Campbell Brown attacks our tenure. (In fairness, Bruni's job entails coming up with 800 words not once, but TWICE a week, so who can find time to do fundamental research?) SCOTUS is now looking to break our union.

We are standing against a wall with targets on our backs. The ignorance of professional reporters who don't know that is simply mind-boggling. If they're purposely wearing blinders, that's even worse. Either way, it is them, not us, who are incompetent.

Of course, it's easier to forget about the truth and blame teachers. Bill Gates said poverty was too tough to deal with, so he, along with the happy NYT reporter, ignores it and goes on his merry way. And you can't fire parents or children, so why not just blame the teachers and whistle a happy tune?

This is the new paradigm in education. We need to change it. And if leadership just keeps going along to get along, we need to change them too.
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