Since comments on this Jonathan Alter hit-piece against Diane Ravitch appears to have “closed” comments, I included my rebuttal here:
I am a teacher in a so-called failing school. I have spent my 10+ year career teaching in high poverty schools. Like most schools in poor neighborhoods, they have been low performing, and always in one of the many “reform” programs that have been promulgated during my career (California’s II-USP, Program Improvement under NCLB, and “Turn Around” Reform under RttT).
So-called “miracle” results are used as a blunt instrument to rap those of us teaching in those schools about our heads when we are not able to lift test scores more than the 5% a year that is a reasonable increase. It is perfectly reasonable to question these miracles by comparing scores to other tests because you are not saying they are failures, just that they aren’t as successful as they claim based on the single (stupid) measure by which we are all judged.
The argument that “reformers” say “poverty doesn’t matter” is NOT a straw man. The press is replete with examples of reformers saying, teachers have the most significant impact on learning in children, when what studies show is that teachers have the largest effect among in-school factors, which are largely out-weighed by out of school forces.
What is even more pernicious is that I’ve heard administrators exhorting staff to greater “student achievement” (test scores) mouthing that canard. It doesn’t matter if EVERY reformer says it, enough do. I have felt it rolling down to my school and classroom, and it has polluted not just the discussion, but the learning and working conditions for students and teachers. I’m sorry, but my experience trumps your lack of any specific reference.
I will agree that charters come in many shapes and sizes, but they are not all equal and there are some that are used as a punitive examples to the rest of us.
Charters, so-called “tenure reform”, and accountability measures are all wedge issues to undermine contractual and statutory rights of teachers. Cruddy teachers are not the fault of teachers or unions, but because administrators are not doing their jobs. When districts “get tough”, the firings are either really arbitrary (firing all teachers in Central Falls, RI), or seem to single out teachers for non-compliance rather than competence.
My experience is that most of the current “reform” models put teachers under extreme and unnecessary pressure, and tend to create an atmosphere of fear and distrust. Rights are lost, and folks begin to fear speaking up, or even to ask questions as they are labeled as “resistant”. I saw this happen to teachers for merely asking for clarification about how to do a task related to reform.
Measures of Performance
The reality is, all the teachers are Central Falls High School were threatened with firing because of test scores. My school was targeted for reform under RttT legislation solely based on a lack of growth in test scores. The Obama administration, Secretary Duncan, and the Department of Education can talk about multiple measures, but that is not what their reforms judge schools and teachers by. Witness the denial of tenure to a promising teachers based on her VAM (Grading New York Teachers – When the Formulas Lie – NYTimes.com). The LA Times teacher ratings are based only on test scores. We aren’t just judging the students, and schools on these now, but individual teachers, an undertaking that is scientifically specious, and not at all what they were intended for.
You probably can find some so-called reformers who want test scores to be “part” of what a teacher is rated on, but the reality where I live and work is that teachers are being judged solely on the basis of test scores, and this is being reinforced not re-thought by the folks in charge of public education.