Dear Arianna Huffington, please get stuffed


I find it amazing how otherwise progressive and liberal thinkers can start sounding like the most brain-dead supply-sider when it comes to education reform. I know it comes from a kinder, gentler place; wanting to help poor and minority students do better in school, and have a better life. Here’s a novel idea, increase TANF, increase welfare to work incentives (not a great idea mid-recession, so how about job corps?), and make it easier for them to work with mandatory full-day kinder (with enrichment and nap time, not just academics), and universal pre-school, more Section 8 vouchers, and more affordable housing in different neighborhoods, not just the ghetto. Oh, fully funding ESEA would be nice too.

Instead we are offered warmed-over libertarian ideas like vouchers, and slap a nice “liberal” sounding label on it, like “single payer public education”. I’m sure it sounded like a “cute” way to triangulate on the healthcare debate, but let’s look at the many errors of thought expressed:

What’s so bad about merit pay? On it’s face, it looks good, but I’m curious, if bonus incentives are bad for bankers, what makes them good for teachers? I think the financial industry has pointed the way towards why this is a bad idea, but why learn from such an obvious and recent lesson? Let’s review again folks why bonuses are a bad idea:
– They can improve performance, when they are small.
– You still have to figure out what to reward. Is it student test scores? Will it be the raw score, or increases? Research programs are still trying to figure out a good, easily measured criteria for judging teacher effectiveness, contrary to almost all popular belief.
– Why on earth include merit pay in this article? It’s about school choice. Stick to your topic, or risk being thought a dilettante.

Choice will be taken by a number of parents, but I will point out the following truths:

– Parents choosing schools outside their neighborhood would prefer to have better functioning local schools.
– When the students who leave those schools have left, they will be taken care of, but what about those left behind? When choice is our only answer, what happens to those who won’t or can’t make another choice?

School choice is one answer to the problem of our rapidly re-segregating public schools, but it will never be THE answer to that problem, and is a really circuitous way to deal with the de facto segregation.

by posted under politics/policy | 5 Comments »    
5 Comments to

“Dear Arianna Huffington, please get stuffed”

  1. September 20th, 2009 at 8:17 pm      Reply Doug Noon Says:

    Yeah. I saw the Huffington piece, and it bothered me, too. A question from one of the political blogs I read: Who needs Republicans these days?

    When people start talking about positive educational outcomes that will supposedly come from competition, what is it, we need to ask, we should be competing for? From what I’ve seen, the schools with high test scores aren’t blessed with better teachers, but more affluent students.

    • September 21st, 2009 at 8:22 am      Reply alicemercer Says:

      You are rapidly becoming my most frequent commenter. It’s an honor though. Big front page story in local paper today about teachers are in conflict with some of their traditional allies.

  2. September 21st, 2009 at 8:29 am      Reply alicemercer Says:

    Here it is:

  3. September 22nd, 2009 at 3:37 am      Reply Deven Black Says:

    The longer I listen to the ideas about “fixing” education the more I realize how our education system has failed.

    We’ve failed because we apparently have not developed men and women who have the intelligence to understand that most of the discussion about education is mindless spouting of platitudes and nebulous, ill-considered ideas, and do not have the creativity to come up with anything better.

    Thanks for telling it like it is, Alice.

  4. September 22nd, 2009 at 7:18 am      Reply The Eclectic Radical Says:

    I wrote on this topic myself on my own blog, in response to Arianna’s HuffPo piece. Many of the precise same things that bothered you bothered me. I admit that I took the piece on a larger level, breaking down those problems and suggesting solutions for them that would be necessary if the program were to work at all.

    Arianna’s idea is a poorly communicated version of school reform in Sweden, Russia, and some other European countries where the state pays for every kid’s education and the parents can take them to whatever school they want. This works in Europe because the school systems of such countries were reformed to accomodate this kind of educational financing . This was easier in European countries because their school systems were nationally directed in the first place (ours is not) and smaller than our own sprawling mess of school systems.

    Arianna’s basic idea of simply changing the way we pay would be a disaster that would even further destroy the ‘bad’ schools and further damage the education the kids stuck in those ‘bad schools’ are getting. It’s just not feasible without massive institutional reform to go along with the financing changes.

    Without looking to be too self-serving, I’d be very interested in a teacher’s take on what /I/ wrote. I’ve included the direct link to the post in question rather than the general link to my blog that I usually include. 🙂

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