With due respect, your argument is moronic…


Since comments on this Jonathan Alter hit-piece against Diane Ravitch appears to have “closed” comments, I included my rebuttal here:

Healthy Skepticism

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.
Straw Men
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.
Classroom Malpractice
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.

by posted under politics/policy | 4 Comments »    
4 Comments to

“With due respect, your argument is moronic…”

  1. June 3rd, 2011 at 9:36 pm      Reply DamnedLiberal Says:

    I’m not a teacher but sympathize with what teachers are currently expected to do with all this “testing” and numerical “goals” stuff. I know how deleterious a child’s home environment can be to the learning environment because I heard first-hand tales from a relative who’s a teacher. Hungry kids who would surreptitiously swap their lunch bag with hers and she’d open “her” lunch bag to find only a peanut butter sandwich instead of the lunch she brought; paying kids’ $1 for the bus fee to an extracurricular outing; spending $300 to prepare the classroom. Parents who don’t care & don’t show up for P-T conferences. Kids who suffered obvious abuse at home. All the well-intended, well-educated people who had a “normal” life are blissfully unaware of the real world.

    I imagine the current environment is chasing away many teachers who are leaving in frustration, with disappointment in the system.

    We can only hope those who remain are able to effectively continue to work with kids — somehow — despite the imposed bureaucratic constraints.

    Good Luck!

  2. June 4th, 2011 at 8:21 am      Reply Ashley Says:

    I teach in a lower income school on “reform” as well and I completely agree. Every day I deal with kids who are more concerned with whether or not there will be food on the table that night than whether they understand an assignment. To these kids, survival is all they care about and a higher education is a laughable fairy tale. Their parents tell them repeatedly that college isn’t an option because it is too expensive.

    We have some amazing teachers in our building, all working and fighting hard to get these kids the education they so desperately need, but when parents don’t even send their kids to school there isn’t a whole lot we can do. When a parent responds to a call about a classroom issue with a “why should I care” attitude, it severely hurts the credibility of the teacher. I have seen time and again how a parents’ attitude toward school is reflected with the kids.

    I could go on and on and on giving examples from my three years experience as a teacher. Messy divorces, racial tension, bullying, sexual and physical abuse, drug abuse, deaths… the list of outside factors goes on and on and on for these kids. Most adults have problems focusing on a job when these factors are in play, so why on EARTH do we expect our kids to handle them any better?

  3. June 4th, 2011 at 10:06 am      Reply Sarah Puglisi Says:

    Of the people I’ve met responding to education politics, Alice Mercer seemed grounded the most critically, if I may drag out that word and be excused, in the capacity to respond. I think many teachers geared towards a job where critical reactive speed might not be their forte, or hammering analysis their skill set-as she amply has, many did not seek out nor get geared up for these kinds of situations-when their work is defined and the arguments polished-often completely free of the facts. They just seem to sit there looking like deer in headlights.
    I did go read the attack on Ravitch awhile ago.
    It didn’t seem to take apart the “sandcastle” for me.
    I just thought it was a person hitting a punching bag because that’s what they do in our country today-refine arguments away from doing.

    I have been watching in my underperforming school the “change” over the last few years. Arts narrowed, doing narrowed, everyone on same pages, the collective loss of excellence, and skill sets in teachers to teach arts, literature and music all narrowed-after all you don’t develop those things you identify as wastes of the day- so teachers lose the capacity or never gain the capacity to teach outside the narrowed models….and frankly I saw the same dwindling capacity around parent outreach, ability to stage parent and school events, develop active and engaging community trust. It’s harder to “get into” my school now, people leave earlier, the barriers are more apparent, the flight to identified “better schools” is really apparent-save the fact the economic collapse brought us back some families in utter chaos that we can now successfully dictate lists of donation needed items to and standards to focus on.
    When they can barely make rent. My point, we worked so hard on testing as THE focus- demonizing talk of poverty, teacher work load, the choices we were making -that the thing that is understood now is “RIGID COMPLIANCE” which when you look isn’t what high performers are all about.
    But we are great tattle tales now, terrific with jealousy, great at non-action, refined into criticism, but not doers and seldom too much for accessing real heart. That’s what we got good at. Enduring, as a teacher told me Friday, that’s “all I do now.” Waiting for some glimmer of something that “feels better than this.”

    Somehow Ravitch is asking us, certainly Mercer is reminding us, to look at things as they are-does this data driven system work for low performing children in poverty well enough to continue it as a national agenda, or as I like to say, as the genuflection it requires of us to do as we kneel away our standing up about it and what we see going on.
    It would seem not. Ravitch didn’t go down on that altar.

    There Ravitch has him.

    It would appear we didn’t fix the thing we intended to “fix” with a pathology model like this. Otherwise we’d see it by now.
    More of it-this, with inexperienced teachers that come from the Ivy League appears to be the next “big idea,” but frankly I think until we attended to the basic realization that those “with” get scores and those “without” struggle, we probably are just whipping around in something else.

    It is to that something else I sadly now see “an agenda” and so I am fighting for the right for all children to attend public school.
    I’m not sure what Adler is fighting for. I see what he’s against though clearly now.

  4. June 4th, 2011 at 2:48 pm      Reply Sarah Puglisi Says:

    Alter, I kept incorrectly writing his name which is a reflection of fatigue.


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