Friday, November 28, 2008

Back to School Week at The Howler

There is no one with a more sensible approach to education debate over "reform" than Bob Somerby at The Daily Howler. That's because Somerby started teaching 5th grade in Baltimore in 1969. I identify because I started teaching 4th grade in Brooklyn in Feb. 1969 (after a year and a half as an ATR - being used as a sub/handyman in the same school, not a bad way to learn the ropes.)

Elementary school teachers who spend all year and 6 hours a day with the same group of kids, getting so see most parents on a regular basis and being part of the community their kids live in, often have the most insightful perspective on ed reform. Somerby writes on a number of subjects, but his edcuation insights do not get enough attention. I wish he had direct links to the ed stuff.

This week he has a 4 part series (part 4 to come) that focuses on the gushing press about Michelle Rhee.

Jesus rose from the dead in three days—and under Rhee, “test scores soared.” This tale—of Rhee’s miracle cure—is told wherever her cult is sold. Plainly, Jay believes it’s true. At THE HOWLER, we pretty much don’t.

Part 1:
Part 2:
Part 3:
(This link will change to when it goes into the archives
Part 4: To come

One more example of how Howler looks at the ed world.

In a way, you can’t blame Hiatt for that sort of talk; it’s the type of chatter that’s routinely churned by “educational experts.” But Hiatt is being fatuous when he says that “every student can learn, write and do math” (whatever so vague an assurance might mean)—and he builds a straw man when he goes on to say that “their ability to do so should be measured.” (Few oppose sensible measurement.) Duh! The question isn’t whether “every student can learn;” the question is how much various students can learn, at what point in their public schooling. The larger question is what sorts of changes in instructional practice might help these students achieve these goals. Meanwhile, the desire to rush to the question of who’s “at fault” merely extends the problem. But Hiatt makes it clear, at the start of his piece, that fault and blame are driving his vision. He opens with an anecdote designed to show that Rhee is high-minded and good—while an unnamed principal is an uncaring villain. He then cranks out this standard text—although, within the Insider Press, churning such text is real easy:

HIATT: Rhee offers the ultimate in no-excuses leadership. She has taken on one of the worst public school systems in the nation and has pledged to turn it into one of the best within a decade. The usual excuses made for such schools—that they cannot possibly do better because their students are poor, or come from broken families, or haven't been read to, or are surrounded by crime—Rhee does not accept. She has seen such students learn, Rhee explains, in her own classroom in Baltimore in the early 1990s, and in many other schools since.

Just as he drives a framework of “fault” and blame, Hiatt builds a framework in which people are looking for “excuses.” (It can’t be that they’re offering “explanations,” or describing real problems and obstacles.) Of course, it’s easy for pundits to say that we shouldn’t “accept...the usual excuses” about the progress of deserving students who may enter kindergarten far behind their middle-class peers. But those students’ achievements won’t increase just because Hiatt enjoys talking tough—because he churns familiar bromides as a replacement for thought.

1 comment:

  1. The thing is---that there's no evidence to support her claims of what happened in her own classroom. The whole "trust me" paradigm has been played out over the last eight years, and has proven to be a less than ideal approach.


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