Thursday, February 19, 2009

Updated: Skoolboy Savages Kristof



Horn and Bacey at Schools Matter and Diane Ravitch on The Miracle Teacher Revisited

I tend to believe things I read. And I would usually believe Kristof. But when you actually know something about something and see a guy getting it so wrong, I wonder why I should take anything he writes seriously. Word to the wise: Don't write glowing reports about the education reform movement or about how important a good teacher is until you have a real clue.

Nix on Nick Kristof’s Claims

by Aaron Pallas (alias Skoolboy)

Breathlessly, Kristof reports in Sunday’s New York Times that teachers are “astonishingly important.” “It turns out that having a great teacher is far more important than being in a small class, or going to a good school with a mediocre teacher,” he writes. “A Los Angeles study suggested that four consecutive years of having a teacher from the top 25 percent of the pool would erase the black-white testing gap.”

Wow, erasing the black-white testing gap in four years sounds like a pretty good deal. And just from being taught by some really great teachers! There must be some evidence of this for it to show up in the New York Times, wouldn’t you think? Some study somewhere that actually showed that black students exposed to teachers in the top quarter of the teacher effectiveness distribution for four years in a row can routinely move from the 16th percentile in the test score distribution (roughly the black average) to the 50th percentile (roughly the white average)?


  1. I was at the airport when I read the Kristof article and felt utterly powerless. If a massive PR machine could dupe a well-known columnist, what hope would there be for the general public reading its unsupported stats and tall tales?

    Kristof lost all credibility on the following two sentences, and someone should take away his journalism license on the spot:

    "One of the greatest injustices is that America’s best teachers overwhelmingly teach America’s most privileged students. In contrast, the most disadvantaged students invariably get the least effective teachers, year after year — until they drop out."

    As authorative as these statements sound, there's not a shred of evidence to support either, primarily because what he's talking about can't be measured.

    What we do know is that a lot of great teachers keep plugging away under the most miserable circumstances in very unwelcoming, underfunded, overcrowded schools and reach many, many students against all odds.

    We also know that teaching smaller classes of well supported students (by "supported" I mean by their parents and also by local taxes) is a breeze compared to what most teachers face in inner city classrooms.

    Can we send Kristof to the rubber room on both incompetence and verbal abuse?

  2. There is actually ample evidence, see any report by the new teacher project, the national counsel on teacher quality, or the national governors association.

    For information regarding the effects of effective teachers see the work of Sanders or Goldhaber among others.

  3. The "teacher quality" debate is about classism-pure and simple.
    Have you ever noticed that the debate rarely centers around middle class suburban students and their relationship to their teachers? Why do you suppose that is?
    It's because most middle class suburban children arrive at school with their needs already met. Their teachers simply teach and miraculously the children learn.
    The debate is an attempt to draw attention away from the vast inequities in lifestyle, health care, nutrition and wages which exist in high-needs schools.
    It is an abomination that private interests push the teacher debate as a way to avoid the horrendous class divisions which they have helped to create.
    It is laughable that the above comment directs attention to the New Teacher Project for evidence.
    The same organization that consistently short changes high-need children by sending in poorly trained teachers?
    When the truth comes out about what these private interests have been doing, the public will be outraged.
    Make no mistake about it-it will come out.
    More importantly, however, how do these individuals live with themselves?

  4. The New Teacher Project takes millions from NYC, then writes reports suggesting we fire TPD teachers, twisting and manipulating statistics so outrageously that a layman like myself can detect it on one cursory reading. I wouldn't trust Tim Daly as far as I could throw him.

    Incredible he can take all that money from Klein and have the audacity to present himself as an objective observer.


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