Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Clueless David Brooks

I actually like some of the things moderate conservative David Brooks says – at times. But when he can be so clueless about education, can you believe in anything he writes? In his March 13 column, "No Picnic for Me Either," Brooks' confusion is evident in his opening words:

In his education speech this week, Barack Obama retold a by-now familiar story. When he was a boy, his mother would wake him up at 4:30 to tutor him for a few hours before he went off to school. When young Barry complained about getting up so early, his mother responded: “This is no picnic for me either, Buster.”

That experience was the perfect preparation for reforming American education because it underlines the two traits necessary for academic success: relationships and rigor. The young Obama had a loving relationship with an adult passionate about his future. He also had at least one teacher, his mom, disinclined to put up with any crap.

Wait a minute. His mother was also his teacher? Brooks confuses the elemental point right here. It was his parent, not his teachers who made the difference. The so-called ed reformers talk about great teachers out of one side of their mouths while disrespecting the mass of teachers out of the other side. People who talk about total solutions to the problems in education and say they must include attacking the social problems in the lives of kids (which include parental and home life issues) are always accused of making excuses. Sadly, Obama has joined the chorus.

The phony ed reformers are finding that as they take over more of the public school system, they discover it will take more than merit pay or charter schools. They themselves start making excuses. (Just wait 'till KIPP takes over entire swaths of schools and can't hide the warts.) Like, why does Joel Klein have to close so many schools that have been under his control for 7 years? He and Arne Duncan talk about the need for charters to promote innovation. Klein and Duncan have run entire school systems for 7 years. What stopped them from innovating in the public schools?

Brooks' next paragraph takes us from confusion to total bewilderment.

We’ve spent years working on ways to restructure schools, but what matters most is the relationship between one student and one teacher. You ask a kid who has graduated from high school to list the teachers who mattered in his life, and he will reel off names. You ask a kid who dropped out, and he will not even understand the question. Relationships like that are beyond his experience.

Okay, so let's get this straight. The most important factor in graduating from high school depends on a relationship with a teacher? Did Brooks actually read Obama's book? Can he cite even one teacher Obama credits with having a transforming influence on him?

I went to school in East NY section of Brooklyn where many of our parents didn't graduate from high school - my mom didn't even go to elementary school and could barely read or write and most of us couldn't name a teacher who made such a great difference. In fact, we had quite a few lousy teachers - more than great teachers. Yet my mom nudged me as much a Obama's mom.

But let's look at Brooks' other clueless point – that kids who drop out had no relationships with teachers. He should check the letters and phone calls I received over the years from my former dropouts, some from state penitentiaries. My fault, I guess. Or maybe Brooks should have joined me at some of the funerals I attended for former students who were slaughtered in drug wars.

In fact, I found the future dropouts in my 4-6 grade classes were the most needy of a parent surrogate, and they were the ones I often grew closest too.

The kids with stable families looked at their teachers as, well, teachers. Some were inspired. One teacher in my school took a few favorite 3rd graders to Alvin Ailey and one of the kids swore that day she would become an Alvin Ailey dancer - and she did. I had that same child in the 6th grade and believe me, she would have been successful no matter what. Her mom was a nurse, one of the few students in my schools whose parents had middle class jobs.

Brooks entire column is here.

This week from the Daily Howler: David Brooks doesn’t know several things. He does say some things which are useful. http://www.dailyhowler.com/

FAIR dissects David Brooks


David Brooks Loves Data--When It Gives the Right Results

This comes from FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting). Showing the failure of our media to do its job, they deserve our support.

by Jim Naureckas

In a typically half-empty David Brooks piece (3/13/09), the columnist praises Barack Obama for embracing "rigor" in education policy, for endorsing "testing and accountability," for "mak[ing] sure results have consequences." He complains about the "education establishment’s ability to evade the consequences of data" and that watered-down proficiency standards mean that "parents think their own schools are much better than they are." He commends Obama's commitment to "use data to make decisions," and Education Secretary opposition to "ignoring failure."

But Brooks says many doubt whether Obama "has the courage to follow through" on these principles, and point to "the way the president has already caved in on the D.C. vouchers case":

Democrats in Congress just killed an experiment that gives 1,700 poor Washington kids school vouchers. They even refused to grandfather in the kids already in the program, so those children will be ripped away from their mentors and friends. The idea was to cause maximum suffering, and 58 Senators voted for it.

Obama has, in fact, been shamefully quiet about this. But in the next weeks he’ll at least try to protect the kids now in the program.

The odd thing is that the D.C. voucher program is a very poor poster child for the importance of rigorous, data-driven education policy that rewards success and punishes failure. The students participating in the voucher program have been watched closely, and according to two Department of Education studies they aren't doing significantly better in reading or math than the peers they left behind in public school. The one bright spot that the studies found is that parents of kids in voucher schools report being more satisfied--in other words, "parents think their own schools are much better than they are."

"Rigorous" is not a word one would apply to Brooks' argument here.

FAIR blog


Gary Babad said...

I had left a comment on Brooks' article, pointing out the inherent contradiction between Brooks' statement that the Obama plan "would increase merit pay for good teachers (the ones who develop emotional bonds with students) and dismiss bad teachers (the ones who treat students like cattle to be processed)", and the idea that merit pay should be based on testing which "can tell you which students are on track and which aren’t. They can tell you which teachers are bringing their students’ achievement up by two grades in a single year and which are bringing their students’ levels up by only half a grade".

Even if we accept that all it takes is a "good teacher" and damn the socioeconomic stuff (a questionable assumption, to be sure), how does he think the teachers are supposed to develop these all-important relationships if the testing mania renders the relationship of teacher to student to be more like that of cowhand to cattle?

The Perimeter Primate said...

I love ya, Norm.

This was my favorite paragraph:

"Okay, so let's get this straight. The most important factor in graduating from high school depends on a relationship with a teacher? Did Brooks actually read Obama's book? Can he cite even one teacher Obama credits with having a transforming influence on him?"

So many of these people are B-S Arteeeeeeeeests.

tjmertz said...

Good post. Thought you'd like this one in the same spirit.