Thursday, August 26, 2010


Three pieces about teachers came my way today. There was an editorial in the SF Chronicle blaming teacher's unions for California not getting Race To The Top funding. I read Alfie Kohn's piece called Turning Children Into Data in Education Week ( and then I listened to an American Radioworks program called Testing Teachers (

The good news is that all three agree on the importance of good teachers.

But there is discouraging news too. The Chronicle editorial continues the straw man of blaming unions for the sad mess in our inner city schools. It lauds the LA Times for their plan to link teachers' names to test score results. I can't imagine a worse incentive for creative teaching than that. What young teacher would take the chance of not teaching to the test with that stick looming? How many experienced teachers would choose a low performing school knowing they will be compared in that way to teachers in wealthy districts? What union would allow their members to be treated so simplistically? The Chronicle's editorial writers seem to think that embarrassment makes people perform. hmmmm.

The American Radioworks program was more of a mixed bag. It began with a focus on the work of economist Eric Hanushek, who uses data from standardized tests to prove that some teachers uniformly get better results than others. Hanushek's analysis was also used in the film Waiting for Superman. He believes that "teachers are born, not made," so the emphasis should be on removing "bad" teachers. Also as in Waiting for Superman, Michelle Rhee's slash and burn approach to the Washington DC schools was portrayed sympathetically. But as the program goes on, it mentions that even Hanushek thinks the weight given to test scores is misguided.

In the second half of the program they feature the changes made in the Chattanooga city schools by offering "sustained long term training and support" to all teachers by mentor teachers who were still active in the classroom. In the process they discussed the importance of focusing on the needs of individual children! Yes. Now we're getting somewhere. But in my view they left out major pieces: the range of basic training we offer teachers and the importance of enlisting parents as partners.

It seems so hard to get people to realize how little is learned from test scores. Alfie Kohn's article, which is subtitled "A Skeptic's Guide to Assessment Programs" makes that point as well as several other salient ones about who is profiting from the so-called "reform movement." I would feel much better about the possibility of recruiting and retaining good teachers if the folks in the Obama administration, Public Radio, and The Chronicle were reading Kohn!

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