"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be...nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." – Thomas Jefferson

Saturday, October 9, 2010

What's wrong with the "School Reform Manifesto?"

Here's a good review of the How to Fix our Schools Manifesto of Rhee, Klein and others. I have a few things I'd like to add, though.

1. The manifesto claims that the Race to the Top is the catalyst for more educational reforms than "we have seen in decades." Race to the top pits states against each other for the right to get funding from the United States DOE. If we truly wanted to fix ALL schools in need in the country the Race to the Top would be replaced by a program which would help ALL students...not just the "winners."

2. The manifesto claims that seniority is responsible for the loss of young teachers. The implication is that there are so many bad teachers that children are being held back. The implication is that the teachers unions are responsible for keeping bad teachers in the classroom. Why then, do states without unions...and without collective bargaining laws, have test scores that are in line with the rest of the country? Why aren't "union-free" states achieving more in their schools?

3. The manifesto claims that firing a poor teacher is a monumental task...nearly impossible. In truth, though, tenure only guarantees a teacher due process. If the administration wants to fire a teacher who has tenure, then they have to show the reason why. The administration needs to document the reasons why a teacher is worthy of being fired...just like teachers have to document the grades they give their students. A teacher who is failing in their job has the right to hear the reasons why they are being fired. It's the administrations obligation to show why the teacher is incompetent or otherwise not qualified to teach.

4. The manifesto encourages the evaluation of teachers with their students' test scores even though student achievement tests are not a valid measure of teacher quality.

5. The manifesto encourages the reliance on charter schools, even though the research has not shown that charter schools are any better than traditional public schools.

6. I'd like to reemphasize a point that Valerie Strauss (as well as the other bloggers listed below) makes in her article below. Good teachers are important, but the single most important factor in student achievement is their home life - their time outside of school.

Now...here are Valerie Strauss' comments...

(Also see comments by Anthony Cody here...and by the Education Optimists here)

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From Valerie Strauss at the Washington Post
The bankrupt 'school reform manifesto' of Rhee, Klein, etc.
There are so many things wrong with the new “school reform manifesto” signed by 16 school district chiefs -- including New York’s Joel Klein and Washington’s Michelle Rhee -- and published in The Washington Post that it is hard to know where to start.

There’s the intellectual dishonesty and scapegoating: It starts by saying that everybody is responsible for improving schools but then proceeds to bash teachers, and doesn’t say a single thing about the responsibility of superintendents.

After eight years as the czar of New York City’s public schools, Klein might want to stop blaming other people for his failures.

There's historical myopia: The document says kids are just sitting around waiting for adults to do something, without noting that adults have been pushing eight years for test-centric reform favored by many of these superintendents with disastrous results.

There’s misinformation:
As President Obama has emphasized, the single most important factor determining whether students succeed in school is not the color of their skin or their ZIP code or even their parents’ income -- it is the quality of their teacher.
Wrong. Research actually shows that the home life of students is the single biggest determinant of school achievement. School chiefs can ignore it all they want, but that doesn’t change the facts. (Of course this is no excuse for leaving lousy teachers in schools, but there is equally no excuse for ignoring outside factors and blaming good teachers for things beyond their control.) The document, published in The Post's Outlook section and available here, makes the same tired call for more charter schools, the end of teacher tenure, etc., etc. -- all change initiatives guaranteed not to work.

We’ve heard it before, but, apparently, these superintendents felt the need to repeat it now, apparently to piggyback on the publicity of the wrong-headed education film “Waiting for Superman,” and the defeat in D.C.'s primary of Rhee’s political patron, Mayor Adrian Fenty.

The manifesto was initiated by Klein and Rhee, who gave it to Michael Casserly, executive director of the nonprofit Council of the Great City Schools. He then worked to persuade other schools bosses to sign on, according to a knowledgeable source.

The Washington-based council is a coalition of 65 of the nation’s largest urban public school systems and the only national organization exclusively representing the needs of these schools. Its mission, according to the Web site, is to promote the cause of urban schools and to advocate for inner-city students through legislation, research and media relations.

The organization also provides a network for school districts sharing common problems to exchange information, and to collectively address new challenges as they emerge in order to deliver the best possible education for urban youths.

Casserly, who has led the organization since 1992, is well-known in school reform circles, if not to the general public. I asked Casserly why he helped Klein win support for the document, and he responded by e-mail: “Part of the job.”

The document uses jargon that effectively calls for linking standardized test scores to teacher evaluation, a scheme that several recent studies concluded is ineffective in improving student achievement.

That doesn’t stop today’s reformers, who are obsessed with “data” and with using business practices to run schools, which are really civic institutions that should be operated on a civic model. Says the document:
“Let’s stop ignoring basic economic principles of supply and demand and focus on how we can establish a performance-driven culture in every American school.”
Um, don’t most businesses fail?

One of the signatories, Andres Alonso, the chief executive of the Baltimore City Public Schools, just signed an important agreement with the teachers union that calls for multiple measures to evaluate teachers, though this wasn’t acknowledged in the manifesto, leaving it a mystery as to why Alonso signed on.

You can read the rest of the nonsense here and come to your own conclusion.

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