Even though some people have accused me of being a blind Obama follower, I’m actually not that big a fan. I like him. He’s okay… for a politician. I really voted for Kucinich in the primaries, and if Clinton had won the primaries, I’d have voted for her for president. The truth is, with all the blue states and red states, and with all the polarization on abortion, immigration, taxation, health care, and the military; anyone who gets elected to the presidency has to be a liar and a politician. You can’t hold too tightly to your principles if you want to piss off as few people as possible.
Obama’s latest speech on education got me annoyed, though. And if that’s really his plan going forward, I don’t really see the American K-12 education system getting any better.
Because improving education is central to rebuilding our economy, we set aside over $4 billion in the Recovery Act to promote improvements in schools. This is one of the largest investments in education reform in American history. And rather than divvying it up and handing it out, we are letting states and school districts compete for it. That’s how we can incentivize excellence and spur reform and launch a race to the top in America’s public schools.
I see. So if Wall Street gets itself in trouble through excessive greed and unethical business practices, then they get a bailout. K-12 schools will get a measly (by comparison) $4 billion only if they can improve without the extra money? That’s ridiculous. With a few rare exceptions, the best schools in America are well-funded and the worst are under-funded. So withholding the money until the schools get better isn’t going to make them better.
Now I agree with what Obama said back in the debates with McCain that throwing money at schools doesn’t automatically make the schools better. Obviously. You can never just throw money at a problem to make it better. You have to carefully place the money instead of throwing it.
This is not about more tests. It’s not about teaching to the test. And it’s not about judging a teacher solely on the results of a single test.
It is about finally getting testing right, about developing thoughtful assessments that lead to better results; assessments that don’t simply measure whether students can use a pencil to fill in a bubble, but whether they possess basic knowledge and essential skills like problem-solving and creative thinking, creativity and entrepreneurship.
If you create a test that you’re judging the success or failure of a school on, you are necessarily creating a teach-to-the-test atmosphere. It’s like saying “I’m going to give raises to the employees who do what I say. But I don’t want you to do what I say. Just do your job.” If you say that as an employer, suddenly “your job” becomes “what I say.”
And good luck trying to create a standardized test that measures all that.
From the moment a student enters a school, the single most important factor in their success is the person in front of the classroom.
Really? So if I take the best teacher in the country, put her in front of a class of 30 students who have varying abilities (most of which on the low end), who all have behavioral or psychological problems, some of whom have learning disabilities of varying types; give that teacher no textbooks (or ones falling apart), no pencils, no computers, a room that’s constantly a mess; create a culture of low achievement and high grade inflation where every challenge to authority must be disciplined immediately or else the students will run amok—somehow that teacher is going to do better than a mediocre teacher with a class size of 14 students who all get outside tutoring, parental support, computers, textbooks, pencils, a clean building, a school culture of students being treated like responsible adults and, for the most part, living up to that expectation?
I’ve worked and taught in both of those environments, and I can tell you right now the mediocre teacher will get more done in class and her students will end up learning more by the end of the year, even if they’re in class for fewer hours.
Throw out your Dangerous Minds and Stand and Deliver DVDs and stop believing the myths. Having great teachers is great, but that isn’t the solution to our educational problems.
Success should be judged by results, and data is a powerful tool to determine results. We can’t ignore facts. We can’t ignore data. That’s why any state that makes it unlawful to link student progress to teacher evaluations will have to change its ways if it wants to compete for a grant.
You should not link what you perceive to be student progress to evaluation of whether a teacher is a good teacher or not. One of the best teachers I ever had was my US history teacher. She taught me stuff that lasted through college and beyond. She taught me to think critically. She taught me about instititutional racism and about feminism. I got a B+ in her class sophomore year. I got a B in her class junior year. Then I took another history class senior year and got a B-. You can see where this is going. So how would Obama’s new test get that this teacher was amazing? It wouldn’t. In fact, it would look as if she was terrible, because my performance was going down.
Better standards. Better teaching. Better schools. Data-driven results. That’s what we will reward with our Race to the Top Fund.
I’m sorry, but your plan stinks, Mr. President. It’s well-intentioned but extremely misguided. You know nothing about how to fix education in this country. Have you taught in a public school before? Are your kids in one right now? Are your daughters in an underfunded public school? No? Why not? Because you know it isn’t just about having good teachers and results. You know that your daughters are getting a better education because their school provides smaller class sizes, adequate school supplies, a whole school culture where learning is valued, and proper support and rest for its teachers.
The worst part about your plan is that even if it works the way it’s supposed to, then a handful of schools and states will get more funding and better schools, and then the other states will get less funding and worse schools. Talk about the rich getting richer.
Do you want to know how you can fix education the easy way?
- Have states evenly distribute funds to all schools within the state. Schools in rich suburbs should get no more funding than schools in urban areas.
- Focus spending on reducing class sizes. Even without textbooks, even without computers, even without desks, even with learning differences, if I have only 10 or 12 students in my classroom as opposed to 30 or 40, I can operate more effectively just being a good, decent, or great teacher instead of having to be a superhuman teacher.
- Give financial incentives to colleges and universities to reward high schools that do not inflate grades.
There. You’ve just leveled your playing field and saved yourself $4 billion.