Odd Day


So, here’s what’s happening. I’ve written a post for another blog and hopefully it will be up soon and I will link to it when it goes up. And next week, no post because it’s Pesach and I’ll be celebrating with my family.

And that’s all I was going to say today. I mean, I could talk about Steubenville, but it’s too depressing and I have nothing to say that hasn’t been said a million times. But then I was watching Bill Maher and he had on Michelle Rhee, who I already hate because she talks smack about my cousin (and because I fundamentally disagree with her on education), and she said something I want to talk about so I’m going to.

Bill Maher asked her what any individual teacher can do in an environment where poverty and a lack of education and/or ability to be involved on the part of the parents seems to create the major problem. Rhee insisted teachers CAN make a difference, and cited her experience visiting an underperforming school at which most classes were ill-attended. But one teacher’s classroom was full to the brim that first period, with 35 kids in the room. She asked one of the, as she described, “tougher”-looking kids in the room what was up with that, and he said this teacher was really good because he always teaches them something new every day, and because he always answers all the questions they have. Later, she saw him and his friends walking out of the building despite the fact that they still should have been in class. They said that the other teachers were boring, so although they made a point of making it into first period, they were out for the day now. They had better stuff to do.

Rhee’s point is that this teacher is awesome enough to get these otherwise unmotivated kids out of bed and into school in the mornings just because they like being in his classroom. Which is great. I mean, it’s not great that these guys view school as an entertainment option instead of a responsibility/door to their future, but good for that teacher for having a dynamic, interesting classroom.

But I wanted Maher to ask the follow-up that has to be on anyone’s mind who cares about education and the direction “reform” has taken in this country – “Do the students in this teacher’s class get higher test scores?” Rhee is all about test scores to keep teachers accountable, right? So is the good pedagogy she witnessed correlated to good test scores or what? And if not (and I strongly, strongly suspect not – if for no other reason than, these kids walked out of the building when no longer sufficiently stimulated. Do you really think they show up on test day?), doesn’t Rhee need to re-evaluate what standards she uses to “hold teachers accountable”?

Like my cousin, I’m not against holding teachers accountable for doing well at their jobs. I do think that “doing well at their jobs” cannot mean “Every single teacher must be an amazing superhero with creative and engaging lesson plans every day who obviously does nothing 24-7 but teach and plan to teach and then all of those plans are awesome! And every student tests in the 99th percentile!” In the first place, that’s not how math works. If you honestly think that, if the teachers were just trying a little harder, we could get every student in this country somewhere into the 90th percentile on standardized tests that are GRADED ON A CURVE, you are too stupid to pass those same tests. In the second, amazing superheroes in ANY job are really rare. And they’re even rarer when the pay is what we can afford to pay public school teachers. (Which is not always terrible, depending on where you live, but if someone was that amazing, intelligent, creative, and energetic, and willing to dedicated all their time to a job, they could probably get paid significantly more elsewhere.)

But anyway. While it’s fine to hold teachers accountable, you have to have standards that make sense. And if you are calling out one kind of teacher as the good kind, the kind that can make a difference, you have to make sure your evaluative processes would reward that kind of teacher. And if you don’t, you’re either too lazy to do it or you’re committed to your own evaluative processes for some other reason that has nothing to do with genuinely wanting the best schools for our kids.

So, Michelle Rhee, did that teacher’s students do well on standardized tests?


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