Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Please, won't someone think of the children?

The New York Times has an interesting article on the weaker aspects of current teacher evaluation methods, playing into why maybe it's too early for mass releases of this kind of data like they did in Los Angeles, or arbitrary policies demanding that low scoring teachers be replaced.  Turns out, somewhere around a quarter of the teachers who get ranked as low performing one year will get ranked as high performing the next year...which year do you base the decision to fire them on?!? (The article doesn't get very specific on this, but the implication is that this is due to testing error, not actual improvement...I assume because the variation is strong in both directions).

On the one hand, the growing field of educational effectiveness research is a very interesting one; I think it's fairly promising in the long term, and I think it's an important thing to be looking into. On the other hand though, I will admit that I see big flashing warning signs at every turn, almost to a paranoid degree. Here's why: I think it's a mistake to assume that high quality free public education is a universal goal in this country. I think there is a significant section of this country that is looking to reform public education right out of existence...people like this guy, for example. The Republicans were making political hay by promising to abolish the Department of Education well through the 90s, defunding the public schools and sending all the white children to private ones was a favorite tactic of Southern bigots looking to sidestep integration. There is a constituency for this, people who feel that the curriculum of the public schools undermines their goals for their children (evolution, tolerance, the fact that the Aztecs were not actually Satan worshipers, Keynesian economics, non-revisionist U.S. History, who knows what else...) and that it is their right to reserve their tax money to pay for private schools that will let them decide what their children will be taught...or to localize public schools until they teach only the views held in their own homogeneous communities.* When I hear (questionable) metric after (questionable) metric proving that the public schools are failing, I do wonder if part of it is just setting the groundwork for moving people away from the expectation that public schools will educate their children. I guess what it comes down to is I'm not against standardized testing, per se, and I'm not against seeking out new ways to measure teacher performance, but I am against the rhetoric that America's public schools are failing. Or at least, not in front of those people. That's like telling your ex boyfriend that your new guy doesn't understand you.

*This isn't really a wacky point of view. I want to have a say in what my children are taught too! You know, when I have them. I just have the advantage of mostly agreeing with mainstream opinion on things that are taught in school. Also, of being right....and I'm willing to let go a little on my stranglehold of all information that would ever reach my hypothetical children ever in order to give some other kid whose parents are wrong about everything half a chance.


  1. Yes, and all reality is subjective too. Oh my god, how do I even know whether you exist or if you're just a figment of my imagination?!

    Ok, technically I may have implied that there is such a thing as non-revisionist U.S. History, and there probably isn't...but there is history that aspires to do better than the history that came before it, and that history pisses people off.

  2. Maybe I should call it anti-revisionist history?