Why I Am Skeptical About Some Educational “Reform”

My dad forwarded me a fantastic article about education reform this morning.  The more I read about issues in education, the less I feel like a “TFA teacher.”  I don’t particularly fit the mold anymore, and I’m pretty OK with that.  I will forever be grateful for the training and support I received from TFA and I plan to be involved with the organization in some capacity as I continue in the classroom, but I am not blind to its flaws or the flaws of the broader reform movement currently taking place.  This article highlights a number of the things I take issue with.

Here are a few quotes I particularly liked/agreed with:

  • Now it’s absolutely true that effective teachers and good schools can make an enormous difference in the life chances of children. And it’s also true that struggling teachers who don’t improve after they’ve been given support and opportunities to do so need to go manage hedge funds or do some other less important work.

But when it comes to student achievement—and especially the narrow kind of culturally slanted pseudo-achievement captured by standardized test scores—there is no evidence that the test score gaps you read about constantly in the papers can be traced to bad teaching, and there is overwhelming evidence that they closely reflect the inequalities of race, class, and opportunity that follow students to school.

Teachers count a lot. But reality counts, too, and “reformers” who discount the impact of poverty are actually the ones making excuses for their failure to make poverty reduction and adequate and equitable school funding a central part of school improvement efforts. The federal government has put more effort into pressing states to tie individual teacher compensation to test scores and eliminate caps on charter schools than encouraging them to distribute more fairly the $600 billion they spend annually on K-12 education.”

  • At this point spending more money on standardized tests to track academic achievement gaps is like passing out thermometers in a malaria epidemic. People need better health care, more hospitals, and better-trained doctors. They don’t need more thermometers.”
  • “For example, in Maryland, the Montgomery County Education Association negotiated a professional growth system that included test scores as one part of an evaluation process that looks at student outcomes, classroom performance, professional responsibilities, advanced degrees, and other factors. The process requires all new teachers and teachers who’ve been identified as struggling to work with well-trained teacher coaches over a two-year period to improve their practice and results. The system has resulted in a significant increase in teacher quality, including decisions, jointly supported by the union and administration, to remove several hundred teachers from the classroom over a period of years. But last year Maryland won a Race to the Top grant that, under federal pressure, requires 50 percent of teacher evaluations to be based strictly on test scores. The grant threatens to destroy a successful system developed by collective bargaining that actually works to improve results for teachers and students.” (!!! This blows my mind!!!)
  • “Today there are about 5,000 charter schools in the United States that enroll about 4 percent of all students. Although charter laws are different in each state, in general charter schools are publicly funded but privately run. Few justify the hype they receive in Waiting for “Superman,” and those that do, like the schools featured in the film, are highly selective, privately subsidized schools that have very limited relevance for the public system. It’s like looking for models of public housing by studying luxury condo developments.” (This is why I think charters are a stop-gap that can provide some fortunate students with a quality education in the midst of a broken system, not a recipe for systemic success in the future.)
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