Stop Trashing Teachers!
Diane Ravitch with a full-throated column, filled with a few good points (merit pay is WAY down my list of priorities, for example), but mostly nonsense and distortions. I don't have time to (yet again) rebut every line, but three paragraphs are worthy of comment:
A) After reading her article, I don't think Ravitch has actually SEEN Waiting for Superman (which reminds me of her critiques of high-performing charter schools, WHICH SHE'S NEVER VISITED!) – either that or she's deliberately distorting the movie. For example, there is NOTHING in the movie that even remotely smacks of privatization, and it is very PRO-teacher (it's just anti-bad teacher). Ravitch's "research" is beyond sloppy – it's reckless and irresponsible. It's fine for her to be a shill for the unions (which she is), but too many people still think she's an impartial researcher.
For the past week, the national media has launched an attack on American public education that is unprecedented in our history. NBC devoted countless hours to panels stacked with "experts" who believe that public education is horrible because it has so many "bad" teachers and "bad" principals. The same "experts" appeared again and again to call for privatization, breaking teachers' unions, and mass firings of "bad" educators. Oprah devoted two shows to the same voices. The movie Waiting for Superman, possibly the most ballyhooed documentary of all time, explains patiently that poor test scores are caused by bad teachers, that bad teachers are protected for life by their unions, and that the answer to our terrible test scores is privatization. If only we fire enough teachers every year, goes the oft-repeated claim, our national test scores will soar to meet those of Finland, the highest scoring nation.
B) Her defense of the tenure system is correct in its roots, but her insinuation that there's a reasonable process that allows the dismissal of horrific teachers is beyond laughable:
The claim that "tenure" is a guarantee of lifetime employment is a canard. Professors in higher education get lifetime tenure, but teachers in K-12 schools do not have lifetime employment: they have the right to due process if the principal wants to fire them. Teachers get due process rights only after a principal agrees that they have earned it. The reason for due-process rights is that teachers have been fired because of their race, their religion, their sexual orientation, or because a supervisor didn't like them. Teachers with due process can be fired, but only after a hearing by an impartial hearing officer.
C) And here's an entirely new line of attack: if you evaluate teachers and the evaluations are made public, it can lead to teacher suicides (I am NOT making this up):
Testing experts tried to explain why this method is likely to mislabel teachers and why it is so error-prone that it must be used—if at all—with extreme caution. One teacher who was rated "less effective" than his peers was Rigoberto Ruelas. A few days ago, Mr. Ruelas committed suicide. Many educators blamed the Los Angeles Times for his death, but it is impossible to know what his state of mind was. The Times reported his death and noted that he taught in a neighborhood that was one of the city's most impoverished and gang-ridden, and that he had a nearly perfect attendance record. Former students of Mr. Ruelas' wrote on websites to express their admiration for him, to explain how he reached out to the most difficult students, how he was so kind and gentle in a tough, tough neighborhood, how he was the best teacher they ever had.