Monday, March 05, 2012

Andrew Cuomo’s Teacher Evaluation Overhaul Meets Diane Ravitch’s Maudlin Mind

Diane Ravitch, of course, HATES any and all systems to evaluate teachers – they're all equally wonderful! – so RiShawn Biddle gives her a well-deserved ripping:

One would think education traditionalists would be as slightly relieved by the deal New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo forced the state's education department to strike with the American Federation of Teachers' state affiliate as school reformers are (slightly irrationally) exuberant. While Value-Added analysis of student test score growth over time culled from the state's standardized tests would account for at least a fifth — and as much as 40 percent — of the overall evaluation, the overall evaluation will still be largely based on classroom observations that aregenerally less accurate in reflecting their performance than student surveys. Considering that districts can still base half of the test portion of evaluations from third-party instruments (instead of from state tests, as Cuomo had wanted), teacher evaluations will still remain less useful than they could be in rewarding high-quality teaching and helping teachers improve performance. From where your editor sits, the deal is just a slight change for the better, either for good-to-great teachers or for our children. For reformers, it's a cosmetic victory, and for education traditionalists, it's far less of a defeat than they could have otherwise expected.

But for once-respectable education historian Diane Ravitch, who seems more than willing to debase whatever reputation she has left as a polemicist in order to defend failed thinking (andcollect speaking fees), the Empire State deal is still far too much to bear.

In the Education Week blog she co-writes with the equally intellectually challenged Deborah Meier, Ravitch proclaims that the deal harkens "a dark day for New York" because the new evaluation system will actually go a little further in measuring teacher performance based on the ability to improve student achievement (and thus, requiring instructors to be accountable for their work in improving student success). From where Ravitch sits, the new evaluation system is also "draconian", forces teachers to be "graded on a curve" and puts them into the awkward position of "competing with all other teachers." because teachers who do well on the classroom observation component of the evaluation may still be rated ineffective if student performance isn't improved on their watch. Ravitch is also offended that Cuomo and state legislators dare to weigh into the discussions and, in her mind, "impose an untested scheme on educators".

…What Ravitch defends is continuing a system in which laggard instruction and those who serve it up remain unaccountable and hidden from view. She defends incompetent and mediocre teachers keeping their jobs at the expense of better-performing colleagues whose success in helping students deserves public recognition and financial reward. Ravitch basically wants education to remain a preserve of anti-intellectualism in which sophisticated use of data in helping students and teachers is verboten. And, ultimately, while Ravitch may care about the futures of children, the ideas, practices, and policies she defends do little more than condemn their lives to economic and social despair.

…But this is nothing new. For much of Ravitch's career — especially after her criticisms of multiculturalism moved her into the public intellectual spotlight — she has been more of an enfant terrible than anything else. These days, she is more interested in being the Camille Paglia of education traditionalists without either the latter's intellectual curiosity, scholastic rigor, or skillfulness in bombast. So she spends more time offering straw-men arguments and faulty interpretations of research that thoughtful criticism and intelligent analysis. All in all, Ravitch doesn't deserve to be taken seriously on any level — and her thinking doesn't merit more than the passing consideration on the way to more serious thinking.

Certainly your editor will hear from Ravitch's erstwhile supporters and her friends among otherwise-sensible conservatives in the school reform movement, who will proclaim that I'm once again taking potshots at her intellectual reputation. After all, the former adore her defense of their indefensible worldview while the latter, for reasons I don't ever want to fathom are more concerned with their personal friendships with her than with calling out her sophistry (and fulfilling their own mission as reformers). But facts are what they are. And Ravitch discredits herself with every new word from her pen.


Andrew Cuomo's Teacher Evaluation Overhaul Meets Diane Ravitch's Maudlin Mind

February 21, 2012 1 Comment by RiShawn Biddle

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