Monday, January 11, 2010

Critique of LDH

Robert's use of the word "heretics" is interesting – it means: "one who dissents from an accepted belief or doctrine."  Robert's point is that I've reserved some of my harshest attacks for people who are actually trying to do what's best for kids, rather than those who are deliberately throwing kids under the bus out of self-interest.  I addressed the reasons for this in my critique of LDH two years ago (the full post is at:


I have no doubt that she really cares about kids, closing the achievement gap and doing what's right to improve schools, so right there you'd think that she's hugely better than, say, teacher union bosses who will stop at nothing to preserve their unions' interests, even when they're totally contrary to what's best for kids.


But I actually think people like Linda Darling-Hammond (and Jonathan Kozol) are actually more dangerous to the school reform movement precisely because they tend have pure motives. 


All sensible people are rightly skeptical when union bosses call for more spending and smaller class size (gee, what a shocker that they favor more money to more teachers) as the solution to all that ails education, but they drop their guard when well-credentialed, well-intentioned people like Prof. Darling-Hammond talk about education reform, even when their solutions, rooted in the Alice in Wonderland world of ed schools, are either very limited or flat-out wrong.  


These prototypical ed school types have typically never worked a day in their lives in the private sector and are oblivious to (or enemies of) things that, in the real world, drive success or failure of organizations like accountability, choice, competition, incentives, the importance of not only identifying and rewarding success but -- egads! -- identifying and punishing failure, etc.  Worse yet, these folks are not interested in reform unless the reformers have credentials they deem acceptable -- yet for too long, the very process of obtaining those credentials is antithetical to making the reforms.


The failure to recognize the true nature of people like Prof. Darling-Hammond (again, I don't for an instant question her good intentions) leads too often to important people like Sen. Obama [it's sure good to see how wrong I was!], who could be real leaders on this issue, instead mouthing meaningless platitudes about toothless reforms fed to them by these so-called experts who, though certainly they would never admit it, even to themselves, are carrying water for the enemies of reform.


My primary quarrel with Prof. Darling-Hammond is not that what she says/writes is all wrong, but rather that in all of her writings, I can't find a single word about the core problem in American education: the broken, dysfunctional system, with awful bureaucracies, skewed incentives, little accountability, and powerful, entrenched interests defending it.  In fact, I can't think of anything important she's said or written that wouldn't be embraced and endorsed by the teachers unions. 


For example, as I discuss below, her Marshall Plan for teachers sounds great, but in the absence of reforms that address the broken system -- reforms that she either ignores or is hostile to -- it will simply end up costing a lot of money and won't change anything.


To summarize, let me be clear: I think that Linda Darling-Hammond is little more than a thinly disguised shill for the teachers unions and that her ideas, if adopted, would likely result in much higher spending and little or no improvement in our schools.  I can suggest 100 far better people for Obama to listen to if he's really serious about education reform.


Having made very clear my issues with Jonathan Kozol (see the posts above), why so I have similar views of Prof. Darling-Hammond?  Let me count the ways:

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