Thursday, November 04, 2010

Rebutting comments on "Educating for Democracy: If Doctors Were Treated Like Teachers"

"One result of 30 years of neoliberalism is the a widespread assumption that if you're unhappy dominating or exploiting your fellow human beings, it must be because you're stupid or incapable." — Mike Marqusee

Keep the PUBLIC in public schoolsProfessor Joel Shatzky's Educating for Democracy: If Doctors Were Treated Like Teachers was a sharp critique of the way the corporate "edreform" crowd have set up teachers as the ultimate straw man for the real causes behind public education issues. His article emphatically points out the absurdity of both the language and ideologies employed by the poverty pimps and privatization pushers that front for the burgeoning charter-voucher school industry.

I posted a link to Shatzky's essay on facebook and received the following, probably well intentioned, but woefully misinformed comment:

"...any teacher that is doing a good job would be happy to be rated and have it published."

Here's my response:

The problem with this is that how do you rate something that is for the most part is entirely subjective?

Like Professor Shatzky points out, do we judge doctors by mortality rate — even if they serve high risk neighborhoods? While his piece is meant to be humorous, he builds a cogent case against using subjective methods for measuring things that are qualitative.

Now to teachers. The reason Shatzky's analogy is so apropos is that ALL current methods being proffered as a means to "rate" teachers are flawed through and through. Whether we're talking about the highly discredited "value added method," raw APIs, or test scores in general, there is an overwhelming preponderance of evidence that linking such scores to teacher performance alone are specious and biased. Education experts like Diane Ravitch, Alfie Kohn, Linda Darling-Hammond are an excellent place to start if you are actually interested in reading up on this. Ravitch's watershed The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education., especially chapters 2, 6, 8 and 9 present watertight arguments against the "ratings racket" peddled by the so-called "ed reform" crowd.

I respectively disagree with your second assertion. I personally know at least a dozen teachers that had their so-called ratings go from bad to good or good to bad, simply because they transfered from one school to another. Did these teachers suddenly become exceptional or mediocre overnight? Isn't it much more likely that the real factors that effect student performance — like poverty and access to books — are the real issue? Dr. Stephen Krashen writes extensively on this. Here's a recent post he made discussing Bracey's research. The problem is poverty: Evidence from Gerald Bracey

What's more, do we reduce education in general to an arbitrary measure of children's proficiency in the narrow confines of Math and English? Aside from reducing children to mere test scores — and hence diminishing their humanity, we rob them of the opportunity to be exposed to the widest curriculum possible. Rest assured, an obsession with testing, narrowing of curriculum, and avoidance of teaching critical thinking skills isn't how schools for the children of the wealthy operate.

I suppose if there was a fair and objective way of rating teachers, then you might be right in your assertion. However, this is far too nuanced and complex an issue to apply reductionistic methodologies in spite of what hedge fund managers, bail out recipients, talk show hosts, and convicted predatory monopolists would have us believe.


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