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Teacher Interventions, Education Policy and Common Sense

There are some indisputable laws in our natural world – If you’re gonna play in Texas, you gotta have a fiddle in the band, for example. One such law chiseled into granite over the last few decades is that if there’s one sector that doesn’t understand that relationship between the forest and the trees, it’s American public education.

I follow thousands of teachers, policy players, politicians and other interested parties on blogs (~600 subscriptions), newsletters, discussion groups and social media (namely Twitter). I don’t have to pore over mountains of commentary or content to compile a convincing list of proof; here’s a rundown exposing the blindness and general mark-missing – sometimes deliberate, sometimes not, and sometimes by simply not showing up – that came from 10 minutes of reading.

Teacher Interventions

Alexander Russo notifies us that A&E will introduce this fall a show called “Classroom Intervention” in which struggling, underperforming teachers are smacked with professional reality – namely that they struggle and underperform. Their work will be analyzed and presented to them with strategies/mechanisms to improve performance. I commented:

“From reading teacher-to-teacher discussions on blogs, chats, and events like the weekly Twitter #edchat, I had the impression that all teachers were motivated, future-thinking “lifelong learners” – along with most of their colleagues.

That A&E has rounded up a few teachers in need of improvement will be a difficult reality for many of the education cult leaders to deny.”

I poked around the internet and there’s remarkably little discussion of this show. As I said, it flies in the face of so much discussion I witness – hop on to hashtags.org and search for #edchat. Rhetoric, ego-boosting and back-patting rules the day – every day.

There’s a place for encouragement, but this show raises many fundamental questions about education in 2010:

  • Why are these teachers ill-equipped to teach effectively?
  • Did they go through a teacher training program at the undergraduate level? What faults in teacher education led them to underperform in the classroom?
  • If they were certified to teach by a state, how is it that they enter the classroom without the basic skills they need to succeed? Is the certification process that flawed? If so, how can it be improved?
  • Why is it necessary for A&E to do interventions when colleges, certification bodies and day-to-day administrators – from their department heads to principals to superintendents to school boards – are already in place to monitor, serve and improve teaching?

We know the answers to some of these – and there are many more basic questions. The point is that these are significant issues that aren’t being discussed by the education sector.

Bridging the Gap Between… Something

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute calls attention to the current divide between education research, policy-making and implementation:

“Bridging the divide between education research and education policy can be difficult, but we came one step closer this week when we co-hosted the first Emerging Education Policy Scholars program with the American Enterprise Institute. The program aims to cultivate emerging talent in the education policy sector.”

Yes, it’s difficult – and mostly because our public education players have failed to address seminal issues that lead to the difficulties.

The summit for budding ed policy scholars purports:

  • To enlarge the pool of talent and ideas from which the education-policy arena currently draws;
  • To introduce scholars to key players in the education policy arena; and
  • To increase understanding of how the worlds of policy and practice intersect with scholarly research in education and related fields.

TBF and AEI, for all their good works, shows their fundamental misunderstanding of the problem in the very first sentence: Enlarging the pool of talent is less important than recruiting more talented people. It’s not that all education policy folks are dolts – they aren’t, especially at those two outfits – but the goal doesn’t address education’s inability to attract high-level talent. Applicants to education-related fields are in the bottom quartile for GRE scores as reported by ETS. Do we really need more of the same – stocking the pond with third-rate fish? – or do we need to find out why the whoppers are choosing engineering and physics instead of education policy, and then find out how to change that pattern?

Aside from the quality over quantity issue, we need to call this what it is: A networking event poorly disguised as an analytical conference. Young folks in the D.C. area will get to shake hands with Mike Petrilli and Rick Hess and attend the all-important “cocktail hour”:

“The event will also allow ample time—during discussion sessions, meals, and a cocktail hour—for scholars to build professional connections and share research and ideas.”

Think the cocktail hour isn’t important to policy wonks? In April, I was at an education event in New York City in which a young gentleman stood up to ask a panelist to give him “talking points for cocktail parties” re: school reform.

That’s the education policy culture we’ve got, folks.

46,000 Hours of “Poker Face”

And, on the ground, we’ve got higher ed’s librarians re-writing and lip-synching Lady Gaga songs. There are quite a few students, employees and faculty in this video – I stopped counting at 16 – who I’d love to introduce to the kids on my block. 93% of them qualify for free/reduced lunch and only ~30% of the elementary school’s 5th graders read with any degree of proficiency (~100% are proficient in Gaga).

The librarians can’t be blamed for 638,000 people having watched and laughed through their goofy video (which includes a witty Boolean line), though the opportunity cost of it all could have been considered – roughly 46,000 hours have been spent just watching the thing. And that’s the rub – On Our Minds at Scholastic asks:

“There are librarians, future librarians, shelves stacked high with books…and Lady Gaga! What’s not to love??”

My answer: 46,000 wasted hours within and without the ed community while kids struggle with the basics – the basics those in the video have likely committed themselves to, at least in theory, improving. Harsh, but true.

“No, Really!”

Over at The Educated Reporter, Linda Perlstein advises that we spice up the summer by focusing on the insignificant:

“No, really! One of my favorite pieces to write on the ed beat was about an odd policy on the books of the Montgomery County Public Schools, encouraging teachers to mix up alphabetical order so as to not discriminate against the Z kids. The article took only an afternoon to report and write, and would have been even shorter and sweeter were it not for the Metro editor’s superfluous insistence that I include an expert comment and find out—on deadline, natch—whether every other D.C.-area had such a policy on the books. I got more feedback on that piece than anything else I wrote all month.

Maybe you too should look for some archaic or offbeat policies on the books of your school system, if you can’t figure out anything better to do before pitchers and catchers report.”

I commented on the piece:

“As a guy, I’ve been a “T” all my life. In most of my elementary school years, we lined up for lunch alphabetically. This meant that in a period ~40 minutes, I spent 10-15 minutes in line and had the balance to eat. Those at the front of the line didn’t have to wait for their meals or eat them on a deadline. Hungry 8-year old alphabet cellar dwellers appreciate switching it up now and then.

That it’s policy is the part worth noting. We’ve got such an absence of common sense that we need it to be explicit policy to appear at all – and that’s troubling.”

Believe it or not, Montgomery County Schools has bigger fish to fry – nearly a quarter of the County’s Hispanic students don’t graduate, for example. (In fairness, perhaps it’s an alphabetical discrimination issue?)

At ParentHood.org, Wondermom3 opines on the issue:

“Wondermom3: I always dismiss my kiddos to lunch by who is sitting criss-cross applesauce, but what do I know? LOL.”

LOL, indeed.

Education as a House

If those involved in public education were instead building and developing a household, we’d have the #edchat, ed school and teacher back-patter folks discussing issues like, “What is a house anyway?” while ignoring their inability to produce heads of household who can ensure that the thing actually functions.

We’d have think-tanks talking about how best to build the house while paying too little mind to who’s in the construction crew and too much mind to holding impressive neighborhood barbecues.

We’d have the media specialists giggling over drapes, carpeting and design accessories while the roof leaks, the basement is flooded and the foundation crumbles.

And we’d have the journalists – our home inspectors and code enforcers in this analogy – musing about all the goings-on while dodging the charging 800lb gorillas that lay waste to the neighborhood.

We’ve got some basic questions that need answers.

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