First, let’s do the irony: Think outside box inside S.C. classrooms by SC’s executive director of StudentsFirstSC (a political journeyman, and never an educator) is the least outside the box commentary you can read.
Propaganda and baseless claims from a deceptive organization—this is what we face in SC:
- “The key is developing real-world solutions to help students learn, regardless of the hurdles they face outside of the classroom.” No. This is a harmful and failed approach. We need to address inequity in children’s lives and in their schools. Asking children to pretend their real lives don’t exit while they happen to be in school is cruel.
- “Quality teachers should have the freedom to fully use their passion to fuel innovation within their classrooms.” Hint at this sham Op-Ed: “innovation.” A hollow “business” term that means nothing.
- “A great example of innovation is happening right here in Charleston. As recently highlighted in The Post and Courier last week, Meeting Street Elementary at Brentwood is a local, public-private partnership. In a short time, this school has achieved remarkable results—setting challenging goals for students and working to help them achieve more.” There remains no proof of these claims except by MSE advocates and those who benefit from such claims.
- “South Carolina’s embrace of educators from Teach for America is a step in the right direction for our state.” TFA is de-professionalizing teaching, has failed as a sham organization, and has seen its popularity significantly decline because of the harm the program does to its recruits and the students they teach.
- “Bradford Swann is executive director of StudentsFirstSC, a non-profit, membership- based organization working to ensure all students have access to great teachers and a quality education, regardless of the ZIP code in which they live.” This is a pollitical propaganda organization that has no credibility—begun by the thoroughly discredited Michelle Rhee and run by political want-to-be’s.
StudentsFirst churns out the same Op-Eds all over the U.S.—piling on lie after lie in the seemingly never-ending parade of dishonesty in education reform.
Quite disturbing, however, is that this sort of dishonesty has been refuted for decades. For example, I published a piece in 1999, predicting and addressing this exact phenomenon.
A New Honesty in Education—Positivist Measures in a Post-Modern World addressed virtually every element of the recurring Op-Eds by StudentsFirst minions and other edureform robots.
Let me catalog a few here, and, again, this is from 1999 (all directly quoted from the article, with some emphasis added):
- The debates swirling around education never stray too far from the fore-front of key concerns for Americans. In South Carolina, for example, education grew to be a central issue of the 1998 governor’s race—the arguments centering on the lottery and video poker versus vouchers and high standards for teachers and students. Concurrent with the political season, The Atlantic ran a feature article on education—Nicholas Lemann’s “‘Ready Read!'” applauding Robert E. Slavin’s Success for All reading program. Both the South Carolina governor’s race and the Lemann article epitomize a central aspect of the current educational debate—dishonesty. That dishonesty runs through almost all the educational discourse within political arenas; such dishonesty grows from the clash inherent in the power of positivist measurements—primarily through standardized testing—within a culture that is concurrently influenced by post-modern perspectives.
- Since the rise of Taylorism at the turn of the century, education has been driven by a belief in empirical data, the belief that we can objectively generate data from standardized tests to assess both individual students and entire educational systems (Kliebard, 1995, pp. 81-82).
- We must be honest about textbooks and curriculum programs, we must be honest about standardized testing, we must be honest about the nature of educating, and we must be honest with our students in the classroom.
- Gerald W. Bracey (1997) and Herbert M. Kliebard (1995), among others, have noted that throughout the 20th century, the American educational debate has been rife with dishonesty when it benefited both politicians and educators.
- They touted higher standards for teachers (including a new testing format that would reward existing teachers with a bonus if they would take the test and would raise the score needed to gain initial certification); higher standards and a stricter, more scope-and-sequenced curriculum; and choice in education driven by vouchers.
- Lemann clearly embraces a belief in empirical data, a belief that schools should produce workers, and a belief that teachers should get out of the way of a content-rich prescribed curriculum.
- Soon politicians will realize (some already have) that if a test is designed first, and if that test dictates a prescribed curriculum that can be scripted, and if teachers can be forced to train students along that and only that curricular course, tests scores will increase, the public will be pleased (though horribly fooled), and the politicians’ careers will have been boosted.
- Educators must acknowledge that we are increasingly overwhelming students, primarily because too many factions contribute to the educational mix—parents through school boards, politicians through legislation, publishers through textbooks, and educators as practitioners. Prescribed curriculum guides, statewide standards, and textbooks often create a monster too large for either teachers or students to handle.
- A second area for educators to attack vigorously and honestly is the standardized test.
- We must assert honestly that education is still not good enough; it never will be.
- Students leaving third or fourth grade as independent and willing readers will benefit more from their educational experience than our current focus on third graders taking a wide range of standardized tests that do not force the students to produce anything, except merely to bubble.
- Clinging to that which is easily transferred to the student, that which is most manageable to assess, is the most morally and educationally bankrupt behavior existing in education.
Sound familiar? These warning from almost two decades ago?
The StudentsFirst playbook is predictable, but it is also tired and thoroughly disproven.
I begged for a new honesty in education as I taught in public schools throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
When will political leaders, the media, and the public choose to listen to educators and not con artists out for their own political gain? 
 Yes, I know, a very hollow questions in the 2016 presidential election.
While discussing with a colleague strategies for responding to first-year students’ essays, I stressed the importance of giving students feedback, but only when students are required to respond to that feedback in some way—such as revising essays.
My standard line on this is: “Don’t be a martyr.”
In other words, too often educators work long and hard just to work long and hard—without monitoring if and how that work translates into student learning.
Teaching writing and handling the paper-load are incredibly demanding teaching tasks even when done efficiently.
Earlier that same day in my foundations class, a student raised a question about Teach For America—leading to my pointed criticisms and rejection of TFA. Much of my concerns about TFA are grounded in the program’s attracting young, smart, and idealistic college graduates and then using their “missionary zeal” in dehumanizing ways that negatively impact TFA recruits and their students.
Just this morning, I noticed Walt Gardner treading on the same topics, asking Is Martyrdom Necessary to Improve Schools?
Historically and currently, teaching cannot be separated from the broader sexism and misogyny in the U.S. Most K-12 teachers continue to be women, and in many subtle and blunt ways, teaching is burdened by sexist stereotypes and expectations.
While women labor under social pressures to be subservient wives and sacrificial mothers, teachers also feel compelled—and often perpetuate themselves—the twin burdens of martyrdom and missionary zeal.
Paradoxically, TFA as a non-traditional source of teachers is the most extreme example of why all educators must resist being martyrs or missionaries.
Two excellent works of scholarship—one by Sarah Matsui and one edited by T. Jameson Brewer and Kathleen deMarrais—investigate how TFA exploits the idealism of recruits (often framed positively by TFA as “missionary zeal”) and then demands martyrdom from these young and idealistic candidates, made even more disturbing since the program depends on only 2 years of service, thus creating an expendable revolving door of teachers in the field.
Despite the warranted criticisms of TFA by traditional teacher education and critical scholars, we must not ignore that these demands of TFA core members are disturbingly common among traditional teachers as well—some from the norms of teaching, and some among teachers themselves. And demands that teachers be martyrs and missionaries have been intensified over the past thirty years of accountability as political and public discourse has increasingly blamed teachers for low test scores among impoverished and minority students.
Let’s consider, then, why both martyrdom and missionary zeal are the wrong poses of any educators.
Broadly, crisis discourse about school and teacher quality that marginalizes and ignores social factors—such as poverty—driving measurable learning outcomes works to justify extreme and impossible expectations for teachers. However, education is not in crisis, but is an incremental process over a long period of time.
Yes, ER doctors often work in crisis conditions, and having extreme expectations for their profession may be appropriate, but education requires patience and the fostering of relationship over time.
Impoverished and minority students are being mis-served far more significantly from cumulative neglect—limited access to challenge courses and experienced/certified teachers—than from urgent harm (although, regretfully, some students still are exposed to such harms).
That cumulative neglect does not need martyrdom nor missionary zeal—both of which, ultimately, are damaging, psychologically and physically, for teachers directly and then their students indirectly (see Matsui).
While many with professions identify themselves strongly with their professions, especially teachers, allowing your profession to consume you (martyrdom) is self-defeating—just as missionary zeal as extreme idealism will ultimately be deflating.
Having idealism and lofty goals are powerful. And while fatalism is corrosive, having unattainable and unrealistic goals-as-demands is just as destructive.
Both martyrdom and missionary zeal are often grounded in good intentions, but as Paul Gorski explains, good intentions cannot justify harmful and misguided practices.
And finally, missionary zeal like colonialism ultimately fails students because, Gorski argues, “despite overwhelmingly good intentions, most of what passes for intercultural education practice, particularly in the US, accentuates rather than undermines existing social and political hierarchies.”
As I offer my beginning and early teachers, teaching is an evolving practice—it is about baby steps.
Ultimately, educators must resist martyrdom—working long and hard just to show we are working long and hard—and must reject missionary zeal, particularly in our work with vulnerable populations of students.
Our profession and our students will be better served if we are fully and richly human, diverse in who we are and how we be. To teach is to more forward carefully, with purpose, and intentionally.
Let us leave martyrdom to the mythologies and missionary zeal to a history we have learned to rise above.
Read Julian Vasquez Heilig’s What other universities should learn from UT, and note especially this:
Not discussed in the current ruling, but I believe relevant, is that Fisher did not fall below a bright line by which whites were rejected and minorities admitted. As reported in The Nation, UT-Austin offered admission “to some students with lower test scores and grades than Fisher. Five of those students were Black or Latino. Forty-two were white.” Additionally, “168 black and Latino students with grades as good as or better than Fisher’s who were also denied entry into the university that year.”
It is unfortunate that Fisher believed wrongly, in spite of factual evidence and data to the contrary, that she was discriminated against because she was white. In fact, by pursuing a case where the data was very clear on this point, she continued the insecurity and insidiousness of racial prejudice that has unfortunately permeated our society for centuries.
There may be many cracks in Maintaining the Charter Mirage: Progressive Racism, including Paul Hewitt’s A modest proposal for charter schools; consider this:
Now that I have established myself as an opponent of charter schools I have a proposal for the Walton family and charter school proponents everywhere. I propose that you go against my friend’s admonition that we need public schools for charters to succeed. If charter schools are so good, let’s make every school in the current school district a charter school. Let’s dissolve the traditional school board and have them become trustees of school facilities. Let’s take all the existing school facilities and have charter school groups nationwide bid through proposals to take over and run that school. State law may need to be altered a little for this grand experiment. For example, no student living in the current school boundaries could transfer to a school in another neighboring school district. This would ensure that the charters serve all students in the community including the special education, English language learners, and at-risk children to ensure that no child could be “pushed out.”
Just imagine, every school would be a charter school and parents could have their choice of schools for their child. The traditional lottery system would be used at each school, and if the parent wasn’t lucky enough to get their first choice they could go to their second or third. Because the population of the entire school district would be involved there could be no discrimination and all students, even the at-risk, would be served. The traditional creaming of top students that is the major criticism of charters would be eliminated. This would be a completely free-market school choice system.
The double irony to this confrontation as (mostly) satire is that transforming all public schools into charter schools has already occurred—in New Orleans; see Endgame: Disaster Capitalism, New Orleans, and the Charter Scam.
And while edureformers continue to mislead political leaders and the public about such turnover/turnarounds, New Orleans is but one example of how these market-based reforms have proven to be utter failures.
In 1949, former NCTE president and English teacher/educator Lou LaBrant argued: “Our language programs have been set up as costume parties and not anything more basic than that” (p. 16).
In 2016, former NCTE president and esteemed educator and activist Joanne Yatvin confronts the same disturbing dynamic in her Too Little and Too Late.
Regretfully, Yatvin’s powerful refuting of the National Reading Panel, at the base of No Child Left Behind, was mostly ignored by political leaders and the public. Yet, she is once again ringing a bell that must be heard:
To the Editor:
As a retired educator, still deeply involved with the teaching of reading and writing, I was dismayed to read that the Portland Public schools are still tied to one-size-fit all commercial materials for teaching reading and considering combining pieces from several of them to make a new program. By this time experienced teachers should have learned that each child learns to read in his own time frame and in his own way, and that real literature and non-fiction are far better tools than anything concocted by commercial publishers.
Learning to read is not all that difficult when children are given interesting and well-written books for group activities and allowed to choose books that appeal to them to read on their own. It also helps when adults read aloud interesting books with illustrations on a regular basis. That is how children learn vocabulary and begin to understand the world outside their own homes and neighborhoods. Reading poetry helps too, because of the repeated word sounds and lines.
Over all, we should remember that reading and writing have been around for many centuries, and that the people who wanted and needed to use those skills found them easy to learn– often without a teacher, and certainly without any breakdown into separate skills, workbook exercises, or tests.
The entire accountability reform movement driven by ever-new standards and ever-new high-stakes tests benefits mostly the education market—not students, not teachers.
In fact, as my current graduate literacy course has revealed to me, teachers both recognize the negative impact of required reading programs and materials and feel powerless to set those materials aside in order to implement what their children actually need.
I entered the field of education fueled by the belief that traditional schooling needed to be reformed. I am a public school advocate, but I also recognize that traditional public schools have served white middle-class and affluent children well (even though, as I can attest, that population often excels in spite of traditional schooling) while mostly failing vulnerable populations of students, specifically black, brown, and poor children.
My fellow pro-public school friends have been proudly sharing Jack Schneider’s America’s Not-So-Broken Education System.
While both Schneider and those sharing his piece are, I am certain, driven by good intentions, I must caution that such defenses of public schools suffer from whitewashing—a not-so-subtle middle-class lens that fails to adequately emphasize the racist and classist policies entrenched in public schools.
Public education as a social reform mechanism has not happened; public schools more often than not reflect and perpetuate the very worst aspects of our society.
If I may, I believe those of us who are adamant about supporting public education are committed to the potential, the promise that public education could be or should be something better, at the very least a model of equity if not a lever for equity.
Related to the above concern, access to experienced and certified teachers is a key aspect of both how our public schools have failed and how we are currently committed to the very worst aspects of education reform (for example, Teach For America and value-added methods for teacher evaluation).
Derek Black has compiled a powerful and important examination of Taking Teacher Quality Seriously.
See the abstract:
Although access to quality teachers is one of the most important aspects of a quality education, explicit concern with teacher quality has been conspicuously absent from past litigation over the right to education. Instead, past litigation has focused almost exclusively on funding. Though that litigation has narrowed gross funding gaps between schools in many states, it has not changed what matters most: access to quality teachers.
This Article proposes a break from the traditional approach to litigating the constitutional right to education. Rather than constitutionalizing adequate or equal funding, courts should constitutionalize quality teaching. The recent success of the constitutional challenge to tenure offers the first step in this direction. But the focus on teacher tenure alone is misplaced. Eliminating tenure, without addressing more important fundamental challenges for the teaching profession, may just make matters worse. Thus, this Article argues for a broader intervention strategy. When evaluating claims that students have been deprived of their constitutional right to education, courts should first ensure that states equally distribute existing quality teachers, regardless of the supply. Courts should then address state policies that affect the supply of teachers, which include far more than just salaries. When those remedies still prove insufficient to ensure access to quality teachers, courts must ensure that the removal of ineffective teachers is possible.
And a perfect companion for your weekend reading comes from 1969: “Bullshit and the Art of Crap -Detection” by Neil Postman.
Here’s just a taste:
Thus, my main purpose this afternoon is to introduce the subject of bullshit to the NCTE. It is a subject, one might say, that needs no introduction to the NCTE, but I want to do it in a way that would allow bullshit to take its place alongside our literary heritage, grammatical theory, the topic sentence, and correct usage as part of the content of English instruction. For this reason, I will have to use 15 minutes or so of your time to discuss the taxonomy of bullshit. It is important for you to pay close attention to this, since I am going to give a quiz at the conclusion.
Please read as a powerful companion to my confronting the very “bad” edujournalism we experience daily.
The ‘advertorial’ is, in my opinion, the lowest form of advertising. Perhaps you’ve never heard this word before, but you have surely nearly fallen for this kind of deceit when reading what you think is a newspaper article with a flashy headline before noticing, in small print, the words ‘advertisement.’
Education Week used to be the gold standard in education reporting. I can remember how proud I was in October 1995 when, at just 25 years old, I got my first ‘published’ article in a ‘real’ publication, Education Week’s Teacher Magazine, for a piece I wrote called ‘Natural Born Teacher.’ Over the next six years, I was always so proud whenever I’d get a piece accepted into either Teacher Magazine or Education Week.
As the internet grew and Twitter gained popularity, I joined and of course followed Education Week. Though I’ve found Education Week to be generally slanted…
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In Money, Race and Success: How Your School District Compares, the NYT, like most of mainstream media, is begrudgingly coming to admit that race and class inequity in the U.S. has a profound impact on the education of children—and that simply tinkering (badly) with school policy is not enough to change that reality:
We’ve long known of the persistent and troublesome academic gap between white students and their black and Hispanic peers in public schools.
We’ve long understood the primary reason, too: A higher proportion of black and Hispanic children come from poor families. A new analysis of reading and math test score data from across the country confirms just how much socioeconomic conditions matter.
Children in the school districts with the highest concentrations of poverty score an average of more than four grade levels below children in the richest districts.
But then there is this:
The data was [sic] not uniformly grim. A few poor districts — like Bremen City, Ga. and Union City, N.J. — posted higher-than-average scores. They suggest the possibility that strong schools could help children from low-income families succeed.
“There are some outliers, and trying to figure out what’s making them more successful is worth looking at,” said Mr. Reardon, a professor of education and lead author of the analysis.
Well, no, if we find outliers—and virtually all data have outliers in research—we should not waste our time trying to figure out how we can make outliers the norm.
The norm is where we should put our efforts in order to confront what is, in fact, not “puzzling” (used earlier in the article) at all; the data are very clear:
What emerges clearly in the data is the extent to which race and class are inextricably linked, and how that connection is exacerbated in school settings.
Not only are black and Hispanic children more likely to grow up in poor families, but middle-class black and Hispanic children are also much more likely than poor white children to live in neighborhoods and attend schools with high concentrations of poor students.
Our great education reform failure is one of failing to rethink our questions and our goals.
Let’s stop trying to find the “miracle” in a rare few schools where vulnerable students appear to succeed despite the odds against them. With time and careful consideration, we must admit, those appearances almost always are mirages.
Let’s instead put our energy in eradicating the poverty, racism, and sexism that disadvantages some students, vulnerable populations easily identified by race and social class, so that we can educate all students well.
And while we are making efforts at social policy, let’s end the in-school policies that we know “exacerbate” inequity: tracking, teacher assignments (and TFA), high-stakes testing, grade retention, discipline policies grounded in zero tolerance and “no excuses,” and segregation through school choice (including charter schools).
Education reform, as was highlighted in the original court case examined in the South Carolina documentary The Corridor of Shame, is obsessed with playing the hero by seeing who can pull the most babies out of the river.
And then examining the ones who survive the potential drowning in order to “make” all babies survive the trauma of being cast down stream.
But no one seems interested in walking upstream to stop babies being thrown in.
Life and learning do not need to be something children survive—and we must confront that we have decided that this is exactly what we are willing to accept for “other people’s children.”
It would not be so if we believed and acted upon that “they’re all our children.”
A recurring theme running through my blog posts—one that could be addressed daily—is that education journalism is almost always significantly misleading and way too often completely inaccurate.
Mainstream media and journalists are trapped in false but compelling narratives about schools, learning and teaching, children, poverty, and race. Journalism itself fails education as a field because of a simplistic “both sides” to a rather cartoonish “objective” journalism.
As I have detailed too often, media coverage of education includes primarily voices and perspectives of people with no or very little experience or expertise in education, but when a few contrary perspectives are offered, those are typically framed as “some critics”—with no effort to establish which claims are credible or not.
Sadly, the best unmasking of the essential failure of the media has been by one of our faux-media comedians, John Oliver, who highlighted that even if there are two sides to an issue, one can be overwhelmingly credible while the other is mostly baseless; therefore, placing them as one-versus-one misleads the public on the weight of the arguments.
So when I received yet another email from the Education Writers Association (EWA)—who is extremely proud of itself—announcing their top award for education reporting, I wondered: How good is the best edujournalism?
The EWA Fred M. Hechinger Grand Prize for Distinguished Education Reporting was awarded for Failure Factories (The Tampa Bay Times), written by Cara Fitzpatrick, Lisa Gartner and Michael LaForgia. The series includes the following:
- Failure Factories
- Lessons in Fear
- Who’s My Teacher Today
- Hear From the Kids
- Reports Spur Visit From Education Chief
Without question, this series is comprehensive and it confronts some incredibly important issues about public schooling: the significant relationship between race/poverty and student achievement; the plague of segregation and resegregation in public institutions such as schools; and the huge inequities of education faced by racial minorities and impoverished students such as teacher assignments, school safety, funding, and discipline practices.
And while the series does a solid job of raising these issues, my first response is that these are all old news—I mean very old news.
That our public schools have failed poor and black/brown students is a recurring message over the last century—little different before or after the Civil Rights movement.
Therein lies a real problem with even the so-called best edujournalim—journalists without a historical lens afforded those with expertise in a field are ripe to fall prey to the lens of a novice.
One such failure of this series and then how the EWA praised the series can be found in the quoted judge’s comment:
Bravo to this team and the paper for taking an all-too-common story (low achievement in a high-poverty area) and digging past the excuses to reveal a shameful history of indifference and, most troubling, willful neglect. I was awed by the dogged reporting, the sheer volume of interviews and data-crunching, and the courageous analysis that put the blame exactly where it needed to be. But the true brilliance of this work is found in the stories of the children who were robbed of an education they deserved. How many other school districts in America might have the same story to tell?
The series title “Failure Factories” is but one of many triggers for the pervasive and ugly “no excuses” narrative that is all the rage in the U.S.
You see, once again, this series oversimplifies the story of educating vulnerable populations of students: racism and classism are merely excuses for the schools charged with high concentrations of vulnerable students.
And as the judge notes above, this is all about “blame”—and keeping the focus on those damn failing schools.
The shame is that without this corrosive and ugly framing, there is an incredible amount of work in this series that does deserve praise. We should be asking: Why do we need yet anther round of test scores to admit and confront race and class inequity—especially when high-stakes standardized testing itself is racist and classist?
The truth is that schools in the U.S. have never been, are not now, and never will be anything other than reflections of our society—unless we do things different in both our social and educational policy.
Yes, public schools almost entirely reflect and perpetuate the race, class, and gender inequities that remain powerful in our wider society, and much of that is embedded in the very reforms being championed in the media and among political leaders: accountability, standards, high-stakes testing, grade retention, zero tolerance policies, “no excuses” practices, charter schools, school choice, Teach For America, school report cards, value-added methods of teacher evaluation, and the worst of the worst—”grit.”
That is not simply a fact of the schools targeted by this series. That is a fact about public education across the entire country.
And many educators as well as education scholars have been yelling that for decades; that’s right—decades.
Possibly the most telling problem with the series is the end, where the condemnations of Arne Duncan and John King are treated as if they are somehow credible.
If this weren’t so tragic, it would be laughable—nearly rising to the level of an article in The Onion.
Therefore, here is a little message about the best of edujournalism.
Public schools have been reflecting and perpetuating the worst aspects of our society for over 100 years. People in power really don’t care, and politicians in the last three to four decades have learned that education policy is a powerful political football.
Since the Reagan administration, public schools have failed students even more significantly because of inane obsessions with accountability, standards, and tests.
Duncan and King are the personifications of all that is wrong with education policy: lots of soaring rhetoric masking policy cures that are part of the disease; thus, the accountability movement is intensifying race, class, and gender inequity—not overcoming it.
Racism, classism, sexism, and homophobia are never excuses, but facts, and these burdens are more than micromanaged and technocratic in-school only policies can address.
Yes, we need much more equitable school practices and polices—but none of what politicians are doing now meets those standards—and those alone will never accomplish what we seem to want without concurrent changes to public policy that also addresses equity.
Edujournalism, as well, is part of the problem because it remains trapped in false narratives, committed to simplistic “both sides” frames of issues, and unwilling to listen to the voices of the practitioners and scholars in the field of education.
Nearly everything addressed in “Failure Factories” was raised by novelist Ralph Ellison in a 1963 speech to teachers. Your best journalism is old news wrapped in a false frame and too often fumbled badly with good intentions.
I remain concerned that education-bashing journalism has become so lucrative for your flailing field that it is in fact as pressing that we address the journalism crisis as we do the need to significantly reform our public schools.
As agents of the public good, journalists and educators have a great deal in common that is being squandered; neither can afford as a field or in the name of that public good to remain the tools of those who have interests other than the public good.
We both can and should do better.
You open your local, regional, state, or national newspaper of choice on your laptop or tablet to see a headline such as We need great teachers.
Well, you went to school and you pay taxes on schools, and you either had teachers you loved or loathed—so, sure, you read the Op-Ed.
My career in education has included almost two decades teaching public high school and coaching, another decade-plus as a university professor in teacher education, and more than two decades writing scholarship and public pieces on education. Thus, I want to suggest reading that Op-Ed on education isn’t as simple as it may seem.
Step one is to scan down to the information about who wrote the piece and how she/he is connected to the topic of education.
In our example above that is key because the Op-Ed is just another propaganda piece out of StudentsFirst, a collection of people who smile a great deal so maybe you won’t notice that the organization is about self-promotion and political ambition and not students. StudentsFirst was founded by Michelle Rhee, discredited former TFA recruit who has formed as many organizations as she can on the backs of students in order to market her brand: her.
“We need great teachers” is penned by Bradford Swann, smiling a bit less ambitiously than Rhee. Swann, you see, has no background in education, but a series of partisan political stops that are pretty clearly a way to build a political resume—not put students first.
Swann cranked out “better teacher” Op-Eds while working at StudentsFirst Georgia also.
And while we must never stoop to ad hominem attacks—you may be asking, so what about his arguments and claims?—at the very least, Op-Eds coming out of StudentsFirst deserve a great deal of scrutiny if not skepticism since there is now a long track record of Rhee’s organizations shoveling manure and claiming it is roses.
Swann’s single and brief nod to proving his claim about the importance of “great teachers” is this:
According to a recent study published in the Economics of Education Review, an excellent teacher can produce up to a year and a half of student learning in a single school year—a phenomenal result!
Along with wondering about the juvenile use of an exclamation point, we must ask two important questions: (1) What is this journal?, and (2) does this study represent in any way the body of research on teacher quality?
The Economics of Education Review is an open-access journal that seems to have a review process for publishing work. But I cannot find the research Swann mentions because he fails to give us enough information. I don’t know if the study is credible or if any outside reviewers have investigated the claims or methods.
What is an excellent teacher, even?
In my work as a scholar on education, I can note that the research base on making claims about “great teachers” is one that is mostly hokum. The race to prove high-quality teacher impact on measurable student outcomes is at the very best a jumbled mess.
One paragraph with one cryptic nod to a single study (with an exclamation point!) does not an argument make—but it does signal someone is hoping no one pays attention.
The rest of this is about the hollow sham that is the business mantras of “innovation!” and “outside-the-box thinking!”—more red flags that there is nothing to see here; please move on.
Educational researchers, teacher educators, and K-12 classroom teachers know about teacher quality, and can offer a wealth of complex arguments about how to identify and cultivate teacher quality. Why are almost all the Op-Eds, then, by people who have never taught or done any real research or studying of the field of education?
When you read an Op-Ed on education, then, take note of who is making the argument and for whom.
Education over the last 30-plus years has become a playground for people with partisan political aspirations.
StudentsFirst is one such organization, and the Op-Eds they crank out are about their political resumes, not children or education.
Just a Reminder