More TNTP…And, Stay Away From The Misdirection Play

Over at Edwize, they’re quite upset about the recent New Teacher Project report. Never mind that they misidentify NTP as a “DC-based education policy think tank” (which is, of course, a slur) and botch a direct quote from Eduwonk, the real reason to wade through this excruciatingly long “rebuttal” to TNTP is not accuracy**, it is because it is a true classic of the misdirection genre. One day, when kids visit museums to learn about the edupolicy battles of our day this post may well be under glass for them to see next to a #2 pencil.

Rather than acknowledge that TNTP’s data raises some pretty serious questions or even really refute the findings per se, the post’s author, Leo Casey, points to all the other issues that are also problems.

Of course, Leo is right that intradistrict school finance is a disaster, he’s right about the instability of staffing at too many high poverty schools, and while giving more authority to principals is a practical step in the here and now there is a very legitimate debate about its efficacy as the only method to staff a school. Would TNTP disagree with any of that? Do most serious people in this debate? But try this: Read the TNTP report and ask yourself, even if school finance were much better and high poverty schools did a better job with retention (and induction for that matter) and were more desirable places to work overall, would that eliminate or even seriously alleviate the problems identified by TNTP?

The misdirection play is a losing strategy. It’s the same strategy in fact that the UFT tried in the fact finding during the recent contract negotiations, where as Leo points out the TNTP testified. The result? The UFT got its clocked cleaned by the fact finders report in no small part because while Leo and the UFT were loudly proclaiming that there was nothing to all this the fact finders were seeing different data.

Come to the couch: So, while Leo accuses TNTP of selective diagnosis “Some symptoms of illness in the patient are highlighted; others are passed over without comment” its actually pretty good self-diagnosis for the teachers’ unions reaction to TNTP and others raising questions about this issue. The refusal of too many within the teachers’ union community to acknowledge that some of the problems lie with the contracts (and to stop ridiculously attacking every critic as wanting to stifle the voice of teachers or extend authoritarian schemes to school management) as well as these other issues prevents sensible progress and reform here.

Come to the table: The rub is that reform is coming and plenty of Democrats are starting to talk about these issues and not just favorite teacher union villains like Alan Bersin, Joel Klein, or Eva Moskowitz. The only question is whether reform will follow the unfortunate historical pattern of educators having things done to them rather than with them or whether the unions will come to the table.* Unfortunately, the misdirection play is an almost sure-fire recipe for the former while it lessens the chances of addressing the other problems either because it forces a predictable(and in Eduwonk’s view avoidable) split in the progressive coalition.

*In fairness, after the relatively close vote on the recent contract the UFT can hardly rush out and embrace the TNTP work and they’re the only big teachers’ union with a blog which gives them a different profile. Nonetheless, the misdirection strategy is still not a good one. Might have been a case of if you can’t say anything nice…

**Update: A knowledgeable reader in a position to know writes to point out that while TNTP’s Rhee did testify in the fact finding process she was not a “paid witness” as the Edwize post claims.

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