Back In The Saddle

Big thanks to J.B. Schramm for stepping in while I was away. College-going and grad rates seems to have been something of a theme last week along with some other issues:

Six Degrees of Kevin Carey. In The Los Angeles Times Kevin Carey and Lindsey Luebchow write about graduation rates for athletes and the NCAA tournament. In The Washington Post Ted Mitchell and Jonathan Shorr write about the same and cite Kevin’s work. On USA Today’s page I take a slightly different take: Universities should support low-income and minority kids who are struggling with the same intensity they support their athletes, but I also mention Kevin. It’s a surefire op-ed technique apparently.

Teachers’ Unions and Kids. Over at The Gadfly they’re puzzled about why I would say in The New York Times Weingerten profile that most of what teachers’ unions want is also good for kids. Ummm…because it’s true? This debate is too often framed by absolutists arguing that teachers unions are always at odds with what’s good for kids or, conversely, that they never are and the interest of teachers and students are the same. Lots of things that teachers’ unions want are good for kids, too. But some are not, and in some cases they matter a lot. This debacle in New York over using test scores to evaluate teachers is one good example of the latter. The NYT’s ed page, hardly a bastion of reactionary conservative thought, had it right. It’s really an embarrassment for the profession and the field. Gadfly’s correct that right now that when the interests of teachers and kids clash too often the adults win out. But that’s an argument for changing the politics of education more than the fault of the teachers’ unions, they’re just doing what they’re supposed to do.

More Mind-reading. Writing in ASCD’s magazine Richard Rothstein says that:

The commonplace “no excuses” ideology implies that educators—were they to realize that their efforts alone were insufficient to raise student achievement—would be too simple-minded then to bring themselves to exert their full effort.

Funny, I’ve never heard anyone say that…But, since Richard has psychic abilities unavailable to the average analyst, perhaps they are thinking it? What I have heard a lot of people say is that because we know that different schools and different teachers have different effects on the same kids, we should start organizing the public education system more along those lines rather than around the implicit assumption that schools and teachers don’t matter. That’s hardly the same thing. Richard is right that some of the “no excuses” rhetoric minimizes the complexity of these issues, but these strawman arguments he puts out there are just ridiculous.

School Lunch Is Hot! From Kevin Kosar, here’s more on the school lunch excitement that is seizing the land.

5 Replies to “Back In The Saddle”

  1. I just saw a presentation of a survey with a set of questions designed to measure a distinction between teachers who believe that they can get through to all kids if they work hard enough vs. teachers who thing that homes influence students more. So I’d have to say that, whether he’s psychic or not, there are some people who either say that or believe that.

    Two questions from the survey:
    “The amount a student can learn is primarily related to family background”
    “When I really try, I can get through to the most difficult student”

  2. I don’t think any “no excuses” educator thinks that family background is irrelevant or even not all that important. Rather, no excuses educators know that any family situation can be overcome, though the methods required to do so are in some cases extreme. What they say is that we as teachers can’t let extreme difficulty equate to impossibility.

    I think it’s fair to say that most teachers eventually throw up their hands in the face of severe external factors like a rough home life, and Corey, I think the survey questions you cite would in fact reveal a tremendous divide among educators.

  3. Andrew,

    I think there is a little of rewriting of history here. Now that the NCLB evidence is arriving in an overwhelming way, the “No Excuses” crowd has toned down their rhetoric. I suspect policy analysts saw 1/2 of the dynamic. By borrowing the methods of political campaigns, they leaped into the Brave New World of NCLB, stressing the positive. I suspect that many progressive NCLB supporters didn’t have near enough knowledge to guage how much they were exagerrating. (But I would have more respect for the Ed Trust is they had issued a retraction/apology for their published reportes that were refuted by Rothstein, Douglass Harris, Paul Tough and others.)

    But you guys may have been oblivious to the second wave that you helped inspire. NCLB stimulated a wave of consultants, seminars, conferences, and a huge cottage industry of “quick fixes.” Ed Week had some hilarious paradoies of the dynamic, but it wasn’t as funny for teachers who had to endure policies that grew out of that quest for a silver bullet. We were flooded with Power Point presentations stressing the power of expectations. They forgot the key point, when you shout “Believe!” you have to put your hand on the radio. The No Excuses crowd may have seen their positive spin as harmless political tactics, without knowing what snakes they were handling.

  4. My sole point was that Rothstein is correct in arguing that some people view “no excuses” and acknowledging that home life influences achievement as mutually exclusive.

    That particular grouping of questions did not separate teachers into two groups based on their responses, it measured two factors — one being teacher efficacy and I’m not quite sure what to call the other (influence of home environment?). The point being that they’re not mutually exclusive, teachers who believed that home environment was the primary predictor of achievement did not necessarily believe that they couldn’t get through to students when they really tried.

  5. Interestingly, Rothstein implies that teacher unions, among the most organized grassroots lobby out there, would be well served to extend their advocacy efforts beyond the traditional realm of education. Specifically, they could support economic and social reforms that help moderate socioeconomic gaps. We know that narrowing social and economic inequalities can help increase student achievement. In addition, doing so makes teacher’s jobs easier. Andy, this sounds like one of those times when what the teacher’s unions (could potentially) want is also good for the kids. Instead of ridiculing Rothstein, you should be praising him for highlighting a way for teachers unions to positively affect children’s development.

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