The Second Conversation

The new Gates work out today is a big deal. There are two conversations in education right now about teachers.  One is not especially serious and revolves around a set of unprovable accusations – people hate teachers, want to blame them for school failure, etc… and is basically a lot of noise from people who either don’t know or should know better.   The other one is quieter but also a lot more important.  It’s about how to move the field forward to better select, support, and evaluate teachers.  Not because teachers can transform education alone – they system matters — but rather because even though other things matter teachers are pretty damn important.  The Gates work is an early entrant in that second sweepstakes.  A lot more to do and learn there but there is a lot riding on that second conversation.   Disc – Gates funding helps support BW’s work.

11 Replies to “The Second Conversation”

  1. We can’t even call the former a conversation. It’s more like a monologue of the same deceiving claims repeated ad infinitum. I will happily provide citations if anyone wants to dispute this.


    What does that even mean?

  2. Schools chief apologizes to ‘good teachers’
    Tanoos calls for state superintendent to advocate for public schools not ‘against’

    “TERRE HAUTE — At Deming Elementary on Thursday, state Schools Superintendent Tony Bennett apologized to all the “good teachers” whose hard work has gone unrecognized in the push for educational reform and accompanying rhetoric.

    “I am sorry to our good teachers who feel like they have been lumped in with bad teachers,” he said. To those who believe they’ve been unfairly criticized, “I apologize from the bottom of my heart.””

  3. Still, I could have done a better job of communicating. I did a particularly bad job letting the many good teachers know that I considered them to be the most important part of the equation. I should have said to the effective teachers, “You don’t have anything to worry about. My job is to make your life better, offer you more support, and pay you more.” I totally fell down on doing that.


  4. Third Conversation
    Dunbar High’s private operator ousted; ex-principal to return

    Former Dunbar teacher: ‘Neglect, zero accountability’ at school

    “Friends of Bedford created a school culture of neglect, insecurity, zero accountability and poor communication,” Jessica Lilly wrote to me in a long, anguished e-mail this week. Bedford CEO George Leonard and his colleagues have stopped returning phone and e-mail messages, so there is no response to Lilly’s account.

    Lilly is a Teach for America recruit, one of hundreds from alternative training programs who have come to the D.C. school system in the Rhee-Henderson era. And she understands that she’s easily stereotyped: impossibly young (23), earnest, energized and compulsively prepared.

    Why did Bedford fail at Dunbar?
    Ineffective Teachers?
    Fenty’s loss in the DC Mayor primary?
    The next word Ms. Rhee utters on “reform” should be an explanation of why Friends of Bedford failed.
    She owes it to the school community.
    She owes it to teachers like Jessica Lilly.
    She owes it to the education reform movement.
    And, she owes it to the kids.

    No serious words from her on this issue, and she’s just a self promoting hack like Sarah Palin.

    Andrew, will you get a response and publish it here?
    In a way, you owe it as well.

  5. For a minute,
    I thought Andrew was referring to this Gates supported survey:
    Adults blame parents for education problems

    An Associated Press-Stanford University Poll on education found that 68 percent of adults believe parents deserve heavy blame for what’s wrong with the U.S. education system – more than teachers, school administrators, the government or teachers unions.

    Only 35 percent of those surveyed agreed that teachers deserve a great deal or a lot of the blame. Moms were more likely than dads – 72 percent versus 61 percent – to say parents are at fault. Conservatives were more likely than moderates or liberals to blame parents.

    Those who said parents are to blame were more likely to cite a lack of student discipline and low expectations for students as serious problems in schools. They were also more likely to see fighting and low test scores as big problems.

    “Nobody is too busy to raise a child for a successful future,” said Wilfred Luise Vincent, 65, of Coppell, Texas. Vincent worked early or late shifts for Delta Airlines during most of his career so his two daughters would have a parent at home after school.
    The problems children and their parents deal with inside and outside of school every day are growing, said Julie Woestehoff, executive director of Parents United for Responsible Education, a Chicago advocacy group.

    Children are tired, they’re hungry and they need someone to help with their homework. Some kids face violence at home or in their neighborhood. Some parents are trying so hard to keep a roof over their family that they can’t help with school.

    More than half of those polled said student discipline and fighting, violence and gangs were extremely or very serious problems in schools. Nearly as many expressed concern about getting and keeping good teachers.

    Most said education in their local public schools is excellent or good, but 67 percent also believe the U.S. is falling behind the rest of the world when it comes to education.

    But a majority of parents see improvement in the system since they were in school: 55 percent believe their children are getting a better education than they did, and three-quarters rate the quality of education at their child’s school as excellent or good. Most say their child’s school is doing a good job preparing students for college, the work force and life as an adult.

    One thing Andrew will like about this survey is that the “war on teachers” doesn’t seemed to have changed many hearts or minds.

  6. Any large organization knows that its success hinges on the quality of its staff, and education is no different. I do think that there is a tendency to conflate teacher performance with teacher quality: performance is influenced by a number of external factors whereas quality refers to just the intrinsic characteristics of the teacher. This study provides reasonable evidence that performance is sticky – that teachers with good performance tend to perform well and teachers with low performance tend to perform badly – but it’s important to remember that for any given teacher, there may be factors out of their control that either raise or lower their scores: administrative support, class sizes, nonrandom student assignment, induction programs, supportive school culture, etc. This is not meant as a get-out-of-the-rubber-room-free card for teachers who aren’t performing well, but there may be opportunities to maximize human capital if we remember that the context that any particular teacher is in affects his/her performance. This is particularly relevant with regards to teachers with middling value-added scores (ie most of them) who tend to have the most volatility in terms of their performance.


    Good news for children: The majority of adults know full well who is most responsible for the education of children: the parents, of course! Now we’re getting somewhere! If push comes to shove, teachers will have the support of the American people, as always.

    Most citizens know that it requires a partnership between home and school to provide the best possible education for a child. Anyone who says something else has another agenda. What is it?

    As to the evaluation of teachers, even the Gates Foundation agrees that teachers are right: The best way to evaluate a teacher is by using multiple measures. Surprise!

  8. Linda ‘n’ gang:

    1) You are burning a straw man: no one has asserted that parents/family/community are unimportant in a student’s education. The argument reformers are advancing is that, despite the challenges offered by a student’s personal life, the student should still have the opportunity to get a good education. There’s absolutely no reason that poverty should preclude our efforts to better our schools.

    2) You are appealing to belief: the opinion of the public does not refute any of the reasons or rationale for why we need to improve schools. Whether or not the public thinks parents are mostly to blame for education problems does not have any bearing on whether or not it is important to do everything we can to hold high expectations for educators as well as students, or for that matter whether or not ineffective teachers or parents are mostly to blame.

    3) Along those lines, you are also completely misreading the polling results. Polling results showed that 68% of adults believe parents deserve heavy blame for what’s wrong with our education system–this does NOT mean that 68% of adults feel that parents are “most responsible for the education of children”. There’s a LOT that is wrong with our education system, but that doesn’t mean we can’t demand excellence among our teachers to continually push the bounds at which all kids can learn, and this survey certainly doesn’t imply that 68% of adults think it’s pointless to push for higher expectations of our educators.

    4) Provide a citation (ANY citation) showing when/where a key reformer has blamed all teachers for education problems.

    5) “The best way to evaluate a teacher is by using multiple measures. Surprise!”

    “Surprise”? When was this ever contested??

  9. yes, i forgot to mention, this is also an example of begging the question, probably the #1 most oft-used fallacy here on the eduwonk comment threads

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