The Sky Is Falling, But Only for Poor KIds
If you listen to Diane Ravitch, the sky has been falling in education since at least 1985 with the publication of The Schools We Deserve: Reflections on the Educational Crises of Our Times. Another chunk fell last week with her essay in Newsweek, “Obama’s War on Schools,” which notes that NCLB has been “deadly” to education.
With her usual gift for understatement, Ravitch says that of the 100,000 people she’s ‘”spoken to” over the past year, no one sees anyone in a leadership position “who understands the damage being done to their schools by federal policies.” They feel “betrayed” by President Obama, yet at the same time states and districts are “emboldened” by the current administration to evaluate teachers using (gasp!) test scores.
No one knows what happened to Ravitch to turn her from a right wing harbinger of bad news to a more general harbinger of bad news, but her message remains the same: American education is going to hell in a hand basket and has been for almost 30 years.
As a public school administrator for 25 of those years, I respectfully disagree. Every year brings a new set of challenges, and every year we adjust as best we can. We open our doors to all the children – the wealthy and the poor, the brilliant and the challenged, the strong and the weak. We educate those who come from affluent families that have been here since the Mayflower and immigrants who came last week and who barely speak English. “I lift my lamp beside the golden door,” says the Lady in the Harbor, and you know what? Many who actually work in education believe in the promise.
Hidden deep inside Ravitch’s sudden and inexplicable support for teachers and her chronic and hyperbolic attacks on policymakers is an excuse for not providing our poorest kids with a good education. The notion that teachers shouldn’t be responsible for the test scores of some kids – notably those from poor homes, dysfunctional homes, or no homes at all and kids whose parents don’t speak English – is insidious. The notion is getting legs like a scorpion, poisonous to the premise of universal education.
When you choose to enter the teaching profession, you get what you get. Working with the kids you have is what the job is. The challenges kids face outside the doors of the school are daunting, but they’re not a built-in excuse for a poor education. If teaching were easy, anyone could do it. If you believe that you shouldn’t be responsible for the test scores of kids from disadvantaged homes, then you should really be doing something else with your life.
So instead of looking for excuses, why don’t we focus on myriad ways not only to train teachers, but to evaluate them in ways that include test scores as well as good classroom management and pedagogical practices? Forget the hyperbole and the doomsday nonsense. Yeah, it sells books and gets you a shot on TV. But it’s a disservice to our children.