I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Monday, April 18, 2011

It's All About MY Children

Michael Winerip makes half of a good point:
Those who call themselves reformers are a diverse group, men and women of every political stripe and of every race and ethnicity.
But there is one thing that characterizes a surprisingly large number of the people who are transforming public schools: they attended private schools.
Which raises the question: Does a private school background give them a much-needed distance and fresh perspective to better critique and remake traditional public schools? Does it make them distrust public schools — or even worse — poison their perception of them? Or does it make any difference?
Your call.
Winerip then goes on to list all the corporate reformers who have attended private school, including Obama, Rhee, Gates, the Bushes, Cathie Black, Guggenheim, etc. Fair enough, but not far enough.

When I first started this blog, I took the position that it was wrong to bring up the unpleasant fact that many of the folks who are radically changing the career of teaching send their own kids to private schools that are immune to such meddling. I've since changed my mind.

What these people are proposing is a radical change that inevitably affects children. We are going to turn up the stakes on standardized tests so high that the curriculum, teaching methods, and placement of children into classrooms is going to morph into something we've never seen before. In an effort to rid ourselves of an alleged cabal of "bad" teachers, we are prepared to fundamentally change how schools are run.

This will NOT happen to those wealthy and well-connected enough to send their children to private schools. And I believe it is more than fair to ask why their children will not face the same radical upending of the system that everyone else's kids will have to deal with.

Valerie Strauss picks up on this point:
President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan are also parents who naturally want the best for their kids. Obama enrolled his two children at Sidwell Friends, a private Quaker school in Washington, D.C., and Duncan enrolled his two children in the Arlington, Va., public schools, respectively.
Do these excellent schools evaluate or pay teachers on the basis of student standardized test scores?
This question is important because the issue of “pay for performance” models of teacher evaluation now dominates the intense debate over education reform. Duncan has voiced his support for performance-based merit pay.
In Massachusetts, the State Board of Education is holding a public hearing on whether teacher evaluation should be tied to student test scores, and, if so, to what extent.
I wanted to find out how Sidwell Friends and the Arlington Public Schools approached the pay-for-performance issue. What did the president and the secretary seek and obtain for their own kids, where the important issue of teacher evaluation was concerned.
The answers recently arrived in two emails:
• Arlington school district teacher, March 31, 2011::
“We do not tie teacher evaluations to scores in the Arlington public school system.”
• Sidwell Friends faculty member, April 1, 2011:
“We don’t tie teacher pay to test scores because we don’t believe them to be a reliable indicator of teacher effectiveness.”
Add to this list Chris Christie's sons, who attend the exclusive Delbarton School in Morristown.

Again: my initial squeamishness about bringing the children of prominent people into this debate is gone. Why should Obama's and Duncan's and Christie's children be spared the regime of tests that will determine their teachers' futures? Why aren't their children's teachers subject to evaluations that are the statistical equivalent of rolling dice?

The evaluation of teachers should be based on solid research and best practices. What the corporate reformers are proposing is not. And it is wrong that their own families are not affected by their ill-conceived plans.


SteveEd said...


Marie Corfield said...

Agreed! And any school that receives state and/or federal money—including charters, privates and parochials—should be held accountable to the same standards and evaluation methods for their staff as public schools.