Tuesday, August 19, 2014

When Pundits Don't Know What the Hell They're Talking About, Education Edition

Frank Bruni, education expert.
Frank Bruni of the New York Times wrote a column today that proves he knows just enough -- the English language -- to write about the world of education and education reform. If he also knew much about the world of education, he'd have also said something in the column that wasn't bullshit, but alas, he knows next to nothing. First, a taste of his wisdom:
He [Frank Bruni's chosen expert, Mike Johnston] rightly calls teachers “the single most transformative force in education.”
But the current system doesn’t enable as many of them as possible to rise to that role, he says. And a prime culprit is tenure, at least as it still exists in most states.
“It provides no incentive for someone to improve their practice,” he told me last week. “It provides no accountability to actual student outcomes. It’s the classic driver of, ‘I taught it, they didn’t learn it, not my problem.’ It has a decimating impact on morale among staff, because some people can work hard, some can do nothing, and it doesn’t matter.”
Tenure in K-12 actually only means "due process guarantees." You can't be fired without cause. One of the acceptable causes is poor performance. There are annual reviews of all teachers, with those failing to improve -- based on the previous year's review and recommendations from principals on how to improve -- being subject to termination. Since I was a teacher on all levels -- elementary, high school, adult -- I have witnessed more than one "tenured" teacher losing their job for low performance.

What do you want, Frank Bruni, an annual teacher bloodbath? Will that reform the system?

Also, there's that small fact that teachers aren't in control of outcomes. It's been studied and known for years. Here's a commenter on your column, Frank:
I continue to be astounded that teachers are blamed for poor student performance when the research consistently proves that the SES (socioeconomic status) of the parents is the main driver of student performance. Children of high SES parents do well while children of low SES parents do poorly. To improve this situation we need to address poverty, not attack teachers. Yes poor performing teachers should be fired. But most of the time what I've witnessed is a poor administration that does not provide proper evaluations and training that would meet due process requirements to get rid of the poor performers. And, as a result, the poor performers exist among administration, staff, and teachers. It's not the teachers nor the tenure that is the crux of our school problems. Finally I will say that tenure does protect good teachers who need to be able to give fair grades when pressured by parents and administrators to do otherwise.
Quite true and well said. Here are three graphs that demonstrate how SES drives student performance, published in the New York Times:

Here's a link to evidence that SES is the central driver of student performance.

What part of this don't you understand, Frank Bruni, and if you're so smart, why was this missing from your narrative? My guess is that it doesn't blame teachers, which is of course the easiest path to completing a column before deadline. It also makes you look like a Serious Person, which I suppose you are, or you're at least "a stupid person's idea of a smart person." If only you knew what the hell you were talking about. But that would take work. It's easier to find a Democrat -- your expert today -- to do your dirty work for you. But he's a Democrat! Sheesh.

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