The educational reforms some conservatives have championed for decades may actually have a chance at a second life now that a few liberals have embraced them.
For example, the current darling of conservative reformers, outgoing Washington, D. C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, was a Democratic appointee in a Democratic administration in one of the most Democratic (in party registrations) cities in America. In Washington, pre-Rhee, “Over 95 percent of teachers in D. C. P. S. rated satisfactory while 10 percent of students were reading at grade level,” Jason Kamras of Teaching Human Capital said at the Atlantic Forum on K-12 Education.
Kamras also taught math at the Sousa School in Southwest Washington. “The original ratings [of teachers] put more emphasis on quiet classrooms than successful ones where children learned,” Kamras claimed. As well, Rhee had to contend with “a culture in education of not being evaluated.”
She dealt with this, in part, by offering a $20,000 pay-for-performance bonus. “They’ll go out by the end of the year,” Kamras said.
The Atlantic Forum was held on November 10, 2010 at the Washington headquarters of the Gallup Organization, which co-sponsored the conference. Shane Lopez, a social scientist in residence at Gallup, noted that “Teachers lead the nation in five or six professions in terms of well-being.” Yet and still, he found that 50 percent of students report being “engaged” in their studies compared to 40 percent of teachers who report “engagement” with their work.
An interesting point of agreement among the panelists, mostly clustered left-of-center, was the need for local control of schools and corresponding rejection of national top-down standards. “National policies make it much worse,” Harvard professor Daniel Koretz averred.
“No Child Left Behind, even in its accountability framework, is terribly flawed,” Kevin Huffman of Teach for America (TFA) argues. Huffman is the executive vice-president for public affairs at TFA.
“One of my children’s best teachers got a bad rating,” Huffman claims. Huffman is also the ex-husband of Michelle Rhee who, like him, is a TFA alumnus.
Public school outsiders already have a hard time getting the facts on what is happening within their walls even with extensive federal involvement. “California was able to get data on teacher achievement because that was not used in teacher evaluations,” Amanda Ripley, a contributing writer to the Atlantic noted. “The ironies in this field never end.”
Ripley is also a contributing writer at TIME magazine. “Parents can get data on class size,” Ripley noted. “Talk about not being productive.” Ripley is also a fellow at the New America Foundation.
Her reference was an interesting one which no panelists disputed. Teachers’ unions view class size as supremely important.
It should be noted that Ripley herself is hardly a reflexive right-winger. She fretted that the pro-charter school documentary, The Lottery, and Waiting For Superman, another filmed chronicle critical of public education, would have no impact but drew on a curious comparison.
“Will these movies do any good or will they be like An Inconvenient Truth which did nothing for climate change?” she asked, rhetorically as it were. To make the juxtaposition even more intriguing, Waiting For Superman was created by the creator of An Inconvenient Truth.
Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.
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