This is a response to Diane Ravitch’s piece Do politicians know anything at all about schools and education? Anything? I recommend that you read it. She is right on. Seriously, if you are going to read this, you must, must go read her piece first. Not only because what she has to say is important, but also because what is written below makes little sense without the context of her article.
Dear Dr. Ravich:
I read with interest “Do politicians know anything at all about schools and education?” Not being a politician and Having earned a Ph.D. in education from Vanderbilt in 2003, I do know most of the facts in your piece. When I read it I thought, “Right, right. Right! Right!!” I’m aware of the perils of charter schools, school choice, standardized testing, teacher accountability and so on. I agreed with everything you wrote.
When I had finished, however, I was left a bit cold.
Is your intended message that our schools are fine and we don’t need to do anything? You said lots of things not to do, but you don’t say what to do.
When I re-read your piece, trying to put myself in the mindset of one of those stupid politicians or the sheep who follow them, this is what I read:
- Don’t try to innovate. Schools are fine as they are.
- Don’t try to use economics to improve or attract better teachers. Don’t pay them more. It won’t help.
- Don’t try to empower students or parents to go to better schools.
- Don’t try to use the tools that everyone outside of uses to learn and be successful.
- Don’t let good students go to the best schools where they can excel (unless they are able to afford to pay for private schools).
- Don’t try to use an objective measure to value teacher effectiveness. We have no accurate or stable way to know whether students are learning anything.
- Don’t worry that our students appear to compare badly to their international peers. We have world’s most successful economy. Schools don’t really seem to matter.
- We have lots of poor kids, but kids who aren’t poor are getting great educations.
- Don’t waste money trying to educate the poor. Only people with money can do well in school anyway.
- It doesn’t matter if kids don’t learn in schools. We need schools to hold communities together; that’s what is important.
- Don’t fire teachers who appear not to be effective. If we create a culture where ineffective teachers cannot expect to keep their jobs, no one will want to become a teacher.
- Politicians don’t pay attention to research and studies because educational research provides no tools for improving education.
You have made the case that if you care about improving schools, educational research is not the tool for it.
I’m moving to the beach.
Jay Pfaffman lives in a van, down by the river, but will soon be looking for a place to park it somewhere near highway 30-A in the Florida panhandle.