Saturday, August 28, 2010

Shaming the teachers

Recently, I opened the Los Angeles Times online and the big story of the day was about evaluating teachers. A man with white hair and jeans was pictured in action in his classroom, and I assumed that he was one of the top-ranked because of his prominence. Rather, he was one of the worst-ranked. The Times set the scene for his official public shaming.

Most teachers are eager to learn more about their effectiveness and how they can improve. When I posted the piece on Facebook, upset about its inherent meanness and the focus on standardized test scores, former and current teachers laid into me. They were chomping at the bit for something like this.

With this story, the Times has created its own news, stirring up a firestorm that has prompted many subsequent articles and a slew of smart comments. In their relatively new role as LAUSD watchdog, they've exposed some travesties, like the "holding tank" of teachers who can't be in a classroom because of serious charges against them but who are still collecting salaries, sometimes paid to stew for years. Another piece on the ridiculously soft evaluation process was dead on.

This is something different. Here's the original article, "How Good Is Your Child's Teacher?" 

Diane Ravitch, author and education expert who has come down hard against standardized test culture, called the article "disgraceful."

My favorite response to it has been "The Measure of Our Worth," an Op-Ed in the LA Times by Ivanhoe Elementary fifth-grade teacher Kim Jones.

Arne Duncan says that releasing this data (based on a "value added" approach that many experts distrust) is about looking at success. It's more about looking at failure -- the failure of an education system that is becoming more about standardized test scores and less and less about nurturing creativity and curiosity.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Where's the middle class hero?

It seemed for a little while that Congress was going to be the superheroes for public schools and laid-off teachers, but, alas, their interrupted vacations were for naught. Rather than spend the money now to rehire educators, most districts have decided to sit on the funds and prepare for the budget-cutting storms to come. Here's the New York Times story about the crushed hopes of laid-off teachers.

The face of the teacher in the photo echoes Dorothea Lange's brutal Great Depression photographs -- which is apt.

Whenever I read the comment threads about these stories, somebody inevitably says something to the tune of, "What makes teachers so special? They need to take the hit like so many others." Problem is, Sir (and it's always a sir), that we're not just talking about people's jobs; this is about children and our already over-strapped, struggling public school systems.

It makes sense in these dark times that so many people are turning to Lisbeth Salander, the heroine of Stieg Larsson's blockbuster fiction trilogy. Lower class, tiny, female, fragile, furious, doll-like, brilliant, anti-authority, anti-consumer, and vengeful, Salander is a great hero for our troubled times.