Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Why Current Educational Wisdom Behind Race to the Top and the ESEA Blueprint Is Going to Fail

Last evening, right after the wonderful #edchat session we had on Twitter, and after I completed the blog post previous to this one, a final thought came to me.

As I wrote about reform really beginning with teachers who care about their students, I honestly realized at that point why Secretary Duncan’s reform efforts are going to fail. His efforts are well-meaning I think, but they will take their place just behind the failed policies of George Bush and NCLB. It’s really simple. They are correct to think that one of the most important factors in a child’s success is having an effective teacher. While they define that “effectiveness” by test scores, most of us who have been in education know that’s a really shallow measure of a great teacher. Sure, I think a great teacher can get those test scores that are so important to politicians, but they also get something else. The truly great teacher wins that child over to loving learning and being curious about the world. The truly great teacher takes the students places that no standardized test can measure. The truly great teacher has a hand in making that student move one step closer to being a productive member of society. The truly great teacher inspires that student to grasp an unforeseen future. And so on. The real problem with Secretary Duncan’s education plans are you can’t quantify these kinds of teachers. That is why the Obama Administration’s Race to the Top and their ESEA Reauthorization Blueprint will fail.

So many have tried to reduce good teaching to some kind of measurable result and have failed in the past. This administration will fail at that task too. Teaching is an extremely complex task, involving so many complex tasks and decisions, that even states who have tried to devise evaluation instruments to capture it usually fail miserably. Teaching is messy and does not like to be pinned down. The debate about whether teaching is an art or science has never been settled entirely, but most of us who have been in the classroom know it certainly is not entirely a science.

Ultimately, what will happen under the current administration’s education policy? It’s hard to say, but I would bet that great teachers will go right on with the business of teaching, which is their love anyway, merit pay or not. They might compromise a bit to give the politicians the test scores they so desperately crave, but they will go on inspiring students to reach their full potential. You honestly cannot reform any one by wielding sticks and carrots in a profession of love.

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