Naomi Klein Quote of the Day

From Lloyd Grove's Portfolio interview:

So I think reality is really causing the crisis for the true Friedman fanatics. There's kind of a retreat going on into sacred text. They don't want to deal with reality because for a long time it was just about trying to get policymakers to accept their ideology. But now they had those policymakers and they've created such a disaster, and indicted the ideology with their legacy, now there's just a desire to go back to the sacred text and say that everything was a distortion. And what I see is a really striking similarity that I've seen on the left, on the far left, where you've had these kind of Trotskyite people who sell newspapers outside of my events, and they have no interest in looking at the reality of authoritarian communism in Russia, in China, in Cambodia, anywhere. These are all distortions and what they want to do is, they just want to go back to the sacred texts, and say that we have nothing to learn from these lived experiments. The Cato Institute now, essentially, they are Friedmanite Trotskyites.

!!!

Please debate me, Naomi Klein!

  • JHaglund

    Has anyone thought of a better way to measure teacher performance than how their students do on standardized tests? The idea that standardized tests are a good measure of anything besides how well students take standardized tests is absurd. How many of you take a standardized test every day at work and are paid based on the results of that test?

    Much of the discussion here focuses on reforming schools and how to fix the teacher credentialing process, etc. These are good questions, but there are some far larger questions that Gladwell misses and that aren’t discussed here as well.

    Our students are in school longer than they’ve ever been before, why aren’t their scores improving? Perhaps they should be in school less? No one ever asks that question because we need kids to be in school so their parents don’t have to be responsible for them. Lets not forget that teachers, at a certain point, are nothing more than glorified babysitters. I am one, and the fact that I could lose my job pretty quickly if I didn’t take attendance as opposed to the fact that I could show my students movies every day for years and very likely not get fired suggests as much.

    Of the best and the brightest students we’ve had in the past ten to twenty years, many of them went into investment banking because they were taught for years that the most important measure of success is money. I-banking was a great place to make a lot of money. All these kids that scored off the charts on standardized tests and went to the best universities in the country just drove a giant financial machine off a cliff. Why? Is it because they had bad teachers? Is it because they were perhaps taught to work within a system and to not question it, particularly not to question it if it led to greater profits, the holy grail of our society?

    Does anyone ask what we did wrong with these kids? They have high IQ’s, they got straight A’s, they got all the right stamps on their passport to financial success, but they completely missed a hundred huge clues that something was very wrong? Why? Were they not spending enough time in the office? Should they have had more math class and less gym class so they could really be prepared?

    I agree with much of what’s been stated here, the credentialing system is terrible and not worth the time and money spent on it, majoring in Education should be outlawed because most of it has almost nothing to do with teaching in the real world and being competent in the subject you plan to teach is far more relevant than a degree in Education, teachers ought to be compensated better so that you can encourage more talented and motivated people to enter the field and STAY in the field, all these things are true.

    But there are larger problems that have to be addressed first. Why are high school kids in school at 7:30? It doesn’t make any sense physiologically or psychologically, they’d be better off coming in at 9 and leaving at 2:30.

    Is it rational to expect teachers to be able to adequately prepare for 4-5 classes a day every day with only 1-2 hours of prep time? Would any college professor agree to this? Would any manager agree to run 4-5 meetings a day with anywhere from 15-40 people who may or may not want to be there, and then be responsible to tracking the progress of each of those employees and adjusting practice based on that? And do that every day, every week for 180 days of the year? Of course not, they don’t get paid enough to do that. So why on earth would they choose to do it as a teacher?

    As long as we run our schools like factories where children progress down an assembly line according to bells that ring and we measure them by standardized tests that measure one form of intelligence, we will continue to destroy creativity and initiative in more than ninety percent of our students. As long as we pay teachers a pittance compared to professions with similar demands, we will continue to get a lackluster crowd of folks doing it with a few exceptions. As long as we think about schools as a way to get a certain product rather than a place to grow students into whatever they want/need to be, we will continue to fill the workplace and the world with a few bright successes and dump the rest into reject lots just like Detroit’s has done with all the cars that don’t pass inspection at the end of the line. As long as it is less expensive to run education that way, we will continue to do it.

    The problem is that very soon we are going to have to pay the piper and very few people understand the scale of the problem or the enormous expense it will take to fix it. This financial meltdown is just the tip of the iceberg in comparison.

    • Tracy W

      The idea that standardized tests are a good measure of anything besides how well students take standardized tests is absurd.

      For an absurd idea, it’s generated a lot of research:

      http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview/id/592879.html
      http://epm.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/42/1/345
      http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0FCR/is_/ai_62894046
      http://www1.istation.com/en/corpsite/research/pdfs/isipcv.pdf
      http://www.readnaturally.com/pdf/RFBATechnicalData.pdf
      http://etd.lib.ttu.edu/theses/available/etd-07312008-31295018529791/unrestricted/31295018529791.pdf

      There is no reason to believe that just because a standardised test measures something that the measure is valid. But, a standardised test can be validated, and if it is properly valid then of course it measures things other than how well students take standardised tests.

      How many of you take a standardized test every day at work and are paid based on the results of that test?

      Actually my husband does this about once a week, he’s not paid on the results of his test, but the company’s finanical rewards are tied to his results. He’s an engineer.

      Of the best and the brightest students we’ve had in the past ten to twenty years, many of them went into investment banking because they were taught for years that the most important measure of success is money.

      I don’t believe you. Hollywood movies and TV have been teaching for years that family and friends are far more important than money. I think the students went into investment banking because they decided, for themselves, that they wanted money, despite the propaganda of the media and schools.

      Why? Is it because they had bad teachers? Is it because they were perhaps taught to work within a system and to not question it, particularly not to question it if it led to greater profits, the holy grail of our society?

      Or, alternatively, it’s because humans have a tendency to do something that produces rewards in the short-term, but every now and then turns out to be really risky. After all, humans often drive cars despite the risks involved in that.

      As for teaching time – the results of Direct Instruction curriculum I discussed above shows that it’s possible for a school to track the progress of every single kid at the school and adjust their practice based on it – this however is not just about teachers, it’s about the whole of the school.

  • JHaglund

    I have to raise one last question: Perhaps the problem with measuring teachers is actually the same as the one with measuring quarterbacks. Talent is not something that can be measured with a test nor is it easily quantifiable. You can’t really say what the things are that made Dan Marino great and Tim Couch bad. Physically they appear similar, they can do similar things, but when it comes down to it, one is completely different than the other.

    If teaching is in fact a talent, and we pay people according to talents and their rarity given a particular demand… suddenly good teachers are worth a lot of money. Not NFL quarterback money but…

    The idea that a great teacher is worth 500,000 bucks a year is not something we are comfortable thinking or admitting, but if you want to see a lot of talented and smart people be motivated to do great things as teachers…

  • Jeff Singer

    I sent this email to Gladwell after reading his article, just because I don’t think he does justice to the research on what is being done to identify potentially good teachers:

    “I have followed your work for years in “The New Yorker” and have found your writing to be consistently interesting and intellectually thought-provoking, even when I disagree with your conclusions. A case in point is your latest article about education. I have recently spent the past week boning up on the literature related to what, if anything, can be used as a proxy to determine whether or not a potential teacher hire will be effective in the classroom…

    So when I came across the following sentences in your article I did a double take:

    “A group of researchers–Thomas J. Kane, an economist at Harvard’s school of education; Douglas Staiger, an economist at Dartmouth; and Robert Gordon, a policy analyst at the Center for American Progress–have investigated whether it helps to have a teacher who has earned a teaching certification or a master’s degree. Both are expensive, time-consuming credentials that almost every district expects teachers to acquire; neither makes a difference in the classroom. Test scores, graduate degrees, and certifications–as much as they appear related to teaching prowess–turn out to be about as useful in predicting success as having a quarterback throw footballs into a bunch of garbage cans.”

    First of all, I’m sure you had to simply this section for the demands of an magazine article, but still, I don’t think you do justice to the state of the art research on this subject. First of all, there is a bunch of research (including a recent NBER Working Paper by among others Kane and Staiger) which suggests there are some tools that can help screen for effective teachers. To quote from the abstract (“Can You Recognize An Effective Teacher When You Recruit One?”):

    “…we administered an in-depth survey to new math teachers in New York City and collected this information on a number of non-traditional predictors of effectiveness including teaching specific content knowledge, cognitive ability, personality traits, feelings of self-efficacy, and scores on a commercially available teacher selection instrument. Individually, we find that only a few of these predictors have statistically significant relationships with student and teacher outcomes. However, when all of these variables are combined into two primary factors summarizing cognitive and non-cognitive teacher skills, we find that both factors have a modest and statistically significant relationship with student and teacher outcomes, particularly with student test scores.”

    Other older studies show that in certain cases content knowledge can increase student performance (mostly for math and science and for high-school students as opposed to elementary school students) and even more intriguingly, the general literacy level of teachers can be a powerful predictor of their effectiveness with students (check out page 8 of the this booklet published by the National Council on Teacher Quality:

    http://www.nctq.org/p/publications/docs/nctq_io_20071129024229.pdf)

    So I think you mislead your readers to suggest that there are no good predictors of teaching prowess. On the other hand, the conclusions you reach still make sense for most large school districts, given that “value-added” is still the gold standard for determining who will be a good teacher over their career. Therefore, the idea that we need to make it easier for lots of different types of students and/or mid-career professionals thinking of going into teaching to become teachers and then be willing to take the time and effort to weed out the bad apples and reward and nurture those individuals who show promise, is right on.