Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Furious Debate Ensues Over Washington Post ‘Manifesto’

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By Alain Jehlen

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the “Manifesto” from 16 big-city school chiefs, published by The Washington Post Sunday, was the reaction.

The school chiefs claim their hands are tied when they try to improve inner city schools. But if you look for the manifesto on Google, you’ll see stacks of angry columns denouncing it at the top of the search results, burying the manifesto itself. Letters to the editor printed by the Post on Wednesday were uniformly hostile.

Read the reaction and you’ll see why: After months of attacks on public schools, educators are fighting back.

In fact, they’re using this new attack as an opportunity to lay out the case that most of the proposed “reforms” are dead ends, and the road to better schools lies in a very different direction.

This summer and fall have seen unprecedented promotion — ranging from a Hollywood movie to television specials to this piece in the Post — for a raft of education “reform” proposals: Make it easy to fire teachers; pay those who remain according to their students’ test scores; move money into charter schools where unions don’t get in the way.

What these proposals have in common is they are not supported by research.

University of Colorado Professor Kevin Welner, director of the National Education Policy Center, laid it all out, with links to the evidence backing up his points, in a guest column for the Post’s Valerie Strauss’ blog:
* Charters are not better than regular public schools.
* Twenty years of testing have brought minimal improvements in scores and made learning less engaging.
* States and schools where unions are weak or non-existent have the same patterns of student learning as those where unions are strong.

Welner points out that, contrary to claims, the education and income of parents account for much more of the variation in student achievement than teachers. It would be wonderful if educators could solve all of society’s problems all by themselves, but they can’t.

Google’s top piece was Valerie Strauss’ own, in which she called the manifesto “bankrupt” and marked by “misinformation,” “scapegoating,” and “intellectual dishonesty.”

Bloggers who are working teachers, like Anthony Cody and Ken Bernstein, refuted the manifesto from their own real-life experience on the frontlines. Cody called it “a manifesto of error” and took it apart piece by piece. Bernstein, whose own superintendent was one of the signers, contrasted the manifesto with a beautiful statement of principle written by a teacher 20 years ago, dealing with many of the same issues educators face today.

“Those who really do not understand education [are] imposing work conditions that are so rigid, so driven by test scores, so micro-managing, that we are losing the ability to adapt to the needs of the students before us,” said Bernstein.

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