Jennifer Rubin tried to offer her two cents on teaching this week, but as it turns out, all she had was a plugged nickel.
Rubin's brilliant insight in the Washington Post is that we just need fewer teachers, and then schools will get better.
For the time being, we'll skip past her assumption that schools are in desperate need of fixing. That's its own argument. Instead, let's just focus on her unsupported dumb thesis.
Calling small class sizes a "fad," Rubin cites PISA honcho Andreas Schleicher who cites PISA research that found no correlation between class size and score. This is a fun factoid, but it proves nothing about the effect of class size. Look-- if I give a bunch of three foot tall people three foot tall stools to stand on and let six foot tall people stand on the ground, I will find no correlation between stool size and the ability to see over a five foot test.
If Rubin wants real research about the impact of class size, she can take her pick from this website. If she just wants to dismiss small class sizes because she doesn't want to pay for them, she should stick with the non-research she just cited.
From there, she pivots to the old Atlantic article that asks the dumb question "Is it better to have a great teacher or a small class," which is right up there with, "Would you rather marry a hideous evil person who loves you, or a beautiful person who doesn't care about you at all?" In both cases, other, better choices are readily available. The question as asked tells us nothing.
But Rubin argues that everybody wants more teachers. And by "everybody" she means "everybody who sucks." Colleges want more paying customers, and unions want to collect union dues so they can lobby.
It is not easy to reverse that pattern or convince parents that their
child will do better in a class of 35 taught by a great teacher than in a
class of 20 taught by an ineffective one.
Well, no. Because all parents with functional brains would rather have their child in a class of 20 taught by a great teacher.
And then she goes to the NCTQ well, citing several different iterations of the National Council on Teacher Quality research about how very, very easy teacher programs are. As we have noted here in the past, the NCTQ's research on the quality of teacher programs is based on looking at colege commencement programs. In a field crowded with lazy bogus research and coming from people who specialize in lazy bogus research (they once evaluated a local college program that does not exist), NCTQ's "research" on the easiness of teacher ed programs is the laziest bogusest research ever.
But Rubin will bring it up repeatedly, including Kate Walsh's recent statements in a WaPo roundtable. Because if you keep repeating something, it eventually becomes true, I guess?
Rubin, of course, also argues for evaluation and the ability to fire at will. And she applauds charters that are experimenting with new any-warm-body-off-the-street programs, "so as to capture professionals from other fields who may want to enter the teaching field." I would love to see what sorts of nets and snares they use to capture these free-range professionals, and wish Rubin had said more about the bait used.
Rubin declares the problem (and it's no longer clear exactly what problem she means-- teachers suck, maybe?) is "far from insoluble." She wants students in teacher ed programs to have high GPA's and take tough tests, because one of the most important skills a teacher needs is the ability to take a test. Also, she wants every teacher to know phonetics.
As for the federal government, if it remains a source of funding,
taxpayers have a right to demand their dollars are not going to hire a
fleet of incompetent teachers, but those who are rigorously trained. If
the feds are going to get out of the business of funding schools and
instead, for example, give vouchers to parents, they should make every
effort to inform parents about the myth of small class size and the
necessity of qualified teachers.
Yes, those fleets of incompetent teachers, cruising the nation's byways. I myself was unaware that bad teachers traveled in fleets. I'd sort of assumed they skulked around, maybe wearing capes and top hats, Snidely Whiplash style.
Oh, but Rubin bemoans the way in which the important issue of getting rid of teachers gets lost in politics and common core and federalism.
If politicians really want to do something about the state of K-12
education, they’ll commit to putting a quality teacher in every
classroom and supporting state and local efforts to whittle down the
legions of teachers to lean ranks of excellent teachers.
Rubin has somehow completely missed the news that in many states and regions, the efforts to whittle down the teaching force have been very effective-- so effective that many jobs go unfilled. Honestly, did we not just all spend a month talking about the teacher "shortage"? Folks are already way ahead of Rubin, having figured out that you can get people out of teaching by offering lower pay, worse working conditions, and a general drumbeat of dopey abuse. At the very least, it makes it hard to recruit and retain.
Rubin could also have picked some tips up from reading the entire article that she pulled Kate Walsh quotes from. Jose Luis Vilson in that same piece said
This idea of “teacher quality” would be better served if we opened
the doors for teachers to have more voice in advancing our profession.
Yup. Let us take charge of overseeing teacher education and certification. Let us have a strong voice in how to advance and improve the profession.
Also, stop basing your entire argument on things that just aren't true. That would be a help as well.