Saturday, September 19, 2015

Rubin: We Need Fewer Teachers?

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.


  1. This is the same Jennifer Rubin who thinks exploding everything in sight is good foreign policy, right? So naturally she thinks blowing up our schools is a great idea.

    Oy, what a shanda fur goyim.

  2. Please, Rubin, you supercilious twit, come and teach a class of mine that has 35 students; 13 of whom have IEPs (4 of them for severe behavioral issues). Try differentiating all of that instruction and attempting to keep the class under control for two weeks. THEN, talk about class sizes being a "fad." I triple dog dare you.

  3. Does Ms. Rubin know Dale Russakoff? Sounds like the two would hit it off famously.

  4. EVA MOSKOWITZ: “Teacher shortage, Schmeacher shortage! U.S. Teachers suck!”

    That pretty much sums up Eva’s first contribution to Campbell Brown’s “THE 74” blog. In this piece, Eva dismisses the distress expressed by districts who started the school year short hundreds of teachers (or like Las Vegas over 1,000) as just a lot of “hand-wringing”.

    Eva, tell that to the parents upset that, due to these shortages, their kids are being taught in giant classes where there’s no room to sit, nor desks upon which to sit, or kids who are being taught by untrained office temps who have never taught a day in their lives.

    Instead of “hand-wringing” about teacher shortages, Eva says we should focus on the vast majority of current lousy teachers, and the institutions who trained them, or failed to train them to be effective in the classroom.

    Got that? Persistent and ubiquitous teacher bashing is one of the main contributors to the growing teacher shortage—i.e. provoking teachers to leave, and prospective teachers to avoid the profession altogether—but Ms. Moskowitz remedy for that shortage is… you guessed it… MORE TEACHER BASHING!

    “It’s easy to blame the kids – poverty, single-parent families, etc. – but school isn’t really about the children, it’s about the adults, and the adults in our classrooms aren’t getting the job done. No wonder there’s a backlash against the Common Core and standardized tests: They tell the ugly truth about the quality of our schools, and the teachers and unions don’t want to hear it.”

    So says the woman who has never taught a day in her life.

    So what’s the solution? Not the university departments of education that have been successfully preparing teachers for over 200 years, according to Eva. She accuses them of using “the old failed methods” that do not produce “dramatic gains for children.”

    So who DOES have the solution?

    Why Eva does, of course. Don’t forget. She runs the schools where kids have to wear diapers from all the stress caused by the authoritarian methods of classroom management. (which Eva admitted to in the recent New York Times expose, but shows no shame, arguing that making kids urinate and defecate on themselves will toughen them up, and make them better students. Anti-child-abuse activist Campbell Brown went eerily silent at this reported and admitted abuse at Success Academy schools.)


    “If we want to truly reform education in the United States, we must fundamentally reform how we train America’s teachers. Innovative approaches like those employed by small organizations such as Success Academy to create better teacher training programs should be viewed as a model for achieving this important goal.

    ‘We all know that strong teachers make a tremendous difference – maybe the greatest difference – in educational outcomes for children. As a country, we need to abandon the old, failed methods and instead foster programs that are improving teacher preparation and producing dramatic gains for children.”

  5. I would be very interested (well, no, not really) to see how many (competent) professionals out there who could be enticed to become teachers at current starting salaries and working conditions. If it was a viable experiment, why haven't they been flocking to the charter schools who seem to value non-traditional program teachers? I don't remember anything on the news about these supposedly superior "teachers" being interviewed and gushing about how much more rewarding it is than earning 2, 3, or more times the money in their previous careers (with more respect and probably shorter work hours).

  6. Former WaPo ombudsman Patrick Pexton said of Rubin, "She parrots and peddles every silly right-wing theory to come down the pike in transparent attempts to get Web hits."