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John Thompson: Can Education Trust Be Trusted by Teachers?

I only have one problem with Joy Resmovits' Huffington Post article "Dream Deferred: Are We Leaving Black Students Behind?," but I will save that detail until the end of my response. My big problem is with the venom of many of the 3538 comments. I also believe that the policy analysts Resmovits cites have contributed to the bitterness of many commenters. But, first, I want to agree with the thrust of her post.

Resmovits recounts teacher Dwight Davis' "nightmarish" ordeal as a black student in Washington D.C. Bad teachers helped create a sense that no one cared. "Though he excelled in elementary school, as he got older," she reports, "he fell in with the wrong crowd. His grades dropped, and he wound up in lower level classes, courses that attracted 'all the bad teachers.'"

Davis came back to D.C. and during his nine years in that city he felt compelled to "insulate his fifth graders from what he saw as bad teachers, teachers who just passed along students who didn't learn or try." It is no criticism of Davis to note that he is now one of the many teachers who has moved on to easier schools.

Resmovits also reports on the Education Trust's proposals for improving teacher quality and equity. That liberal "reform" advocacy group condemns the "comparability" loophole that allows school systems to duck this equity issue. The rule, sadly, is the only protection against the inevitable result of demanding equity without providing more resources. Too many systems would transfer higher-paid teachers against their will to low-income schools.

The Education Trust, like Resmovits, acknowledges that "forced placement" of teachers would not be a good idea. She writes, "nobody wants to put a reluctant teacher, regardless of how objectively good they are, in front of the neediest students."

In my experience, Davis, the Education Trust, and Resmovits are correct; bad teachers do terrible harm. Teachers unions have long been willing to negotiate more efficient methods for firing bad teachers, as they have sought to protect good teachers from being caught up in the wide, but primitive, nets that test-driven "reformers" seek. Moreover, incentives for attracting teaching talent to the inner city would be a better idea.

The best incentive of educators is the opportunity to teach well. To improve teaching quality in the tough schools, we need a system of coordinated socio-emotional supports. We need collaboration between teachers, administrators, and families. We don't need top down micromanaging

The Education Trust now criticizes the Obama administration for not providing more supports. The Obama education deserves plenty of criticism. But, in doing so, the Ed Trust is like the person who killed his parents and begged for mercy as an orphan. The Education Trust has long pushed for the most anti-teacher aspects of the Obama administration's "teacher quality" and school turnaround "reforms." Now that billions of dollars have been spent on those ineffective efforts, money is no longer available for the socio-emotional supports that it finally endorses.

The Education Trust seeks value-added teacher evaluations, even though they are systematically unfair to teachers in high-challenge schools and even though they would encourage an out-migration of teaching talent from schools where it is harder to raise test scores. Also, it would sentence students in classes that are not currently subjected to high-stakes tests to more bubble-in accountability.

The Ed Trust supports collective punishment, i.e. the mass removal of teachers in turnaround schools. It would give complete power to turnaround school principals to dismiss teachers. And while I mostly support the closing of the comparablity loophole, their comparability reforms offer no concrete checks and balances to prevent districts from resorting to the forced transfers that it and Resmovits condemn.

To a man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. The Education Trust, like too many school "reformers," believes that output-drive accountability is the answer to educational inequities. They have been some of the most effective advocates for the test-driven accountability of NCLB and the Obama administration, but they assume no responsibility for the unintended consequences of the bubble-in mania. On the contrary, their past responses have been to ratchet up the blame game, and seek to tighten screws creating metrics that systems supposedly can't game.

Resmovits' post was one of the most balanced that I have read about teacher distribution issues. My only problem with her post is that she didn't challenge the Education Trust's assumption that coercive, accountability-driven methods are the only way to improve teachers' effectiveness.

It is time to shift from output-driven micromanaging, I believe, to the provisions of supports for teaching and learning. It is time to move beyond test-driven policies that, to cite Rafe Esquith, threaten to turn great teachers into an endangered species. Invest in win win policies for building learning cultures, and the best teachers and the most promising teaching candidates will be willing to tackle the best job there is - teaching effectively in the inner city.

What do you think? Has the Education Trust softened its attacks on teachers? Is there a chance we can join together to address the Opportunity Gap?

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