For links to all 6 part of this discussion go here
It’s certainly not surprising that I’ve failed to change your mind, and you’ve failed to change mine. You’ve been thinking about, and living, this issue for much longer than I have, so I apologize if my arguments strike you as stale. I take these arguments seriously though, and so do many others.
I do think there’s value in challenging one’s own thinking and avoiding the level of certainty that, in my opinion, exists to too high a degree on both sides of the education debate. And I think it’s wrong to consider those you disagree with you to be either evil or supremely ignorant – though that’s what you and some of your readers seem to believe about the current set of reformers. In any event, I appreciate your willingness to engage in this discussion with me; I also want to thank your many thoughtful commenters for sharing their thoughts.
I’d like to close our letter writing series with a few suggestions on where ‘reformers’ and ‘traditionalists’ may be able to agree:
- I think you were right in your last letter to suggest that salary bonuses may not be enough on their own to attract experienced, effective teachers into high-poverty schools. You pointed out, correctly in my view, that teachers might also be attracted if they were guaranteed lower class sizes or lighter class loads. That’s why I would love to see a bonus system that allows teachers flexibility on three measures: salary, class size, and planning time. In other words, a teacher could receive a higher bonus by accepting a higher class size or could get a lower class size by taking less planning time, or a smaller bonus for a teaching fewer classes. Of course, ideally a teacher would have small class sizes, plenty of planning time and a generous salary, but time and money are finite resources, and I think it would be awesome to give teachers this autonomy. This could even be applied outside of a bonus system to the regular salary schedule. Admittedly, a program like this may never be logistically possible – and would probably not be legally possible the way most contracts are currently written – but I think in theory at least, it would be a neat way to give teachers more flexibility.
- School discipline is an issue I’m very passionate about, and it’s one that I wish was given more attention. I was disappointed to see Eva Moskovitz pen an op-ed in defense of school suspensions, but glad to see some reformer push back. I hope that those on both sides can come together to work on solutions regarding school discipline.
- As I wrote in my last letter, I hope that traditionalists and reformers can work together on charter school accountability. As Diane Ravitch rightly puts it, charter schools are given increased autonomy in exchange for increased accountability.
- Finally, both of us have been very critical of Teach For America. I liked your recent blog post offering some ideas on how TFA can improve, many of which I agreed with. I’d also add two of my own: stop spending so much money on things that have no connection to student outcomes (such as on MTLDs or the alumni affairs team) and make Institute much more like a real classroom experience. I think reformers have given TFA a free pass because it’s so associated with the reform movements and because many reformers are themselves TFA alumni. No matter, reformers should hold TFA ‘accountable’ and ought to continuously question whether it is a good use of the scarce education dollar.
Ultimately, though, the two sides of this debate will never be able to work together so long as one side continues to viciously demonize the other. Examples are numerous. Consider Diane Ravitch’s two minutes’ hate against Ben Austin or savage name calling against Michelle Rhee or Karen Lewis’ constant suggestion that anyone who favors school closings is a racist.
I realize that there are also instances of inexcusable rhetoric from the reform side, but in my view they’re much more rare. The leaders of the reform movement – Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, Jeb Bush, etc – have never, that I’m aware of, attacked an individual personally. Perhaps you’re right, Gary, that the reform movement will crumble in a couple years. But if you’re wrong – and I think you are – then perhaps the traditionalists like Ravitch and Lewis should stop demonizing those they disagree with.
Thank you, too, for all the letters over the past few months. Perhaps I was a bit harsh at the end of my last letter, maybe even influenced a bit by the commenters who wanted the big cane to pull you away, but I do want you to know that although this dialogue won’t continue in this public forum, you are very welcome and encouraged to keep writing to me and we can continue privately.
As part of my debate strategy with you, as the ‘receiver,’ was to write responses at least three times as long as what you sent each time, I was thinking about just giving you the ‘last word’ this time, which I would have had it not been for your last two paragraphs.
To say “the two sides of this debate will never be able to work together so long as one side continues to viciously demonize the other.” implying that the ‘reformers’ are much more civil than the ‘traditionalists,’ as you refer to us. Diane Ravitch is a saint in my book (or whatever the equivalent would be in The Old Testament). Does she get angry when someone dupes a bunch of parents into signing away their school? Of course. The fact that Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee or Joel Klein don’t get ‘personal’ as often (if this is even true — is there a way to count this?) comes, in part, from their position of power. They have all the money and all the politicians. Duncan has The President on his side. Rhee has Oprah. They don’t need to get personal. It would actually be a tactical error for the to do so. Someone like Ravitch, Anthony Cody, Jersey Jazzman, EduShyster, Katie Osgood, and, me, well we don’t have that same kind of power or money. All we have is our words. (I suppose you could argue that ‘The Union’ has the money and the power, but from what I’ve seen from ‘The Union’ at least in New York City and also the national AFT, is ‘with friends like that, who needs enemies.’)
I try to be diplomatic and not do a lot of name calling. I don’t have any respect for the ‘reform’ leaders. It is hard to temper my words sometimes, but the whole lot of them sicken me, even the people who I was once friends with (especially the ones I was once friends with!) To not acknowledge the harmful side effects, even if they are unintentional, of their policies is very irresponsible and arrogant.
I will be interested to follow your career trajectory. Maybe you will be a leader in a new brand of ‘reformers’ who are a bit more thoughtful and self-reflective. Good luck, and stay in touch.