Saturday, March 14, 2009

Save us from the naivete of conservatives

I want to get back to Matt's fine piece on The Celebrant later. But David Brooks' latest column in the New York Times caught my eye and I want to quickly comment on it.

No, not comment. I want to quickly and sharply attack it.

Here's the heart of the column:

Thanks in part to No Child Left Behind, we’re a lot better at measuring each student’s progress. Today, tests can tell you which students are on track and which aren’t. They can tell you which teachers are bringing their students’ achievement up by two grades in a single year and which are bringing their students’ levels up by only half a grade. They can tell you which education schools produce good teachers and which do not...Most important, it would increase merit pay for good teachers (the ones who develop emotional bonds with students) and dismiss bad teachers (the ones who treat students like cattle to be processed).

Brooks is fatally naive here. And, naivete is exactly what bothers me about conservative thinking. What evidence does he have to show high stakes testing will identify the teachers who "develop emotional bonds with students?" It's like the incredibly naive theory of trickle-down economics. I think we all know what trickles down. Damned little. High stakes testing measures even less about teachers who actually connect with students.

Here's the irony: I'm a liberal on most things ("Love me, love me, love me; I'm a liberal -- Phil Ochs) and Obama is only the second mainstream candidate I've voted for in four decades of mostly futile voting. And, oddly enough, I like reading David Brooks and usually agree with some part of his message. But in this case I think both Obama and Brooks have their heads buried in phony data sets.

Truth is, merit pay will do nothing but encourage more lock-step teaching to the test. Teaching to the test is not what made either man the sort of courageous, original thinker he's become. Teaching to the test is a good way to train Walmart greeters once the cordial, competent boomer generation of greeters have passed.

--Lofflin, still steaming after the Netherlands' defeat this afternoon

1 comment:

  1. You have an interesting viewpoint, but I think you've made two errors:

    One is confusing David Brooks with a conservative. He's a malleable moderate wandering in traffic.

    Two is discounting how the Walmart greeters of this cordial, competent boomer generation came to be educated.

    True, there's not one 'Obamacornucopia' solution to this problem, but the problem with arguing against testing & benchmarks is that you have to utilize some baseline test and present some empirical benchmarks in which to argue against such things, or it's simply all anecdotal.

    Lord knows, it's never the parents fault (sarc//).