Sunday, July 22, 2012
I'm On Your Side by Diane Ravitch
In the spring of 2010, I went out to college campuses to talk about my new book. The book was unusual for me because it was not a history; it was not a policy book; it was not a memoir. It was all three. I wanted to explain why I had come to realize that many of the ideas I had championed were wrong. I wanted to explain how testing and choice policies were undermining education. Testing was ruining curriculum and instruction. Choice threatened the survival of public education.
Chapter nine was about teachers and the research on teaching. For the most part, this research is written by economists, and it makes for dry reading. So I wanted to find a way to engage the reader and decided to look at the research through the eyes of my favorite high school teacher, Mrs. Ratliff. Suddenly it all came to life. I understood it better, and was better able to convey to readers how misguided the policies based on this research are. Without exception, the research judged teacher quality by teachers’ ability to raise standardized test scores. Since earlier chapters showed how the misuse of testing was warping instruction, all the pieces began to fit together. Standardized tests were being used and misused to make consequential decisions about students, teachers, and schools.
Since the book was published, I have spoken to more than 200 audiences of all sizes across the nation, including the national assembly of the NEA and the national convention of the AFT.
When I spoke about what I learned, I encountered a reaction I did not expect. Teachers came in droves, and many greeted me like a long-lost friend. In the question period, teachers got up to thank me for supporting them. When I was signing books afterwards, teachers came up with tears in their eyes and thanked me. On many occasions, a teacher said, “You have given me hope, and I’m not quitting.” Or, "you have given me the courage to keep going." When I was signing books in Denver, a woman stood about 15 feet away, watching. I called her over and asked her if she was all right, and she said, “I wanted to thank you, but I was afraid I would start crying.”
For many months I was puzzled by the reactions I saw. I thought my account of what was happening was sobering, even depressing. How could anyone see in it a message of hope? A friend who is active in religious work listened to my puzzlement, and she said, “You are validating their truth. You tell them they are not crazy. You are on their side."
I understood better, and I recognized that I have a mission to support teachers in a terrible time. I am doing that, and I will continue to do it, in articles, blogs, and whenever I am on a radio or television show. I will stand up and fight those who demean teachers. So many pundits and television documentaries and of course, that awful propaganda film “Waiting for ‘Superman,’” take potshots at teachers. Someone has to stand up for teachers, and I am glad to do it.
I do it because I admire teachers. I could not do for a day what teachers do every day. I could not manage a classroom of twenty-five five-year-olds. I could not teach thirty-five adolescents who wish they were doing something else. I could not tend patiently to the needs of children with disabilities. Teachers do it every day.
There is no more important job in society than teaching. Teaching prepares for the future and preserves the past. Teaching is the one profession, as a now popular saying goes that makes all other professions possible. Teachers take on the most wonderful students and make them better, and teachers take on the most indifferent students and make them better.
But my admiration for teachers is not the only reason I am on the front lines, trading barbs with teacher-bashers.
I support teachers because I am angered by the attacks on a noble profession. I am enraged that people who are wealthy and powerful attack teachers. I am angry that people who owe their station in life to teachers look down on those who educated them. I am angry that so many politicians are making policies that change teachers’ lives without consulting teachers. I am angry that politicians lay off teachers at the same time that they give tax breaks to corporations. I am angry when I hear about states passing legislation to take away tenure and seniority from teachers. I am angry that uninformed people say that experience doesn’t matter and that teachers don’t need academic freedom.
Having been in the field as a scholar for many years, I can’t believe that leading figures in our society think that a first-year teacher is just as good as or better than a teacher who has been in the classroom for ten or fifteen years. I want to ask every one of them, “When you go to a hospital with an emergency, do you want to be treated by an experienced doctor or a fresh resident? When you have a legal problem, do you want to see a lawyer or a law student? Next time you fly, will you feel better if they announce that your pilot graduated flight school a week ago?”
I can’t believe that so many disparage the value of a master’s degree. In what other field are people demanding that practitioners have less education and fewer credentials?
I am astonished that federal policy now demands that teachers be evaluated by the test scores of their students. I have read the research. The results are predictable. Teachers will teach to the test. Schools will narrow the curriculum to only what is tested. States will play games with the test scores and move the goal posts to make themselves look good. Excellent teachers will lose their jobs unjustly. Teachers who know how to drill their students for the state tests will get bonuses and commendations.
I am on the side of teachers because most cannot defend themselves and speak out against for fear of losing their job. I speak because they can’t.
And I won’t stop until a better day comes.
A better day will come, because at some point the American people will realize that we cannot continue to beat up on teachers and to close public schools without endangering our children and our society.
And when that day comes, I look forward to giving a personal hug to every teacher I know.