How to improve public schools: In this morning’s New York Times, Motoko Rich discusses a plan to lure top college grads into teaching careers.
There’s nothing wrong with that idea. We do get a little bit nervous when we read it hyped in the way we highlight below.
This is how Rich begins her report, hard-copy headline included:
RICH (11/21/13): Campaign Seeks to Recruit Top Students to Become TeachersIs it just us, or does that highlighted passage seem strange? The Department of Education is unveiling this plan in partnership with Microsoft, State Farm Insurance and the Advertising Council?
If you can’t do, teach. The three best things about teaching? June, July and August.
With so much teacher bashing, who in the world would want to teach?
Seeking to combat such sentiments, the Department of Education—in partnership with the Advertising Council, Microsoft, State Farm Insurance, Teach for America, the nation’s two largest teachers’ unions and several other educational groups—is unveiling a public service campaign this week aimed at recruiting a new generation of classroom educators.
Everyone knows that Microsoft now rules the world of education. That said, what in the world does State Farm Insurance have to do with public school issues?
Would you turn to “the good hands people” to figure out the best way to run schools? (We know, we know—that's Allstate.) The notion doesn’t seem to faze Rich, whose work has begun to strike us as a possible parody of some kind:
RICH: “The challenge is to change the conversation around teaching so that it becomes the career that you want your child to go into,” said Kathy Payne, senior director of education leadership at State Farm, “rather than the career that you counsel children out of.”Question: Why does State Farm, an insurance company, have a “senior director of education leadership?” If you read the New York Times, you aren’t supposed to ask.
Many teachers have complained that what they see as an overemphasis on testing has stymied teacher creativity. But Cliff Skeete, group creative director at McGarryBowen, an advertising agency that donated its time to develop the video and radio ads, said testing and creativity are not mutually exclusive.
“If you find different ways to communicate with and teach kids, where it’s not just that same old thing, using a video game or projecting the solar system in the classroom,” Mr. Skeete said, “that’s what’s going to get those test scores raised.”
Within the context of this report, it’s odd enough to be quoting someone who serves in the post of “senior director of education leadership at State Farm.” But why would anyone quote the creative director at McGarryBowen, an ad agency, about the best way to understand the current profusion of testing?
Is Rich a satirist of some kind? If so, we apologize for our previous complaints about her peculiar reporting.
We offer one other note about this new campaign. In this passage, Arne Duncan makes it fairly clear where the idea comes from:
RICH: Taylor Mali, a poet and a former teacher, provides the inspirational voice-over that evokes some military recruitment ads. “Teachers today are breaking down obstacles,” he says, “finding innovative ways to instill old lessons, proving that greatness can be found in everyday places.”If teaching is such a wondrous profession, why is the inspirational Mali a former teacher?
The retirement of baby boomers creates an “amazing chance to make a difference for decades to come,” said Arne Duncan, secretary of education, in a telephone interview.
In addition to recruiting more candidates with science and math backgrounds, Mr. Duncan said, the nation’s public schools need to attract more Hispanics and blacks, particularly men, to teaching. Citing the model of several countries where students regularly score high on standardized tests, Mr. Duncan said that they pull their teaching corps from the top tenth to top third of college graduates. He said he wanted to persuade “very, very high caliber college graduates to come and work in our nation’s schools.”
Levity to the side, Duncan is plainly evoking miraculous Finland, which famously draws its teachers from the top third of its college graduates.
On the surface, there’s nothing wrong with seeking to copy this practice. We’ll assume it would be a good thing to attract stronger students into teaching, especially at the high school level.
That said, a lot of our biggest problems are found in elementary schools which serve low-income kids from low-literacy backgrounds. Would our problems in those schools be solved by attracting teachers with stronger academic records?
We wouldn’t feel real sure about that. And you can’t answer such questions in Finland, which has very little poverty and never created an educational “underclass” in the way our country did, down through the several centuries.
Finland is said to recruit its teachers from the top third of its college class. We assume the Finns have lots of outstanding teachers and lots of outstanding schools.
On the other hand, is it possible that Finland’s educational success has been somewhat overrated? Tomorrow, in a special “Ripples” report, we’ll show you how the 2011 TIMSS scores look after “disaggregation.”
How might we improve the schools which serve our low-income, low-literacy kids? We have some basic ideas about that.
But has anybody checked with State Farm? How about other ad agencies?
Tomorrow: Finland, the U.S. and TIMSS