Friday, June 4, 2010

David Brooks is wrong...

... or purposely hyperbolic? He wrote in today’s column on education reform, “In every other job in this country, people are measured by whether they produce results.” Why does he need to say that? Whether or not you think it should be the case, it is just not true. Also, among smart reformers, there is not consensus that once “mediocrity infects a school culture, it’s nearly always best to simply replace the existing school with another,” as he wrote.

Not that Brooks would remember, but I worked for him in my first job in journalism, an internship on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal Europe, in Brussels. I got the job even though my writing sample roundly criticized Reagan. “We like Reagan here,” Brooks said, sitting under a portrait of Margaret Thatcher. (For the record, I criticized Carter too. Also for the record, Brooks and my other colleagues in that brief internship were extremely kind, inclusive and helpful, even if David did insert the term “leftist shibboleths” into an op-ed I wrote. At age 20, I didn’t know what those were, much less what I thought of them.)

Anyway. For a lot of smart people, Brooks’s columns are nearly all they will read about education reform. He often makes good points, always in a powerful way. I guess it is the prerogative of columnists to mold their arguments the way they see fit. But that doesn’t mean I won’t call out exaggerations, misstatements and omissions.


  1. I would agree with Bob. What "results" is he measured by? How often he's right? How many papers he sells?

    Brooks often does good work, but he--like so many other national columnists who venture into education--fabricate all kinds of certainties and all but ignore legitimate debate. Thanks for calling him out.

  2. "Results" in the case of a writer can be quality of the work, not necessarily how many people read or enjoy it. Even then, there are still people who are not paid based on "results," other professions that rely on lockstep pay scales. I am not saying teachers should not be paid based on whether they are good or not—I think that they should—but that it is rhetorically sloppy to say that's the way it works for everyone.

  3. I like that he brought up the fact that until very recently, tenured public school teachers have been guaranteed employment and automatic pay raises whether their students succeeded or failed.

    What I think he meant to say was that private businesses don't generally separate employment, pay and performance because the results of doing so aren't good. The goals of schools should be the best product (education) at the best price (tax dollars).

    I think he's trying to ask a good question: why expect a incentive system that doesn't work in the private sector to work in public schools?

  4. In my blog today, I highlight some business thinking that would seem relevant here. How about the idea of management being held accountable for employee results, since the system has the most influence on the employee's performance and is generally not under the employee's control? That's not the opinion of a teacher shirking accountability - check it out.

  5. The Sheer Mass of Educational Reforms has arrested the Maturation of “Professional Education” Causing Critical Mission Blindness
    Reformers tend to address some very deserving and gritty issues, however these tend to be complex social-political matters some of which are part of the larger sweep of history and the continuing evolution of social structures. The World Wide Web now is filled with millions of pages of unsupported practices, and un-raised critical questions. Educational Reform as found in multiple documents on the web between 1900-2000 numbered about 5400, between 2001 and 2010 that number has risen to 4.8 million. That is a deafening din and a very chaotic one.
    Without stepping away from these related issues we must first get our own house in order. We need some of these other reformers to join us for a brief intensive period followed by an ongoing one to engage in a very serious and honest dialogue on a very basic Professional Education issue; namely, the means or process by which we will identify the BEST core Principles and Prescriptive Practices of Professional Teaching, without this step, we simply do not qualify as a Profession. This, of course, will not immediately solve the other sociological and economic matters, but it will further insure that students will more consistently be exposed to the Best Instructional Practices. That done, we will have a far less costly, better educated electorate and our profession would be able to better hear fresh ideas from other Educational Reform Movements.
    Oddly this is very easily done, and very inexpensive. Of course, we cannot minimize the practical difficulty in actually having 2 million teachers actually doing the right thing at the right time however it is evident that every certified teacher should have been educated and trained in the best scrutinized, and most results-based practices. This need not, and should not cancel out ongoing experimentation and even the ever present need for some creative improvisation in the classroom any more than it has in medicine or any other profession.
    Please join this narrative at: