I’ll add a few more points, however, but they deal with the tenor and tone of the conversation right now, both in Rhee’s words and in the tone of the article.
I worry about an educational leader who would speak like this to a reporter:
Then she raises her chin and does what I come to recognize as her standard imitation of people she doesn’t respect. Sometimes she uses this voice to imitate teachers; other times, politicians or parents. Never students. “People say, ‘Well, you know, test scores don’t take into account creativity and the love of learning,'” she says with a drippy, grating voice, lowering her eyelids halfway. Then she snaps back to herself. “I’m like, ‘You know what? I don’t give a crap.’ Don’t get me wrong. Creativity is good and whatever. But if the children don’t know how to read, I don’t care how creative you are. You’re not doing your job.”
Let’s admit that educational ideas are controversial. Let’s admit that no one side of this argument has a monopoly on “right.” Let’s admit that we can work as hard as we want in service of an educational idea, but that we still don’t know for sure that we’re doing it right way. And let’s let that back-of-the-mind doubt humble us, so that we remain open to learn, because in the end that’s what we want our students to do.
And to Time Magazine, if you are going to have a reporter write an editorial, call it an editorial, because when you allow reporters to write statements like this without citing any research at all, you undermine your magazine’s credibility:
… if we wanted to have truly great teachers in our schools, we would assess them after their second year of teaching, when we could identify very strong and very weak performers, according to years of research. Great teachers are in total control. They have clear expectations and rules, and they are consistent with rewards and punishments. Most of all, they are in a hurry. They never feel that there is enough time in the day. They quiz kids on their multiplication tables while they walk to lunch. And they don’t give up on their worst students, even when any normal person would.
Mixed in with the platitudes there are some very questionable statements. (I’d argue some of the best teachers I’ve ever seen teach learned how to never be in a hurry. In fact, I’d argue that ‘being in a hurry’ can often be an impediment to great teaching, because a) that’s about you, not the kids, and b) you miss a lot of details when you’re in a hurry, and details tend to be important when you teach.) I’m fine with them on the editorial page — or on a blog — but not in a piece of reportage. And again, making those statements as blanket truths is reductive — it makes it seem like the way to great teaching and great schools is just some magic algorithm that everyone knows already but just for some perverse reason is unwilling to implement.
We need fewer know-it-alls in education today. We need thoughtful, humble people who are willing to acknowledge their uncertainty and still do what they believe to be right. We need people who do understand that bludgeoning our way to school improvement probably isn’t going to get us there. And we need people who understand, like Tom Sobol once said,
The policy clock and the pedagogical clock are not synchronized. Let’s understand that truth, and quiet our rhetoric down. The question is not only did the scores go up this year; it is whether we have persisted in our journey, noting progress, but respecting at all times the nature of butterflies and flight.
That perspective — given near the end of a long heroic career in education — doesn’t get you in Time magazine, and it probably doesn’t get you meets with both Presidential candidates during election season, but it’s what’s needed.