What is it about New York Times columnists and education???
It’s time now for a feature in which I do something I am almost never allowed to do at home: unswizzle my wine box before noon go on and on (and on) about the latest New York Times column to work me into a lather. Today’s offender actually appeared on Saturday, which means that I have managed to hold in my rich and spicy commentary for the past two days. The author of the offending column: none other than Joe Nocera, a business columnist who has decided to turn his attention to the fiercely urgent cause of transforming teacher education. What could possibly go wrong?
Three sisters—and a corporate raider
The occasion for Nocera’s column was a discussion that he recently had with three teacher sisters. One teaches at a suburban school, one at an urban school and one at a charter that is part of a chain founded by corporate raider Carl Icahn. Now hold on just a sec—somehow I seemed to have missed that Icahn, who made *hostile takeover* a household word, is in now running charter schools. But alas, such is the case and Icahn’s schools are excellent. Of the three sisters, it is Icahn’s employee who speaks most glowingly about her employer. Or should I say former employer. Denise, who spent eight years teaching at one of Icahn’s charters, quit teaching three years ago citing the toll that the long hours took on her family life. In other words, hers was a longish short career by choice.
Cue music—and a thoroughly discredited study
Despite their varied career paths, and the fact that the one who took the Times’ preferred career path is no longer teaching, the three sisters all agree on one fundamental thing: their teacher preparation did not prepare them adequately to teach in an urban setting. Which turns out to be a happy coincidence as it’s the very thing that Nocera’s column just happens to be about. But columnists cannot live by anecdote alone, even when said anecdote appears in triplicate. Is there a, by now, thoroughly discredited study that might be invoked in, say, paragraph six?
According to a study released a few months ago by the National Council on Teacher Quality — a study that reported that three-quarters of the nation’s teaching programs are, “at best,” mediocre — “the field of teacher preparation has rejected any notion that its role is to train the next generation of teachers.”
The sisters actually levy some interesting complaints about the teacher preparation programs they attended. They would have liked more student teaching, for example. And Edel, who teaches second grade in the Bronx, says that the student teaching she did in no way prepared her for the kinds of issues that she’d be facing in an urban classroom: “‘like poverty, drugs, crime, and hunger’ that she was seeing on a daily basis.”
Stop making sense—and excuses
If Nocera were a reader of his own publication, he would know that the education reform movement long ago cracked the code of exactly this problem. You see, the best way to prepare teachers to overcome the effects of “poverty, drugs, crime and hunger” is to teach them that these are not excuses. Also, the “theory” that teachers-to-be used to fritter away their time studying, like Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, is so over now that we know that “poverty, drugs, crime, and hunger” are no longer excuses. And since we’ve all agreed now that there is absolutely nothing we can do about “poverty, drugs, crime, and hunger,” we can finally get busy with what matters: fixing our country’s broken teacher preparation programs.
The most over-hyped book in the world
But Nocera still isn’t quite done. There’s a word count to be reached after all, and happily he has room to include an expert opinion. But whom fits that bill? Whom indeed, reader! Why it’s Amanda Ripley, whom Nocera describes as “the author of the fine new book, The Smartest Kids in the World.” Ripley’s fine new book is beloved by the punditocracy because it confirms what they absolutely know to be true: that our failed and failing public schools are failing due to the non-excellence of our teachers, and that to excel, and to reclaim the rightful place at the head of the global pack which we never had, we must talk endlessly about what other countries do differently whilst ignoring the one thing that makes us most different, the fact that 23% of American kids are consigned to the dust heap of poverty.
Alas, there is only a paragraph left to devote to Ripley’s recently acquired expertise, so we will have to wait to read more about her expertise in a future column or columns. For his part, Nocera assures us that now that he’s discovered this fiercely urgent issue, he’s going to force us to keep reading about it. “As it turns out, there are some people who are trying to transform teacher education here at home. As the school year progresses, I hope to introduce some of them — and their ideas.” I can hardly wait…
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