Tuesday, August 16, 2011

He Just Doesn't Understand

Running errands with my daughters today the Diane Rehm show was on the radio. She was interviewing Steven Brill, the author of Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America's Schools. My gut impression is that Brill genuinely respects teachers. In spite of that, he drove me crazy during the interview, to the extent that I was slamming my hands on the steering wheel. My oldest daughter actually asked me, "Mommy, why don't you just turn off the radio?"

First of all, I have to admit to not having read the book. I have heard some great things about it and am adding it to my list of books to read. Also, we were making stops so my listening to the interview was briefly interrupted a few times (something that was probably for the best).

One of Brill's major arguments throughout the interview was clearly for merit pay (although I never heard him use those words). He frequently spoke about teachers being frustrated by the fact that no matter how hard they work they would make the same amount of money as anyone else who had been breathing for the same length of time. There are so many problems with that argument. One, the idea that teachers are only motivated by money or that their compensation is a competition. Two, that there is an available solution to this 'problem'. Research on merit pay has shown that it doesn't work. We have no good, meaningful way to judge teachers. Finally, "breathing for the same length of time?" Really? Those were his words.

With breaks for our errands I was surviving with only minimal damage to my steering wheel. As we arrived home Diane Rehm asked a question about why teachers are always blamed, what about the parents. (By the way, Rehm was not exempt from my frustration, her questions were often as irritating as Brill's answers.) Brill responded by saying that successful charters have proven that all kids can be taught. I nearly screamed and did slam my car door when we got out. If kids are in a charter school someone, most likely a parent, has put forth the effort to get them there. That leaves plenty of kids whose parents don't know how to do so or don't bother to. Sheesh.


Kevin Hodgson said...

Is that the same Steve Brill who long ago sought to save journalism, too? His name rings a bell with me.

organized chaos said...

Charter schools proved that all kids can be taught?? That drives me nuts!! I'm sorry, our school, the think-tank, proves that all students can be taught. There are fabulous PUBLIC SCHOOLS that prove that all children can be taught. I hate it when charter schools get all the credit, especially, like you pointed out, the charter schools have parents who were with it enough to make the huge decision to not go to the nearby public school.
LOVE oldest daughter's response :)

timstahmer said...

One and the same, Kevin. He started a magazine in the late 90's called Brill's Content that was supposed to shake up journalism. I was a "charter" subscriber and the magazine didn't last the length of my subscription. Brill also founded Court TV (now Tru TV) and American Lawyer magazine.

All of this should make someone wonder, why is he now considered an "expert" on education? For me, he's just another in a long list of people with access to book publishers and radio interviewers who think they understand how to "fix" the education system because they went through it 30+ years ago and observed, to one degree or another, the experiences of their kids in school.

Jenny said...

Tim, thanks for answering Kevin's question so completely. That is much more than I knew about Steven Brill. Of course, it does nothing to improve my opinion of him.

Organized chaos, I think it's possible that oldest daughter is much smarter than I am.

Dahlia said...

"He frequently spoke about teachers being frustrated by the fact that no matter how hard they work they would make the same amount of money as anyone else who had been breathing for the same length of time."

Yes, I am frustrated by horrible teachers. But it has nothing to do with my salary. I am frustrated by the negative experience their students will have. I am frustrated because the parents of those students will lose faith in the school. I am frustrated by the fact that the media will use them to further stereotype our profession and demonize us. But no, I don't think about my salary being the same as theirs. If I cared so much about salary, I would have chosen a different profession.

Once again, "others" are creating policies and reforms without understanding the psychology of teachers.