Monday, December 01, 2008

Doc Challenges Jay Matthews....

In a column that came out today, WaPo’s “genius-in-residence” self-styled education guru Jay Matthews explained what you need to do to jump-start a chronically failing urban school system, illustrated by one school principal at Shaw Middle School. For the folks that have a lot of things to do (or email to read, in the case of Michelle Rhee), I’ve boiled it down to what I think are the key points. I have conveniently added my commentary as well.

(Principal Brian Bettes) eliminated homeroom periods and recess as wastes of time, instituted daily teacher training and told some instructors that they wouldn't last the school year if he didn't see enough energy in their classrooms.

Physical activity, physical fitness—waste of time! Burning off energy that could come out the wrong way in classrooms—pshaw! Why engage in exercise when you can drill and kill? Daily teacher training—I call that MY JOB. I learn something new every day; I learn how to handle different types of students, different types of situations every single day, and I learn from my successes and my mistakes. Oh yes, the motivation by fear thing shows love, and family, and caring, and why am I standing on plastic? (Reference to Lethal Weapon 2).

That's not all. The 41-year-old former Montgomery County middle school assistant principal said he wanted a school full of ambitious, young teachers "before they were jaded." So he hired just two with more than five years of experience.

I hate this—new teachers are great, they youth and boundless love and energy but they don’t know anything! They learn from everything they do; I’ve met teachers two weeks in that were jaded. Young teachers won’t save the world unless they have experienced veterans to learn from.

He also visited scores of students and parents before school started, asking them, among other things, how they felt about a white man running a school where all of the students were black or Hispanic.

I don’t care who you are—that’s freakin’ cool.

What he is attempting looks similar to what successful public charter schools have done: aggressively recruiting young, enthusiastic teachers, dropping anything that gets in the way of learning, letting everyone know that he or she will be judged on performance and developing strong relations among staff, students and parents.

I can’t stand it—young teachers are great, but give props to the veterans!

Students and parents told Betts that many teachers they knew at Shaw and Garnet-Patterson didn't care about them. "Nothing that I have ever seen trumps personal relationships at this level," Betts said. "The kids in this building who can be absolutely horrible in one person's class can be angelic in another because they have formed a relationship with that teacher."

You know, he’s right.

A young teacher from New Jersey named Meredith Leonard was hired after saying: "Every kid can learn, and we all say that, but what is missing is the last part of the sentence: Every kid can learn given the motivation, given the supports, given the expectations. I will be motivating my kids, I will be giving my kids the support and I will be expecting them to do it."

Good answer, I’d hire her too.

Many more applicants, including experienced teachers, blamed the bad test scores on undereducated parents and impoverished homes and suggested that those social ailments would be hard to cure. They weren't hired. Betts is happy to be left with an eager and optimistic staff. Still, he does not have much time to prove that he and Rhee are right about this, with me and everyone else watching.

Mm…nope. If your students’ parents are undereducated, that doesn’t make things any easier as the teacher. If your student’ parents come from poverty and they’re wondering where their next out of school meal’s coming from, or don’t know where they’re going to spend the night, well sorry, but those concerns trump any standardized test multiple choice question.

Good teaching can’t fill a hungry belly, but it is a ticket to better times.

You know Jay, come to my school. Do my job for a day and I'll do yours, but you can’t do mine.

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