The personal touch of relinquishment

Neerav Kingsland

David Kirp had a piece in The New York Times on Sunday: Teaching is not a Business. You should check it out. 

My take on his piece:

  1. Language: Dan Willingham has written about how the education debates often use one of two types of rhetoric: either Romantic era words (nurture, relationships, whole child, etc.) or Enlightenment era words (rationality, logic, evidence, etc.). Kirp leans on Romantic era language in a manner that I find overly loaded, though perhaps he would make a similar critique of my writing.
  2. Straw men: As Ryan Hill noted on twitter, Kirp sets up many straw men (arguments he imputes to reformers that few reformers make), as well as just false assertions, such as: high stakes testing should be single metric of success; market or technology based reforms are “impersonal” and disregard educators; firing teachers and coaching teachers is mutually exclusive; challenging curriculum goes undiscussed (common core standards and associated curricula are many things, but undiscussed is not one of them). One could go on. I found this to be the weakest part of Kirp’s piece.
  3. Charter School Data: Kirp notes that charter schools perform at about the same level for traditional schools. What Kirp does not mention is that, in 2013, CREDO conducted the nation’s largest quasi-experimental charter school study. The study covered twenty-seven states and covered 95 percent of students that attend charters school in the entire nation. It found that African-American students in poverty who attended charter schools achieved nearly two months of extra learning per year. CREDO has conducted similar studies in urban areas across the country, nearly all of which have demonstrated that students learn more in charter schools than traditional schools. In Indianapolis, students in charters schools achieved nearly three months of extra learning. In New York City, three months; in Los Angeles, three and a half months; in New Orleans, five months; in Newark, nine months; in Boston, twelve months. 
  4. Voucher School Data: Kirp claims that Milwaukee’s voucher program has led to no real academic improvement. As it happens, students in the voucher program graduated high school and enrolled in college at rates 4–7 percent higher than similarity situated students in non-voucher schools. 

All told, I’m unconvinced by Kirp’s piece. Unlike Kirp, I view structural reform as a way to increase the quality of relationships that educators have with each other—and with their students.

The best charter schools are known for their strong cultures and extensive support for teachers and students. Many traditional urban school districts, on the other hand, are known for their contentious labor environments and poor working conditions.

Perhaps if we had more structural reform, we would also have more of the personal touch that Kirp rightfully desires.

Neerav Kingsland is the former CEO of NSNO. He blogs at relinquishment.org, where this post first appeared

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