There was a minor dustup over at the Huffington Post when Davis Guggenheim (the director of the pro-education reform documentary Waiting for “Superman”) was criticized by Dan Brown (not the author of The Da Vinci Code, but a schoolteacher) for offering gauzy platitudes instead of actual suggestions for reform.
Guggenheim presents his teacher bona fides by mentioning his first documentary, The First Year, which followed rookie teachers. He opens and closes with a personal, emotionally-charged narrative that informs his above-reproach talking point (Teachers are very, very important). The essay, though, is light on the actual steps we need to take to recruit, develop, and retain a new generation of great teachers. …
His recommendations are so vague that many would-be reformers can and are using the same language to promote untested, potentially dangerous initiatives.
That’s fair, to a point. The problem is, every time someone suggests actual, concrete reforms, teachers unions tend to lose their minds. Consider what happened when the District of Columbia tried to utilize the IMPACT evaluation system to judge which teachers were “effective” and which teachers were “ineffective”: union head George Parker promptly threatened to file a class action lawsuit.
Or consider what happened when the Los Angeles Times performed a value-added analysis of teachers in the LA Unified School District and then made those results available to the public: The head of the AFT, Randi Weingarten, lambasted the paper for letting people know the quality of the their childrens’ teachers and the United Teachers of Los Angeles reacted by boycotting the newspaper and forming a picket line outside of its offices.
My point is a simple one: Why ask for concrete proposals if you’re going to fight every single one that’s offered? That’s what teachers unions and their leaders like Weingarten do; they make hazy proclamations about being in favor of reform and helping schools improve, yet when a school system or a reformer actually offers concrete reforms, they squeal like stuck pigs.