Wednesday, February 2, 2011
DC Schools Chancellor Likes 40 Kids in Every Classroom
Lest public school parents in Washington, D.C. think that they had won a victory for their children in their electoral disavowal of Adrian Fenty and the resignation of Michelle Rhee, their new, interim schools chief may have just disabused them of that notion. In an interview that took place on January 12 and was published nearly in full on Monday in the Washington Post's "D.C. Schools Insider" column by Bill Turque, acting Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson (and notably a former recruiter and national director of admissions of Teach for America) revealed an education philosophy that was both stunning in its callousness and absurd in its content.
Asked whether she agreed that class size has been overblown as a determinant of students' success, Ms. Henderson began by hedging her response, saying that she was not yet sure where she stood. Undeterred, however, she plowed forward with the following:
At the same time I know for sure when you have an excellent teacher in a classroom -- and I've seen this -- that principals will put additional kids in a classroom, up to 40. And if the teacher can handle those 40 kids they are better served by that one highly effective teacher than splitting that class into two classes of 20 [where] you can't guarantee are both are highly effective teachers.
Note that Ms. Henderson can't even bring herself to say "educate" 40 children in a classroom; instead, she refers to teachers being able to "handle those 40 kids." That's HANDLE -- not teach, not inspire, not motivate, not support, just HANDLE -- as though teaching is about nothing more than maintaining order over a group of 40 children until dismissal. Apparently, Ms. Henderson's rather skewed view of a "highly effective teacher" is one who can "handle" a classroom of forty children. In the years I taught high school math, 33 students was the most I ever had, and I know with absolute certainty that my students' education in those classes suffered to some degree for it.
Furthermore, what public school parent, in D.C. or anywhere else, wouldn't strongly prefer having their child in a class of twenty with a good, seasoned teacher (even if not a "highly good" one) rather than with a great teacher trying to educate forty kids? Beyond that, how many such "highly effective" teachers would stay in that school, or even in the teaching profession, if they faced classes loaded up with forty students per class, year after year? A perfect formula for burnout, which of course would help ensure that there will be fewer high-paid senior teachers and more spots opening up every year for more TFAers.
Ms. Henderson's statements above are, consciously or otherwise, perfectly reflective of the prevailing ed reform attitudes that teachers (and their unions) are the real problem with education in America, that experience in their profession is irrelevant if not harmful, that class size is not a factor in educational effectiveness, and that there exists this enormous, untapped pool of inexperienced yet nevertheless perfect teachers, presumably mostly from TFA, who would readily solve all our national education problems if only the unions would step aside and allow them to be turned loose in schools to work their fairy-tale magic.
One would have thought that only a writer on the gifted order of Nobel prize-winner Gabriel Garcia-Marquez could have concocted such a fetching tale of magical realism. That the education reformers have been able to do likewise, and sell it as legitimate public policy, has truly been their own peculiar form of magic.