In Which I Take a Harvard Professor to School

Jal Mehta, an assistant professor at Harvard’s School of Education, wrote an op-ed for the NY Times this week about the sorry state of teaching in America. (He also has a book on the way, so this column smells of self-promotion.) Some of his claims, like the following, make sense:

(C)harter schools are not a panacea and have not performed, on average, better than regular public schools. Successful schools — whether charter or traditional — have features in common: a clear mission, talented teachers, time for teachers to work together, longer school days or after-school programs, feedback cycles that lead to continuing improvements. It’s not either-or.

So far, so good. Please continue, professor:

Another false debate: alternative-certification programs like Teach for America versus traditional certification programs. The research is mixed, but the overall differences in quality between graduates of both sets of programs have been found to be negligible, and by international standards, our teachers are underperforming, regardless of how they were trained.

Just a minute, Sparky. You want to tell me that my certification (and recertification every five years) is no better than five weeks of TFA “training”? I’m not buying it. I’m also not big on cherry picking my data, such as the following:

In the nations that lead the international rankings — Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Finland, Canada — teachers are drawn from the top third of college graduates, rather than the bottom 60 percent as is the case in the United States. Training in these countries is more rigorous, more tied to classroom practice and more often financed by the government than in America. There are also many fewer teacher-training institutions, with much higher standards. (Finland, a perennial leader in the P.I.S.A. rankings, has eight universities that train teachers; the United States has more than 1,200.)

First, I’d like to know how the professor determined that my colleagues and I were in the “bottom 60 percent” of college graduates. Second, here’s a bit about Finland: they have a population of just over 5 million. The US has almost 314 million. (I’m no math major, but I’m pretty certain that’s a significant difference.)

Finally, the professor claims a “false polarization” between Michelle The Grifter Rhee and Diane Ravitch, “who decries the long-run effort to privatize public education and emphasizes structural impediments to student achievement, like poverty.” Anyone who knows Ravitch’s research knows her emphasis is on so much more than poverty. If you don’t know, Professor, check out the Network for Public Education. You might learn something.

Class dismissed.



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