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Dissapointed In Obama, Reformista Attacks Linda Darling-Hammond

Hcgj670_obama_20070404185338gifI have some real problems with the tone, substance, and strategy of DFER moneyman Whitney Tilson's post (here) about Stanford professor Linda Darling- Hammond.  Tilson being upset about Obama choosing her as a campaign adviser isn't the issue - he and others have contributed to Obama hoping that he would be a reform-minded candidate and at times like this it's pretty clear that Obama isn't going that way.  And Tilson seems to have figured out in the last few hours that LDH is not going to be Obama's education staffer (click here to see who is). 

But Tilson's anger is focused on LDH, not Obama, and in the process I think he distorts her record and does disservice to his own interests.   I don't always agree with her, but I respect her and think the record is pretty clear that it was Darling-Hammond, among others, who brought the whole issue of teacher quality to the fore as head of NCTAF 10 years ago.  Without NCTAF, I'd argue, we're not talking about performance pay today.  And LDH's critique of TFA is ancient history at this point -- attacking her for that is fighting an old war and makes Tilson and his allies look defensive and mean.  Attacking Obama for his choice just seems politically naive. 

Previous Post:  Who The Hell Is Whitney Tilson?

Here's the full text of the Tilson email:

As an Obama supporter, I was very disappointed to learn that he recently picked Linda Darling-Hammond to be one of his education policy advisors. 

While Sen. Obama is making many good moves and is closing (and in some places, reversing!) the gap between himself and Sen. Clinton, this selection of a wolf-in-sheeps-clothing ed advisor is troubling.  This is an issue Sen. Obama could really win with by staking out positions that Sen. Clinton would be hard-pressed to follow, allowing him to speak to several vital constituencies in key states who crave genuine school reform, but instead he's making her look like the reformer!  With the selection of Prof. Darling-Hammond, he continues a pattern of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory on this issue (for my comments on his recent education speech, see: http://edreform.blogspot.com/2007/12/in-major-policy-speech-obama-announces.html).

Prof. Darling-Hammond has every qualification imaginable (see her bio at http://ed.stanford.edu/suse/faculty/displayRecord.php?suid=ldh), but she is about as bad as it gets in terms of education reform.  That's a strong statement, so let me be clear what I mean: I have no doubt that she really cares about kids, closing the achievement gap and doing what's right to improve schools, so right there you'd think that she's hugely better than, say, teacher union bosses who will stop at nothing to preserve their unions' interests, even when they're totally contrary to what's best for kids.
 
But I actually think people like Linda Darling-Hammond (and Jonathan Kozol -- I've posted my thoughts on him here: http://edreform.blogspot.com/2007/08/schooled-in-persistence.html, here: http://edreform.blogspot.com/2007/03/my-critique-of-jonathan-kozol.html and here: http://edreform.blogspot.com/2006/06/kozol-stooge.html) are actually more dangerous to the school reform movement precisely because they tend have pure motives.

 
All sensible people are rightly skeptical when union bosses call for more spending and smaller class size (gee, what a shocker that they favor more money to more teachers) as the solution to all that ails education, but they drop their guard when well-credentialed, well-intentioned people like Prof. Darling-Hammond talk about education reform, even when their solutions, rooted in the Alice in Wonderland world of ed schools, are either very limited or flat-out wrong.

 
These prototypical ed school types have typically never worked a day in their lives in the private sector and are oblivious to (or enemies of) things that, in the real world, drive success or failure of organizations like accountability, choice, competition, incentives, the importance of not only identifying are rewarding success but -- egads! -- identifying and punishing failure, etc.  Worse yet, these folks are not interested in reform unless the reformers have credentials they deem acceptable -- yet for too long, the very process of obtaining those credentials is antithetical to making the reforms.
 
The failure to recognize the true nature of people like Prof. Darling-Hammond (again, I don't for an instant question her good intentions) leads too often to important people like Sen. Obama, who could be real leaders on this issue, instead mouthing meaningless platitudes about toothless reforms fed to them by these so-called experts who, though certainly they would never admit it, even to themselves, are carrying water for the enemies of reform.
 
My primary quarrel with Prof. Darling-Hammond is not that what she says/writes is all wrong, but rather that in all of her writings, I can't find a single word about the core problem in American education: the broken, dysfunctional system, with awful bureaucracies, skewed incentives, little accountability, and powerful, entrenched interests defending it.  In fact, I can't think of anything important she's said or written that wouldn't be embraced and endorsed by the teachers unions. 
 
For example, as I discuss below, her Marshall Plan for teachers sounds great, but in the absence of reforms that address the broken system -- reforms that she either ignores or is hostile to -- it will simply end up costing a lot of money and won't change anything.
 
To summarize, let me be clear: I think that Linda Darling-Hammond is little more than a thinly disguised shill for the teachers unions and that her ideas, if adopted, would likely result in much higher spending and little or no improvement in our schools.  I can suggest 100 far better people for Obama to listen to if he's really serious about education reform.
 
Having made very clear my issues with Jonathan Kozol (see the posts above), why so I have similar views of Prof. Darling-Hammond?  Let me count the ways:
 
A) She's long been a rabid critic of Teach for America and is the author of the infamous "study" on Teach for America, which has been totally discredited -- see: http://www.teach-now.org/newsdisp.cfm?newsid=77.  Here's an excerpt:
 
Darling-Hammond's recently released study   reflects only two grade levels in a single Teach For America site, draws   conclusions from old data, and appears not even to meet the research standards   for its own less rigorous design. Perhaps most concerning, the analysis and   conclusions of Darling-Hammond's study were not subjected to rigorous review   by other objective researchers or the subjects themselves before being   released to the press.

While Teach For America was not given the   opportunity to ask questions about the study design, or to view the study   before it went to the press, our initial look since the public release has   revealed significant flaws in the analysis and methodology. In fact, every   researcher with whom we have spoken who has seen this study has concluded   there are problems that could invalidate the conclusions. We summarize several   of these problems below.
Her "study" is so shoddy that I can only conclude that she's biased and deliberately did a hatchet job.  In bringing Darling-Hammond onto his team, does Sen. Obama really want to send the message that he's against Teach for America?!  That's the message I'm getting...
 
B) According to a friend who was there, at a conference she publicly called one of the most passionate, committed education reformers I know (and a long-time Democrat) a tool of Republicans because his courageus, bold ideas conflicted with her politically correct, toothless reforms.  No, Prof. Darling-Hammond, we Democrats who are real education reformers aren't tools of anyone -- it's you who are the tool of the entrenched forces of the status quo.
 
C) When she's not directly attacking amazing reform organizations like TFA, she's damning others with faint praise.  For example, on charter schools, while she's one of the founders of a charter school in East Palo Alto (http://es.eastpaloaltoacademy.org/ and http://hs.eastpaloaltoacademy.org/), I've heard she's lukewarm on charter schools in general and doesn't understand the benefits of competition and choice at all, as is made clear in this interview (http://www.almanacnews.com/morgue/2001/2001_05_30.coverside1.html):

"I'm an advocate for good schools, and I think some charter schools   allow us to do some things to create those schools. Some charters don't. The   movement is very diverse. I don't think the issue is charter versus   non-charter, it's how do we get schools to change in ways that are going to be   more supportive to kids? I'd like to see regular public school districts   taking charge of the issue the way charters are."

  "Competition does not always breed quality. All you have   to do is sit up one night and try to find a station on cable TV. The same   thing is true in schools. The studies about charter schools across the country   have shown that in many states the charter schools are doing less well than   the regular public schools. So they're not a whole lot of competition in some   ways. On the other hand I do think that creating good school models does show   people that it is possible to break out of the mold. So the provision of   high-quality modeling for schooling, whether charter or non-charter, is a good   thing and in a sense may be what the proponents of competition have in mind."  
Of course charter schools are a mixed bag, but overall the great majority of studies show they're leading to greater student gains than comparable public schools (see page 4 of my slides posted at: www.tilsonfunds.com/Personal/Charterschoolslides.pdf) and, equally importantly, the top schools like KIPP, Achievement First and Uncommon Schools (see slides 5-12) are achieving unprecedented educational success with the most disadvantaged students -- yet Prof. Darling-Hammond is silent about this.
 
D) In this extended interview from The Nation(http://www.thenation.com/docprint.mhtml?i=20070521&s=darling-hammond), she makes a few good points (we need more robust ways to test and measure students and schools), but it's clear that she's an enemy of choice, competition, accountability and anything that identifies and punishes failure.
 
Let's look at her Marshall Plan for teaching, which sounds wonderful, but pretty much could have been copied and pasted from the NEA's website -- a lot more money, but little that fundamentally changes the system:

A Marshall Plan for Teaching could insure that all students are taught by   well-qualified teachers within the next five years through a federal policy   that (1) recruits new teachers using service scholarships that underwrite   their preparation for high-need fields and locations and adds incentives for   expert veteran teachers to teach in high-need schools; (2) strengthens   teachers' preparation through support for professional development schools,   like teaching hospitals, which offer top-quality urban teacher residencies to   candidates who will stay in high-need districts; and (3) improves teacher   retention and effectiveness by insuring that novices have mentoring support   during their early years, when 30 percent of them drop out.

For an annual cost of $3 billion, or less than one week in Iraq, the nation   could underwrite the high-quality preparation of 40,000 teachers   annually--enough to fill all the vacancies taken by unprepared teachers each   year; seed 100 top-quality urban-teacher-education programs and improve the   capacity of all programs to prepare teachers who can teach diverse learners   well; insure mentors for every new teacher hired each year; and provide   incentives to bring expert teachers into high-need schools by improving   salaries and working conditions.

But let's look at what's missing: 1) She talk about improving teacher retention, but what about the other side of the coin: removing ineffective teachers? (oops, I forgot: at ed schools, all teachers are wonderful, committed and effective); 2) How does she plan to identify the best teachers, esp. since she appears to be no fan of testing?  What about merit pay for the most effective teachers (which is separate for higher pay for math and science teachers and extra pay for teaching in the toughest schools)?; 3) What about making tenure something rigorous, only to be earned by proven effective teachers rather than something nearly automatic?
 
Speaking of the bizarre ed school worldview in which any accountability is cruel and counterproductive, this captures it perfectly:

Punishing the Neediest Schools and Students. At least some of the   schools identified as "needing improvement" are surely dismal places where   little learning occurs, or are complacent schools that have not attended to   the needs of their less advantaged students. It is fair to suggest that   students in such schools deserve other choices if the schools cannot change.   However, there is growing evidence that the law's strategy for improving   schools may, paradoxically, reduce access to education for the most vulnerable   students.

NCLB's practice of labeling schools as failures makes it even harder for   them to attract and keep qualified teachers. As one Florida principal asked,   "Is anybody going to want to dedicate their life to a school that has already   been labeled a failure?" 

Again, at first glance this sounds reasonable.  No doubt schools NCLB labels as failing have trouble attracting top teachers -- but this has nothing to do with NCLB!  Does Darling-Hammond really think top teachers don't already know which schools suck?!  And taking her concern to its logical conclusion, we should stick our heads in the sand and not label any school a failure!
 
As for giving students stuck in chronically failing schools some options to escape, she appears to be open to this ("It is fair to suggest that students in such schools deserve other choices if the schools cannot change."), but then retreats: 
schools that have been identified as not   meeting AYP standards must use their federal funds to support choice and   "supplemental services," such as privately provided after-school tutoring,   leaving them with even fewer resources for their core educational programs.   Unfortunately, many of the private supplemental service providers have proved   ineffective and unaccountable, and transfers to better schools have been   impossible in communities where such schools are unavailable or uninterested   in serving students with low achievement, poor attendance and other problems   that might bring their own average test scores down.
I could go on, but you get the idea...
-----------------------

http://chronicle.com/blogs/election/1168/school-reform-expert-to-be-obama-adviser

December 7, 2007

School-Reform Expert to Be Obama Adviser

Barack Obama has picked as an education-policy adviser Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor of education at Stanford University who for two decades has been a key figure in the nation’s school-reform debate.

Ms. Darling-Hammond volunteered to become part of Mr. Obama’s team of education-policy advisers last month, said Jen Psaki, an Obama spokeswoman. “As one of the leading thinkers on education, we are thrilled to have her on the team,” Ms. Psaki said in an interview today.

At Stanford, Ms. Darling-Hammond is co-director of the School Redesign Network and the Stanford Educational Leadership Institute. Before moving to Stanford, in 1998, she was a professor of education at Teachers College at Columbia University, a researcher for the RAND Corporation, and director of the National Urban Coalition’s Excellence in Education program.

At Columbia, she also served as co-director of the National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools, and Teaching, and as executive director of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future. She is the author of The Right to Learn, which received the American Educational Research Association’s Outstanding Book Award in 1998, and has been a leading critic of the federal No Child Left Behind law, arguing that it does not do enough to encourage schools to teach higher-order thinking skills.

Ms. Darling-Hammond’s involvement in higher education has consisted mainly of weighing in on debates over teacher education. She has been a prominent critic of Teach for America—a program that sends recent college graduates into rural and urban schools—telling The Chronicle that it has failed to take steps to make sure it adequately prepares its participants.

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I have been receiving Tilson's emails for about a year now.
This is part of the email I got this morning.

"After this item was posted Ms. Darling-Hammond contacted us to clarify that she holds no formal appointment with the Obama campaign and continues to hold her usual appointment as professor of education at Stanford University."

"In her capacity as a researcher and private citizen she has advised numerous legislators on a variety of education issues, including Senator Obama, and she has endorsed the senator's education platform."

So he blew his horn a little too early. I can forgive that. I didn't read yesterday's email that had this statement:

"But I actually think people like Linda Darling-Hammond (and Jonathan Kozol) are actually more dangerous to the school reform movement precisely because they tend (sic)have pure motives."

I have plodded through some of Mr. Tilson's overbearing emails because I figured we were on the same team (or at least on the same sidelines) but this shrill attack has served to discredit him more than a little. As an "outsider" to education I value his perspective. We always need to strive to understand education clearly and on some issues we need that outsider perspective. On this one though he is clearly wrong headed. He is basically saying that Linda Darling-Hammond and Johnathon Kozol are dangerous because they are not concerned about self or special interests (like charter schools.) If charter schools, as Mr. Tilson sees them, are such a great idea why has it taken 300 years for America to develop them. I believe it is because charter schools, (like KIPP where teachers make more money than in public schools) are the bastard children of capitalist money men who want to make money on children's learning and special interests who want to have a foot in the door so they can sop up the sorry seconds.

Don't get me wrong. I agree the system is broke but part of the dis-function is the way teachers are paid and perceived.

I guess I would be upset too if the candidate I had been supporting for at least the last two years, because I thought he was going to make me more money, turned out to have a place in his heart for children and teachers.

I am currently in the process of reading A Right to Learn for a Master's Degree course. My take on Darling-Hammond's proposistions are that they hit the mark. Her main point is that education will improve when teachers are capable of implementing effective yet challenging progressive methods that engage diverse learners. It is not easy to meet everyone's needs with success, and at the same time it is not appropriate to track students and offer them inappropriate curriculum (sorry McGraw Hill! ((Reach/Corrective Reading in high school?))) If teachers are properly trained on how to teach reading, administrators and the public would not have to mistrust us and implement failing band-aid solutions such as Corrective
Reading. I am lucky that I stumbled upon state funded professional development with the California Reading and Literature Project before the funding well dried up. Otherwise I may not have any pedagological foundation to stand on. I do not see any evidence in LDH's book of circumventing accountability. In step with Douglas Reeves, she advocates teachers reviewing and evaluating more meaningful standards based learning assessments rather than multiple choice tests that do no reflect an accurate account of the knowledge that students do have (see pp. 156-157). I am curious of what your experience in education is and more concretely, how you propose to reform education?

Well said.

I taught in Philadelphia's public school system for seven years, in both public and charter schools. Through my own extensive research and personal observation, I came to conclusions long ago that are in line with Linda Darling-Hammond's and Jonathan Kozol's beliefs.

Seeing that Tilson has a background both with TFA and KIPP helps me understand his perspective. I find that the high-ups in these organizations believe that their models are the answers. I have yet to meet a TFA recruit in Philadelphia who is not verbally/physically abused by his/her students on a daily basis or who can tell me that even "one minute of learning" is occurring in his/her classroom. None of them plan to remain in education past the two-year commitment. While I think TFA has been effective in certain cities/parts of the country, I know that it is by and large NOT working for my city--and meanwhile the paper data it provides of "having bodies in classrooms" serves as an excuse for the city not to work harder to find actually experienced, actually qualified teachers to fill the needs in the highest-needs schools.

As for KIPP schools, I acknowledge that those schools are highly successful FOR A CERTAIN TYPE OF STUDENT/PARENT who can be made to follow the stringent rules. However, it is my understanding that many students are asked to leave/drop out because the model is too intense for them--what is the answer for those kids? Also, teachers often do not last long there due to the ridiculously long hours required. (I worked 7-6 and most weekends routinely as a teacher, and that was just to prepare for teaching from 8-3. Imagine the hours required when you have students in your classroom from 7-6 and and on weekends, too!) Finally, I have heard from most of my friends who work at KIPP schools that things are run in a VERY authoritarian manner and that teachers are not equipped with many discipline techniques besides intimidation. Of course, I cannot speak for all KIPP schools, just the ones in Philly/DC where I know people.

The problem with programs like TFA and KIPP is that neither model is actually sustainable as a national "answer" to our problems, yet politicians get to use them as such in their talking points. The problem with a purely business-minded focus on teacher-accountability and test scores is that while I DO believe that test scores are useful tools in diagnosing/improving many aspects of a school or teacher's effectiveness, alone they give NO indication of what is actually going on in a teacher's classroom and can in fact be dangerously misleading. High scores do not automatically equal good teacher. Low scores do not automatically mean bad teacher. There are a million other factors that go into determining whether a teacher can ultimately be deemed effective at the end of a school year.

One reason education's problems are so difficult to solve is that education is NOT something that can or should be treated like a business. The key ingredients in schools are not numbers or products, but human beings, every single one of whom is either a unique learner who needs a unique approach to learning at any given moment, or a unique teacher whose methods are either effective or ineffective for completely different reasons than the next teacher down the hall.

The other reason the problem seems so intractable is the fact that the vast majority of at-risk children come to school completely unready to learn and function in a school environment and without any supports in their home/community for the immense amount of catching-up they must do. That is why comprehensive social programs like Geoffrey Canada's Harlem Children's Zone (which I'm sure is not perfect in execution, but the value of the idea is indisputable) MUST be considered simultaneously when trying to tackle any major failures in the public education system. Otherwise, ALL of our collective efforts/approaches amount to nothing but a futile and exhausting attempt to plug the ever-growing hole in the dike.

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