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THOMPSON: "The New Stupid"

6a00e54f8c25c988340105369134f7970c-800wi A decade ago, Frederick Hess foresaw "the New Stupid" where data "stand in for careful thought, serve as dressed-up rationales for the same old fads ... to justify incoherent proposals" when he witnessed aspiring superintendents "energetically misuse data." After a presentation on teacher-added effects and inequitable distributions of teachers, it was agreed, "Day one we’re going to start identifying those high value-added teachers and moving them to schools that aren’t making AYP."

A generation ago, such a room would have been full of people who understood why it would be foolhardy to try to move teachers around like chess pieces. Last week, Malcolm Gladwell correctly celebrated the unquantifiable "withitness" required to teach reading to seven pre-school children or trigonometry. It is very unlikely, however, that those wonderful teachers would also have the withitness to teach in a hardcore neighborhood secondary school. Even if they had the personality to make the transfer, most great teachers in low-poverty schools would move to the suburbs before enduring the undignified treatment envisioned by superintendents with a "Masters of the Universe" mentality.

Gladwell explained that it is far easier to predict whether college receivers and defensive backs can make it in the NFL than to anticipate whether quarterbacks will make the leap. Pro quarterbacks (like teachers in troubled schools) face so many more rapidly unfolding crises. Finn’s administrators were essentially saying that they can’t find enough quarterback prospects, so they would mandate that their top linemen, linebackers, and secondary be transferred into the hardest-to-fill positions.

Ordinarily I explain the value of practical experience with jokes that are too dirty even for A-Russ’ blog, but last week provided a poignant example of the differing skills required in high-poverty secondary schools. Discovering the board covered with, "RIP CamKilla 105," I took the time for a short eulogy, recounting basketball experiences I had shared with the deceased. I offered my feelings about the increasing body count, asked the gang-bangers how they felt about the tragedy, and I worked around the graffiti. Only experience can predict the amount of respect that must be paid before erasing words that obviously can not remain on display.

But speaking of respect, how could any adults show the insensitivity and narcissism displayed by the aspiring superintendents in Hess’ anecdote? Even if they know nothing of education, of contracts, and of the politics of give and take, didn’t their mothers teach them anything about respecting fellow human beings?


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