About this blog Subscribe to this blog

Thompson: Petrilli Gets It Half-Right

AlfieIn "Alfie Kohn's message: Half-crazy, half-true," Fordham's Mike Petrilli does something that "reformers" may see as crazy in his half-true critique of testing opponent Alfie Kohn. Petrilli concedes that "many American schools are “mindless, soul-killing” institutions, especially the schools serving our most disadvantaged communities," and "it’s probably true that test-based accountability has made the situation worse, at least in many locales."  Petrilli acknowledges that, "even the most hawkish reformer must blush at depictions of the endless test prep and shamefully narrowed curriculum" that Kohn lambasts. Like Petrilli, I think E.D. Hirsch's arguments for Core Knowledge are more persuasive than Kohn's progressive ideals.  Unlike Petrilli, I think Kohn makes a better case than true believers in testing who are doubling down on the bubble-in route to "reform." As he substantially agrees with Kohn's indictments of standardized testing, Petrilli labels Kohn as a demagogue, and he concludes with a flourish, "Education reform shall not be crucified on a cross of 'no.'" No!!!  When you are stuck deep in a ditch, it is crazy to keep on digging.  Yes!!! If Petrilli wants to meet teachers half way, we can agree, for instance, that "test-based value-added scores do, in fact, provide valuable information about the things most people care most about."  We can then agree on something that Petrilli has often affirmed -applying stakes to those metrics is crazy.-JT (@drjohnthompson)image via.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

I'm a little less charitable towards Mr. Petrilli's mean-spirited diatribe than my friend Dr. Thompson is: http://www.schoolsmatter.info/2012/03/petrillis-polemic-against-alfie-kohn.html

I hope readers will follow your links. I was especially impressed with the quote by Alfie Kohn that you began with.

"What a teacher can do – all a teacher can do – is work with students to create a classroom culture, a climate, a curriculum that will nourish and sustain the fundamental inclinations that everyone starts out with..."

Kohn's wisdom works on many levels. Let's think what would have happened over the last generation if we'd embraced an educational culture that allows for debate, rather than top down micromanaging where technocrats tried to sidestop the clash of ideas. What would have happened if we'd had a culture of peer review, as opposed to a "culture of accountability" where everyone has to be on the same page?

I think Petrilli would enjoy an educational culture where ideas and evidence were used to balance out other ideas and evidence. I'd still disagree with him most of the time, but that's politics.

As for the leftwing Ed Trust, they couldn't handle a culture of peer review where schools were built around respectful debate.

I don't know the specific Ed Truster who you cited, but I followed your link and got a kick out of his spoof on Dickens. The Ed Trust reminds me of the old Fabian Left who wanted to clean up poverty because poor people were so dirty. Robert, remember the first generation of econometrics who attacked Dickens and other writers who decried the evils of rapid industrialization because their statistical models showed that industrialization didn't hurt the poor? All those Satanic Mills were figments of Dickens's imagination, because data said so. The Ed Trust, and others who remind me of the old Trots, now base their hypotheses on statistical models that are just as primitive. They've got this teleological mindset that doesn't account for flesh and blood people. At least Petrilli has a sense of humor and a taste for the human comedy. He might want to defeat people who believe like me, but unlike the Ed Trust, he doesn't want to be my puppet master and micromanage my instruction.

If a teacher can create a culture and atmosphere that allows his students to participate, interact and share ideas, he's done a superb job. Students will be more eager to learn and communicate.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in This Week In Education are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.