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Thompson: TFA & The Burden Of Proof

TfaA light went on when I first read the opinion of a labor economist, whom I greatly respect, when he argued that it was unclear that school reformers have the burden of proof.

It is understandable that non-educators might not judge the contemporary school improvement movement as a failure if they believe that the educational status quo is so rotten that its unintended negative consequences should be discounted.

People who never set foot in the inner city classroom might be agnostic about the modest benefits of accountability-driven “reform,” if they remain unaware of the harm that it inflicted on the most challenging schools  

It is upsetting, however, that a person who actually spent three years in the classroom would seem to claim that outsiders seeking to impose their opinions on schools do not carry the burden of proof.  But, that is what TFA Co-CEO Elisa Villanueva Beard did in her address Fighting the Wrong Enemy. She was not explicit in defining who the defenders of the status quo are, but she implied that they are opponents of Teach For America, charter schools, Bill Gates or standardized testing.

Ms. Beard was firing up a crowd of alumni. It would be doubly upsetting if she used such rhetoric for a crowd that included young teachers.  Veteran teachers should unite in explaining to the newbies that the first rule of teaching should be, “First, Do No Harm.”

Teachers and school reformers need to understand that it is better to slow down and avoid mistakes rather than clean up afterwards. Children aren't lab rats. Who would want our own family’s school leaders to deny that they have a burden of proof, as they roll the dice in an experiment that might benefit a daughter a little as it damages a son?-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via.


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An editorial writer for a large newspaper, who has a record of showering praise on "reform" experiments that later failed, told me the view is that inner-city schools are so broken that we need to try something -- anything.

"First, do no harm" should absolutely be the operative rule -- not just for teachers but for all advocates of "reform."

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