About this blog Subscribe to this blog

Thompson: The "Third Way" Promotes Evidence-Free Way to Improve Teaching

Stop-NeoliberalismThe Third Way promotes moderate efforts to promote “principled compromise.” It is “built around policy teams that create high-impact written products.” Two previous posts (here and here) described solid Third Way studies based on social science. But, both of those studies remained agnostic about education reform policies. 

A third paper, Tamara Hiler’s and Lanae Erickson Hatalsky’s Teaching: The Next Generation, is two papers in one. The first half summarizes the findings of a poll of 400 high-performing college students. The data is interesting and potentially useful. The second half is an infomercial for the TNTP and other teacher-bashers. It distorts that evidence and uses the poll as a prop to promote corporate reform.

I have concerns about the language that the Third Way used in introducing the other two studies but neither began with a statement such as “Only 35% (of top-performing college students) described teachers as ‘smart,’" and “Education was seen as the top profession that ‘average’ people choose.”

In fact, the survey found that 200 students see people who are nice, caring, patient, and smart as almost as likely to choose teaching as nursing. Smart people are as likely to choose teaching as as philosophy, and more likely to choose teaching over English, art, and communication. Educators may be more “mediocre” than political scientists, but more socially conscious.

Above all, Hiler and Hatalsky assume that the key to education is the intellect - “the Head,” not “the Heart.” They prejudge the potential benefits of teachers who are ambitious, competitive, and rootless, as opposed to being caring and grounded in the community.

Yes, from 3/4ths to 9/10ths of students said that reputation and opportunities for advancement are important. But, greater percentages said that stability and the opportunity to help others are important.

Neither does their data give any indication that the presumably smarter people who major in engineering, science, or pre-med have any interest in teaching in the public schools. On the contrary, 1/5th of the respondents said that nothing would attract them to teaching or they don’t like working with children, and that dwarfed any nonmonetary factors that the poll uncovered.    

Then, based on no evidence, Hiler and Hatalsky claim that education’s resistance to modernization “dissuades high-achieving Millennials from entering the profession and pushes excellent teachers out, creating an unsustainable cycle of mediocrity.” Even though their polling evidence argues against it, they then issue a brief for the teacher-bashing policies of the TNTP, Bellwether Partners, and other corporate reformers.

Market-driven reformers are free to ignore a large body of evidence regarding the problems with performance pay, but that does not justify Hiler’s and Hatalsky’s claim that the way to make teaching more attractive to Millennials is to undermine retirement benefits. Neither does it justify their claim that “until these (performance pay and retirement) systems become the norm and not the exception, high-achieving Millennials will continue to seek employment in sectors that acknowledge and incentivize talent and hard work.” 

In fact, 39% said that improving pay would make teaching more attractive. Only 2% said the same about performance pay. 

The data clearly says that the single best way to attract these Millennials is offering student loan relief. Moreover, it indicates that improving all teachers’ salaries would be more effective in recruiting talent than increasing wages for the so-called top performers. The data even implies that the better approach to school improvement would come through increased unionization. And, even though I don’t agree with the students on this, the poll indicates that holding students accountable would be seen as a better policy than increasing the rigor of teacher evaluations. 

Hiler and Hatalsky seem to be equally clueless as to why, by a two to one ratio, students report that teaching has become a less respected profession. It never seems to occur to them that the bubble-in accountability and the top-down micromanagement promoted by test-driven reformers like the TNTP has been deprofessionalizing public education, i.e. turning teachers into "widgets." 

I have no doubt that many Millennials respond to the uncertainty of the global marketplace by becoming even more competitive than they would have otherwise been. But, the Millennials who I know are just as talented and loving, and they are just as deserving of stability and fair job benefits as people of other generations. Most, I believe, will reject the illogic of fighting the uncertainty and stress created by global competition by creating more stressful and uncertain workplaces. Some are likely to support the Third Way’s moderation, but I am confident that they will not forsake social science and buy into such a shallow view of school improvement.-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via.      



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

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.