Thursday, August 09, 2007

Cerf's Up!

Here's Chris Cerf, Deputy Chancellor of the NYC Department of Education, on teacher effectiveness:
But let's hope we are past the point of evaluating success based on "inputs"– how much we care,

Note that one of the first things Mr. Cerf rejects is how much teachers care about students. Personally, it's impossible for me to condone hiring a teacher who doesn't care about kids, nor would I want such a teacher in charge of my own kid. Teachers who don't like kids, in fact, are the very worst teachers there are.

Now caring alone does not guarantee a good teacher. Still, it's an absolute prerequisite, and does not bear belittling.

whether a particular program or approach appears compelling,

This is an ironic comment from one who represents the DoE, with a history of mandating programs and abiding no deviation from the programs it's prescribed.

how many students in a class feels like the appropriate number,

Note how Mr. Cerf mildly ridicules and completely repudiates lower class size. Money, the most important factor in this administration, dicates leaving class sizes as high as they are now, the highest in the state. This is a strong indication that this administration plans to continue making superficial and meaningless changes, to give the appearance of progress rather than actually make any.
how many degrees or certificates our educators possess, etc.

It's always fascinating to see people who clearly don't value education running education systems. I realize there's a lot of crap taught in higher education (as in other fields), but that ought to be corrected rather than flushing college down the toilet. Perhaps Mr. Cerf prefers less costly McTeachers , who can be used a few years, and then discarded.

Personally, my MA in Applied Linguistics was very valuable. I certainly know more about language acquisition than US Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, or indeed many of those who design the tests that quite inadequately test the English ability of my students (Kids who barely speak routinely pass New York City's LAB test).

Mr. Cerf then explains that the single most important factor in student achievement is the teacher. Having taught and studied for many years, I disagree. The single most important factor is the student's background. The teacher is simply the second best bet for that kid (a strong argument for quality teachers), and it's very tough to turn around a 17-year-old with a lifetime of bad habits. Experience is our best asset for dealing with these kids. You learn to approach kids, you make mistakes, and you get better. You get far more effective.

And it's much easier to control such a kid and stop the spread of such behavior in a class of 25 or less than one of 34 or more.

And you can indeed make progress, but that may entail getting the kid to sit down, to stop interrupting constantly, to be friendly, or at least tolerant of you and the other students. It's simply idiotic to discount such progress, and it's woefully ignorant to imagine one could significantly raise test scores without achieving all of the above. Regrettably, that does not occur with a snap of the fingers. And I haven't even gotten to home contact, let alone persuading the kid to study.

It's not all about "designing data systems," Mr. Cerf. When you discount time, education and discipline in learning to teach (or learning anything whatsoever), that represents something other than wisdom.
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