What about the “moral obligation” to educate our students?

Former Assistant Secretary of Education under Bush 41, Diane Ravitch on the “morality” of firing bad teachers:

A few months ago, I spoke at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, California. It is a Catholic university, located on a beautiful campus. After my talk, a member of the faculty gave me a ride back to my hotel in San Francisco. He spoke about his long career in parochial education and why he had become a college professor, mentoring many Catholic schools in the region. At one point he had been the principal of an elementary school. I asked what he did about teachers who were not doing a good job, and he described the help and support he and others would provide. I asked what he thought of the current zeal to fire “bad teachers.” He said something I will never forget. He said that we must remember that one has a moral obligation not to terminate someone’s livelihood and career without long and hard deliberation; to do so, he said, required taking responsibility for ruining someone’s life. We talked about the “reformers” who are almost gleeful in their zeal to fire teachers. He thought that they failed to recognize the moral dimensions of leadership.

 Responsibility for ruining one’s life and livelihood. What of the ones whose future lives and livelihoods are diminished as a direct result of teachers who have no business being (let alone remaining) in a classroom? If you’d like to argue economic impact, sending a bad teacher to work as a sales clerk has less impact than dooming a classroom of kids to less opportunity.

Ah, opportunity: apparently Ravitch doesn’t agree with the American way:

What do I conclude from these disparate thoughts? I think we are dealing with two very different mind-sets. One sees the school as a community, a place of learning where there is an ethical obligation to support both staff and students, helping both to succeed. The other sees schools as one part of a free-market economy, where quality may be judged by data; if the results aren’t good enough, then fire part or all of the people and close the store, I mean, the school and pick a new location. The former looks to teamwork and mutual support as guiding principles; the other prizes competition, leading either to rewards or punishments.

What’s scary is that we now see the advance of the free-market ideology across many states—Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, for example. We see strong support for the market basis of schooling in both No Child Left Behind and in Race to the Top. We see it with the advance of charters, for-profit online corporations, virtual charters, merit pay, and the proliferation of charters as a panacea. We see a continuing campaign to dismantle public education, privatize it, and turn it over to entrepreneurs of various stripes.

I see. Community good. Free market not just bad, but evil. Parents shouldn’t have the choice to send their kids to better schools. Heck, it’s morally wrong to label a school as better anyway. It’s just different, right? 

Quality can be judged by data. The Obamas send their children to a quality school “judged by data.” As do millions of others who can afford to do so. But good schools shouldn’t be reserved for only those with the means to opt out of poor-performance districts.

What, pray tell, is the solution in Ravitch’s mind? Worse than the same:

One of my fellow panelists was John Jackson of the Schott Foundation for Public Education. He said that he had recently visited some high-performing nations, and at each stop he would ask someone from the ministry of education: “What do you do about bad teachers?” The answer invariably was, “We help them.” And he asked, “What if you help them and they are still bad teachers?” And the response was, “We help them more.”

Of course. As someone who taught with a few folks who were eventually dismissed, I can say that no amount of persuasion can help someone who doesn’t want to perform better. You can model excellent teaching practice until blue in the face, but if said bad teacher chose his profession for June, July and August and not as a pursuit of excellence, it matters not. It’s the same with any job: if you want to do it well, you will work until you do. If your work ethic isn’t as inspired, find a place where your bottom feeding mentality doesn’t affect the lives of others.  

H/t: Big Government.

UPDATE: a “Featured Blog” at P&P. Thanks!


3 Responses

  1. We help them more.

    Makes me wince.

    You summed it up: can’t help someone who doesn’t really want it. Fear of being fired is the only thing that’ll motivate some folks.

    Folks like this Ravitch display a deep desire to not hold adults accountable for their behavior. This truly bewilders me. Unless what it really means is she also doesn’t want to be accountable? Isn’t she a successful educator?

    Leftists don’t make sense.

  2. I’m disappointed to hear this rhetoric from Ravitch. I liked her “Left Back”. Does she think nobody should be fired ever, or are teachers more equal than equal?

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