Brooks is Brilliant: An Op-Ed To Savor

By 07/01/2011

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There are no knock-out punches in this fight, but David Brooks comes close with a perspective-setting essay about school reformers and their adversaries.  Appropriately, he takes out after Diane Ravitch, the reform movement’s loudest and most visible critic (see Dana Goldstein’s recent profile and Liam’s caveat) who, says Brooks, “has come to adopt the party-line view of the most change-averse elements of the teachers’ unions: There is no education crisis. Poverty is the real issue, not bad schools. We don’t need fundamental reform; we mainly need to give teachers more money and job security.”

I wish Brooks had spent more time exploring the difficulty these change-averse educators have in trying to argue that they should be paid more for doing something they claim is impossible to do (i.e., improve schools), but I’ll settle for Brooks’ wonderful exposition of why testing is such a bogus issue.

The only schools that are “distorted by testing,” Brooks argues, are bad schools,  “the schools the reformers haven’t touched.”

Brooks manages to work in references to a host of change agents and academics – Whitney Tilson, KIPP, E.D. Hirsch, Caroline Hoxby – to make his case.  And he concludes with this simple truth: “If your school teaches to the test, it’s not the test’s fault. It’s the leaders of your school.”

–Peter Meyer

Comment on this article
  • Corinne Gregory says:

    I, too, found Brooks’ piece interesting. One thing he alluded to, however, but didn’t go into was the impact of student discipline and behavior in those schools that are “working.” He mentioned character curriculum, but didn’t really get into how critical this aspect is to the success of ALL students in the schools. More than teaching Shakespeare and music, schools that focus on the social/emotional learning and skills development in their students find that everything — including academic learning — comes easier.

    However, that requires that schools are willing to look at something “different,” and traditionally that’s been like trying to push a peanut up Mt. Everest with your nose. I recently discussed this resistance to change and welcome your impressions at At some point, more folks will realize that what we’ve BEEN doing isn’t working and that it’s really time to try something new.

    – Corinne Gregory

  • Bruce William Smith says:

    I wish my experience could verify Mr. Meyer’s commentary, but it can’t. After Green Dot Public Schools took over Locke High School, where I used to work, and in particular after their first year’s results proved disappointing, Green Dot worked closely with another charter management organization, the Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools, to borrow the latter’s benchmark assessment system and redouble their efforts to teach to the test. The students graduating from these schools are putting up impressive gains on the state tests, but are miserably prepared for college.

  • Michael Paul Goldenberg says:

    Sorry, but Brooks’ article was ridiculous, as the vast majority of comments made crystal-clear to anyone but a privatization ideologue. Not that anyone connected with Education Next would be one of those. ;^) I’m sure the list of sponsors of this site is just coincidentally a rogues’ gallery of educationally-conservative organization and institutions. And I’m sure I’m a Chinese jet pilot.

  • Liz Wisniewski says:

    There are times that I am so struck by the lack of Fordham’s scholars understanding of how things actually work in a real school setting that I actually start having a little nutty. So I will preface this remark that I am having a little nutty…..

    You really agree with the statement that “The only schools that are “distorted by testing,” Brooks argues, are bad schools, “the schools the reformers haven’t touched!?!”

    Well, I would like to invite you to come down from the ivory tower and visit the school I teach in (yes! I am one of those REAL teachers.) My school is located right here is MA. in a nice suburb of Boston – and I would greatly like your help in keeping us from becoming one of those “bad schools.” Send me a note and I will give you directions. You can come and “touch” our school so that the perverse incentives being created by the over indulgence of testing will be magically eliminated. I am sure that you have the answer and will be able to convince us teachers and leaders to refrain from any test prep when our livelihoods are soon to be quite dependent upon raising scores.

    I know you will be able to eliminate the current tendency towards reducing collaboration between teachers as we find that we are in a competition with test scores and that if I assist another struggling teacher it could mean my job vs. hers at the next layoff. Or, perhaps you will have an answer for the fourth grade teacher who stopped tutoring third graders because it lessoned their “gains” when they came up to fourth grade and could cause her to lose her job.

    Please come and “touch” our leaders so that they understand that they do not need to be worried about the state laws regarding testing. I know you can convince them to encourage us to do our best by our students, even though we know some other “bad” schools will be held up as exemplars because of their high test scores.

    I am done having the nutty, and am looking forward to your visit!

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