Praise the exception, but remember the rule

My friend Jay Mathews, the Washington Post’s longtime education reporter and columnist, has a spectacular history of identifying and profiling great teachers, including but not limited to Jaime Escalante, David Levin, Mike Feinberg, and Rafe Esquith. He is right to find and laud them. His latest tribute to Esquith and Esquith’s newest book, however, turns into another Common Core slam—and another example of idiotic professional development (inflicted, apparently, by some “presenter” on teachers during a “training” at Esquith’s school in Los Angeles). Ugh. Yuck. Sorry about that.

Praise the exception, but remember the rule
Without good policy, we end up with a series of workarounds intended to make a sluggish horse run faster.
Photo by Eduardo Amorim

But there’s an enormous underlying problem that Mathews understands full well, though he doesn’t mention it in this particular column: If American K–12 education contained three million Esquiths and Escalantes, we wouldn’t need Common Core or NCLB or KIPP or choice or value-added teacher evaluations or anything else. But it doesn’t. And it isn’t going to anytime soon. (For starters, as the NCTQ recently documented, even those with promise have miserable preparation programs inflicted upon them.) So we end up with a series of workarounds, must-dos, and compensatory arrangements intended to make a sluggish horse run faster. Yes, let’s hail Esquith and the country’s other super-teachers. Yes, let’s do all we can to overhaul just about everything that needs fixing in the teaching occupation. But let’s not overlook the reality that that worthy effort, too, requires sound policy, not just praise for those who do a great job despite its absence.

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