Brown, 46, has become an articulate voice and recognizable face opposing tenure, the century-old system of laws and contractual guarantees giving public-school teachers due-process rights in layoffs and terminations. Brown argues that tenure makes it difficult and expensive for school systems to remove underperforming teachers, and it protects their jobs at the expense of their students.
“I’m a mom, and my view of public education begins and ends with the fundamental question: Is this good for children?” Brown says by phone from New York, where she lives. “In a situation where it’s the child or the adult, I’m going with the child. .?.?. Tenure is permanent lifetime employment. There’s no reason why anyone’s job should become untouchable for the rest of their life.”
Campbell the journalist might interrupt an interview subject to take exception to that kind of generalization. Teachers unions and their advocates say tenure — instituted to prevent widespread abuses of a female-dominated workforce — doesn’t guarantee much beyond a fair hearing. Tenured teachers deemed ineffective or negligent, after hearings and evaluations, are fired, they point out.
“I have trouble with this issue because it’s so totally illogical,” says Diane Ravitch, an education historian. “It’s hard to understand why anyone thinks taking away teachers’ due-process rights will lead to great teachers in every classroom.”
As for Brown, Ravitch is dismissive: “She is a good media figure because of her looks, but she doesn’t seem to know or understand anything about teaching and why tenure matters. .?.?. I know it sounds sexist to say that she is pretty, but that makes her telegenic, even if what she has to say is total nonsense.”
Far be it from me to stoop to the level this so-called “education historian” did by snidely boiling down Brown’s popularity and smarts to her looks, but I have no idea – none at all – why the woman would come across as jealous of another woman’s looks. None whatsoever.
Continuing on, I don’t know her political leanings but Ravitch displays the typical behavior of a left wing feminist educrat know it all who thinks not only do they know best how to educate children and young adults, but that anyone who disagrees with them must be dismissed as “extreme” or “all hat no substance” — as a person whose opinions are not worthy of serious consideration. By doing that, self-important elitists like Ravitch can therefore summarily without a second thought dismiss a person’s arguments without taking the time to read and/or hear them and later provide a reasonable analysis after careful consideration.
Jon Chait, no friend to conservative education reformers by any stretch nevertheless slammed Ravitch here on a multitude of levels:
Why, yes, that does sound rather sexist. Now, Ravitch suggests here that Brown’s analysis is so transparently illogical that perhaps only her looks can account for her views. Why, Ravitch wonders, would the elimination of a job protection help attract better teachers? Let me reveal, via the power of logic, how this can work.
The basic problem is that some proportion of American teachers is terrible at their job and immune to improvement, yet removing them is a practical impossibility. (A good overview of the research on chronically ineffective teachers can be found here. Standard caveat: The author is my wife.) Under some conditions, loosening tenure laws can lead directly to more effective teachers in the classroom. For instance, when the Great Recession drove states to lay off teachers in order to balance their budgets, last-in, first-out hiring rules led them to fire teachers regardless of quality, thus removing highly effective (yet unprotected) teachers from classrooms.
In most fields, your pay is based on your perceived value rather than on the number of years you have spent on the job. Value-based pay does not work perfectly in any field. It certainly doesn’t work perfectly in my field, which explains, for instance, Howard Kurtz’s rumored extravagant wealth. Yet if we stopped paying journalists on the basis of their perceived value and started paying them on the basis of time served, I’d argue it would reduce the quality of journalism.
Opponents of reform relentlessly pick apart the various performance pay measures that are being implemented by reformers, and it’s true that none of those measures is perfect, either. But nearly all of them work better than paying people on the basis of how long they’ve held a job and making it functionally impossible to fire them for being terrible at their job. In places like Washington, D.C., education reformers have given teachers a chance to forfeit their tenure in return for the possibility of much higher pay.
Whatever side of this issue a person is on is irrelevant to how the debate over it is conducted. Ravitch’s sneers and condescending attitude towards disagreement in any form are beneath contempt and, frankly, are not worthy of the children for who she claims to be fighting. Time to grow up, ma’am. As many in your circle have often said in the past, this is not about you. It’s about the children. So stop acting like one.