Today's Weekend Edition featured two education reports that ran back to back and are striking for highlighting NPR's intentional focus on the small effects of teacher effectiveness versus the overwhelming effects of poverty.
The first "report" featured host, Liane Hansen talking to Claudio Sanchez and Larry Abramson about education (if there were merit pay for reporting on education both these characters would be seeing pay decreases). To his credit, Sanchez made these startling points:
"...and finally a handful of reports are out that are kind of scary. They warn that the poverty rates among children and families are on the rise and the numbers are off the charts. The Southern Education Foundation for example says that over 2 million Americans now face acute hunger, homelessness and medical problems - and all of this, of course, has horrible implications for school-age children and how schools deal with them."How does Liane Hansen respond to this stunning statement? She says, "Is there an issue or event that might make news early in 2011?" That's it. These are exceptional observations that Sanchez has made, and any rational (not to mention compassionate) human being would be interested in pursuing more information about them. He is absolutely correct - the data is scary
and the implications for education are horrible. But as a writer for the Washington Post (of all places!) pointed out, discussions about poverty and its effects on student achievement are the elephant in the room for our press.
Ignoring Sanchez' statements, Hansen then turns to Abramson to ask briefly about higher education and finally turns her sights where NPR loves to focus:
"What about the emphasis on teachers performance? How will that play out in 2011?"Abramson then introduces the theme of the next story on the show; he says, "...I think what a lot of people are more focused on...what makes an effective teacher...There's one program that I looked at that's pretty interesting from the Gates Foundation. They're spending millions of dollars to answer that question..." And what is this "pretty interesting" program? The amazing idea of - brace yourself - videotaping teachers as part of evaluating their classroom practice.
Whoa, how cutting edge! It just happens that in 1987, when I was working on my masters in education at the University of Iowa, we used videotaping to evaluate our teaching techniques. Good thing one of the beneficent billionaires is "spending millions of dollars" to help teachers be more effective. If only these billionaires had 80%-90% of their wealth taxed, maybe we'd have less poverty to begin with - and then we really could justify focusing on teacher effectiveness.