Diane Ravitch: Campbell Brown Shouldn’t Worry Her Pretty Little Head About Education Policy

Jonathan Chait:

“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.”

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.

Our Frederick Taylor style monolithic education model has obviously run its course.

  • A second thought is what trust should we have that the method for evaluating highly effective teachers is valid?