American educational reform: A dialogue

The “failing public schools” narrative is literally older than I am.  It never dies.  Sometimes it gets a boost from clueless billionaires in Silicon Valley who think they can pay to make the world fit their conception of reality.

Quick summary: The US is not falling behind Finland or China or Estonia in any meaningful sense.  The PISA test is just a test.  And when you correct for childhood poverty, the US hops right back up into the top of the rankings.

What we actually have is an equity problem.  We have a system that adds to the disadvantages poor and minority students face rather than compensating for them. “IT’S POVERTY AND RACISM, STUPID” would be my campaign slogan when I run to replace John King as Ed Secretary. (Yes, I know that isn’t how it works.)  There’s a whole lot of evidence for that.  Actual research from people who know what they’re talking about.

But reformers don’t like that message. They also resent the implication that money and good intentions doesn’t qualify them to override the professional opinions of, well, professionals.

But that’s the point, isn’t it? Teachers aren’t considered professionals, and teaching isn’t regarded as a profession – that is, a bundle of knowledge and skills that are not innate or common to everyone but which take work to acquire and can be expanded with study.  And although the comparison is tired, it’s true: doctors don’t get treated this way.

For example:

Doctor: You are experiencing these symptoms because you have cancer.  You need chemo and radiation.

Patient: I have heard antibiotics are good.  Give me antibiotics.

Doctor: Antibiotics are not going to do anything to help. You have cancer.  You need chemo and radiation.

Patient: Chemo and radiation are expensive. Antibiotics are cheap.  Give me antibiotics.

Doctor: It would be malpractice for me to give you antibiotics.  You do not have a problem that antibiotics will help.  Your problem is cancer.  You need chemo and radiation.

Patient: I will pay you extra if you cure me with antibiotics.

Doctor: You can’t bribe me to change how medicine works.

Patient: Give me antibiotics or I will get you fired.

Doctor: Threatening me isn’t going to change the diagnosis or the treatment.

Patient: You’re a lazy doctor and a parasite on society.

Doctor: And you still have cancer.  I’m just rapidly losing interest in continuing to try to help you with that.

Patient: Stop making excuses and fix my illness.

Doctor: My treatment plan is chemo and radiation.

Patient: A good doctor would be able to cure me with antibiotics.

Doctor: (leaves medicine to work a cubicle job where she never has to deal with people)