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A Little Homework Wouldn’t Hurt

In her Answer Sheet education blog at the Washington Post site, Valerie Strauss* tells Tom Friedman a few of the things he got wrong in a recent column about the importance of education.

Starting with Arne Duncan’s big money game show, praised as energizing reform by Friedman.

First of all, Race to the Top funding didn’t go to states with the most innovative reforms to achieve the highest standards. It went to the states that promised to make the reforms that the Education Department liked most. A comprehensive analysis of who won the money concluded that winners in the first round (and the same process was used in the second) were chosen through “arbitrary criteria” rather than through a scientific process.

Besides, the “reforms” aren’t exactly innovative. Education historian Diane Ravitch has written that merit pay schemes have been tried repeatedly since the 1920s but never worked very well.

And then there’s the matter of Finland and Denmark, the countries whose teachers and education systems Friedman (and others) write so glowingly about as a point of comparison with the US.

But on that topic, he also manages to miss one glaring point of disparity.

Friedman never mentions the issue of poverty, which today’s education “reformers” see as an excuse for poor teaching even though the research on what living in poverty does to children and their ability to learn is overwhelming.

Finland, it should be noted, has a poverty rate among children of under 3 percent; the United States, 21 percent.

Anybody who doesn’t think that doesn’t affect student academic performance in a big way is deluding themselves, as is anybody who thinks teachers alone can make up for the effects of hunger and violence and sleep deprivation and little early exposure to literacy.

So, does anything Friedman says, right or wrong, in his column or on his appearances on the talking heads channels, really matter?

Yes.  Because many readers of the so-called “paper of record” take him seriously, and have the right to expect opinion/analysis based on research.

In this case, Friedman didn’t do his homework.

*Why doesn’t the Post retire Jay Mathews as their lead education writer and put Strauss in that position?

1 Comment

  1. Michael Dunn

    Good Question. Mathews is a moron, but his blog does have a pretty good name. Perhaps it’s in the name of “fair and balanced” reporting??

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