Sunday, March 15, 2009

I'm Not Sure What Speech David Brooks Was Listening To


The reform vision Obama sketched out in his speech flows from that experience. The Obama approach would make it more likely that young Americans grow up in relationships with teaching adults. It would expand nurse visits to disorganized homes. It would improve early education. It would extend the school year. Most important, it would increase merit pay for good teachers (the ones who develop emotional bonds with students) and dismiss bad teachers (the ones who treat students like cattle to be processed).

We’ve spent years working on ways to restructure schools, but what matters most is the relationship between one student and one teacher. You ask a kid who has graduated from high school to list the teachers who mattered in his life, and he will reel off names. You ask a kid who dropped out, and he will not even understand the question. Relationships like that are beyond his experience.

I don't know why Brooks chooses to imagine that there is something in Obama's education policy which is designed to forge stronger relationships between teachers and students, or, particularly, that making teachers fearful for their jobs or shooting for cash bonuses at the end of the year will make them forge emotional bonds with their students. Closing schools (whether they're traditional or charter schools) rather than fixing them is bad for relationships between teachers and students. Policies that move teachers to different schools, even if they are ostensibly higher needs schools, is bad for relationships.

Improving the relationships between teachers and students is simply not a priority in the Obama administration's agenda. It used to be a priority during the Clinton administration, but that was then, and this is now.

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