A conversation with an ed leader

I had an awesome experience on Twitter Saturday evening, which has convinced me further of the value of social media as a means of building relationships and developing as a professional.
Below is the interaction I had with Diane Ravitch, noted education historian, author, and former Assistant Secretary of Education under Presidents G.H. Bush and Clinton. (I’ve edited it for flow, combining my extended-length tweets into a single comment, but have not changed any of the content. A link to the original conversation is here.)
I’ll admit, I was a bit surprised that she responded and star-struck that she spent the time to interact with me. (Well, to be honest, she was engaging in several conversations at the same time.) I couldn’t help but think, if I had walked up to her at some conference or seen her in a coffee shop (unlikely as I live on the opposite coast), would she have been as willing to engage in the conversation? Would I have been as wiling to approach her? Was it this medium that made possible the interaction?
Honestly, while the conversation was exciting for me (she is an education celebrity, after all!) we really didn’t resolve anything. She did a fine politician’s job of talking around my questions, but at least she was willing to engage in the conversation. (You’ll notice, in the middle I invited former DC Public School Chancellor Michelle Rhee to jump in as well. While I didn’t expect she would, I have hopes that this could be the catalyst for an interaction between the two main “sides” in the education reform debates.)

  • WiscPrincipal: @DianeRavitch Too many leaders want to measure education effectiveness like they measure the Dow average.
  • Me: @WiscPrincipal @DianeRavitch Because #s are easy, whether or not they are accurate. Can compare one set of #s to another and claim results.
  • DianeRavitch: But the numbers don’t mean much. Teaching to test, gaming the system, narrowing curriculum.
  • Me: @DianeRavitch I agree. We’re operating schools in a culture that’s used to comparing everything- final scores, top salaries. People want a value they understand, can comp to others, know their tax money is buying the best “product” posble. We need another measure.
  • DianeRavitch: Who are the winners? Those with most money, highest scores? They raced to the top. What about the rest of us? Are they better?
  • Me: @DianeRavitch That’s the problem- media, general public, DOE are trying to measure schools w/ numbers that don’t measure what we REALLY do. We need to find a simple, understandable metric for evaluating schools that is accurate and keeps us accountable.
  • irasocol: @Me @DianeRavitch do you imagine this “simple metric” exists? Just asking
  • @irasocol @DianeRavitch Not sure, but I hope so. Otherwise, we’ll be assigned numbers that don’t tell the real story.
  • Me: @m_rhee Would love to hear your voice in this conversation, too. Do a Twitter search for @DianeRavitch and see what’s being said.
  • DianeRavitch: what an idea!
  • DianeRavitch: There is no simple metric for evaluating schools because they have many purposes and each human being is unique. Simple is wrong. By the nature of measurements, they compel you to do what they want, not what you should do.
  • Me: @DianeRavitch I get that. But the problem is, the public wants a measure, and will accept a poor one in absence of an accurate one. How do we meet that demand and stay true to our core purpose of doing what is best for kids?
  • DianeRavitch: I’ve tried to explain that our measures are dumbing schools down and are misleading. Bad measures worse than none at all.
  • Me: @DianeRavitch Again, I agree. But the demand isn’t going to go away anytime soon. How do we balance? A good measure the public will accept?
  • DianeRavitch: Honestly, I don’t know, I only know that measures we now use are hurting kids, undermining education, destroying creativity.
  • Me: @DianeRavitch I don’t know either, but think it should be a priority. When we complain and don’t offer solution, makes us look like whiners.
  • DianeRavitch: When policy driving teachers off a cliff, you have to say this is wrong. People pushing bad ideas have no uncertainty.
  • Me: @DianeRavitch The divisiveness in ed policy is reflective of that in nation at large. Saying “Don’t measure us b/c it’s bad!” no matter how correct doesn’t serve our purpose. Need to find a way to bridge the gap, meet in the middle.
  • DianeRavitch: Thanks for the great chat tonight! See you again another night.
  • Me: @DianeRavitch Enjoyed it, thanks!

What was exciting for me about this conversation was not what we were able to accomplish, but the fact that it took place at all. With a tool like Twitter, or Facebook, or Plurk, or whatever, the common in-the-trenches folk are able to interact with those making and influencing policy. And while someone like Ravitch or Rhee may be using Twitter to push their own agenda, at least it gives the rest of us a public forum in which to participate.

So, what do you think?


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