Thursday, February 18, 2010


from Rick Hess’ Straight Up EdWeek blog |

February 17, 2010 -- It's time to banish the phrase, "It's for the kids," (that's "IFTK" for those of you keeping score at home) from the edu-discourse, along with its insipid cousins like "it's all about kids," "just for the kids," and "we're in it for the kids." Actually, it's way past time.

Two things recently reminded how much I loathe IFTK. One was a terrific little essay penned by my old mentor, Harvard University's Dick Elmore. The other, which I'll take up tomorrow, was AFT President Randi Weingarten's painful interview recently on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" show.

Elmore bracingly terms "We're in it for the kids" a "monument to self-deception." He argues, "Public schools, and the institutions that surround them, surely rank among the most self-interested institutions in American society"--with school boards "training beds" for would-be politicians, superintendents sketching grandiose visions and then fleeing for cushier positions, and unions sacrificing student interests in the name of teacher job security.

"It's for the kids" is a phrase that encourages obfuscation and posturing. It allows self-interest to hide behind self-righteousness and vapid sentiment. It also imposes real costs.

First, the rhetoric of "it's for the kids" makes it easy for serious disagreements about policy or practice to devolve into name-calling and questions of motive. If I'm "in it for the kids" and you oppose my stance on teacher licensure, desegregation, charter schooling, or merit pay, it can be easy for me to assert (and maybe even assume) that you're not in it for the kids. This fuels ad hominem attacks and makes it more difficult to find workable solutions.

And, honestly, I can't see why motive much matters. I couldn't care less whether my doctor loves me; I just care whether she's any good at her job. If someone is in it for the kids, for the adoring news coverage, or for a buck, all I really care about is whether they deliver. If they do, terrific. If they don't, their noble motives don't matter.

Enough for now. Check back tomorrow if you want to catch the second half of this little tirade--and a few choice quotes from the Weingarten interview.


It’s tomorrow already? - Free Weingarten Now!

from Rick Hess’ Straight Up EdWeek blog

February 18, 2010 -- Yesterday I railed that the "it's for the kids" (IFTK) mantra turns substantive disagreements into name-calling. If I'm "for the kids" and you disagree with me on tracking, testing, or whatever, it follows that you're "against the kids." (As an aside, Knowledge Alliance honcho Jim Kohlmoos wryly asked whether it wasn't IFTK that led me into teaching. Straight up: nope. Cold-hearted guy that I am, I just enjoyed the instruction, the kids, and the content. But, it was easy enough to play along and mouth IFTK banalities just like the next guy. And that's the problem.)

The IFTK lingo becomes a reflex that stifles honest debate and cogent thinking. This brings us to AFT President Randi Weingarten's recent interview on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" show. Pressed by tough questions, the razor-sharp Weingarten illustrated how IFTK helps turn important discussions into vapid and disconcertingly stupid ones.

Asked, "Why are the teachers union held in such disregard?" Weingarten responds (in a bit of a non sequitur), "I think what's happened is that, since the economy has changed so much, everybody really wants to make sure we help all of our kids."

Told, "But the perception is that you all over the years have put job security in front of the welfare of the kids," Weingarten says, "Teachers want to help kids succeed ... But we need to help, all of us, take more responsibility to make sure all of our kids get a decent education."

Asked, "What's the central complaint of the teachers union about charter schools?" Weingarten counters, "Look, the issue becomes: how do you help all kids?" A minute later, she adds, "The issue becomes: how do we help all kids succeed? The issue in terms of the charter schools were, we want to make sure that they're taking the same kinds of kids that all other public schools have."

Weingarten's parting comments? "We want to do a great job with kids. That's what it's about." Just to be clear, she elaborates, "But it is about how we help the kids. And teachers want to help the kids." Randi Weingarten is smart, savvy, and engaging. I've got to imagine it was as painful for her to mouth that pabulum as it was to listen to it.

This isn't just about Weingarten, by any means. Pushed to consider revisions to No Child Left Behind that would relax NCLB proficiency targets, for instance, some high-ranking officials in the Bush Administration's Department of Education were prone to respond, "So, whose child are you prepared to leave behind?"

Such variants of the IFTK genus are intended to stifle questions by flaunting moral superiority. Playing the IFTK card ignores the likelihood that no one is eager to leave anybody's kids behind and the reality that policies entail imperfect choices. By squelching honest dissent, IFTK excuses incoherent policy and practice in the name of moral urgency.

So, here's a wild idea. Can't we just presume that everybody cares (or admit that we can't tell the posers from the real deal) and just argue policies and practices instead?

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