To the Editor:
Frederick M. Hess’ “A Snapshot of the 2014 Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings” (Commentary, Jan. 15, 2014) left me bemused.
Hess manufactures public-influence rankings annually using a proprietary (meaning, it works for him) methodology to rank the top 200 “university-based education scholars for their contributions to public understanding and debate.” I suspect the focus of the debate is the mission of university-based experts to “fix” public school education.
I take issue with the phrase “contributions to public understanding.” It assumes that these university-based scholars really do contribute to public understanding. Clearly, many of them, e.g., Diane Ravitch, Richard J. Murnane, and David K. Cohen, have contributed through sound, clearly written, and practical research to public understanding.
On the other hand, I would argue that others publish extensively about what they don’t know, what they haven’t done, and what they little understand.
I maintain that those university experts who have no experience in a public school, and who unashamedly tell us (who do have experience) how to improve, would flounder running a one-room school. Credibility comes from doing, not watching and studying. I will seek a carpenter who has framed houses long before I hire someone who studied wood, tested nails, or passed the years watching trees grow.
Why do university-based scholars have such influence on public policy when they have so little influence on public understanding? One possible reason is that they have more free time than people who actually work in public schools. Another is that they use words with more syllables.
When legislators and well-meaning bureaucrats are considering the next critical policy change—one that will reform education, transform teaching, make leaders out of losers, and end poverty—they would be well advised to consult first a few practicing educators, and to run as far as possible from the professional education voyeurs sitting smugly in their offices contemplating which colleague to cite next.
William Mitchell Elementary School
A version of this article appeared in the February 19, 2014 edition of Education Week as Seek Out Practicing Educators, Not Scholars, on Policy Issues