Personally, I think that if you are a paid op-ed columnist for a newspaper, one's columns should demonstrate at least a passing familiarity with stories published in that paper.
Apparently David Brooks disagrees, since this week he wrote a very silly column about the New American Academy. He finds its plan - sixty students per class in an entirely open space, and teachers loop with students - incredibly novel and exciting.
So did his employer, The New York Times. However, they found it the kind of novel excitement that a trainwreck offers. What with the overwhelmed, under-experienced teachers, the lack of student work or progress, and the pithy quotes from students ("We don't know what we are supposed to be doing, but we are learning about math"), they seemed less positive that this model was anything but a way to make absolutely certain children learned nothing.
Well, maybe Brooks did skim the piece - he notes that the school's lack of structures "was a problem at first" and notes the principal stating that they had "better control" over the students now. Brooks is impressed by the "subtle tricks" the school uses - lining students up at transitions, making them enter a new open classroom together, greeting the teacher.
David Brooks had better not be planning to visit any regular public school classes anytime soon, because the "subtle tricks" he finds there are likely to amaze him into cardiac arrest. Seriously, this kind of stuff is Remedial Classroom Management! If the New American Academy staff didn't have these procedures down on day one, they have no business working in elementary education.
Mr. Brooks is also impressed by the $120,000 annual salary provided to master teachers. I'm not: each master teacher is ultimately responsible for sixty kids and training/deploying some number of under-teachers (who aren't paid so well). Moreover, something tells me that if Brooks were offered a $120,000 annual salary, he would primly refuse such penurious compensation as offensive to a man of his talents.
Of course, Brooks and the New Academy gang share a tendency to casual racism; Brooks notes that the teachers demand "proper diction" (by which I assume he means codeswitching to Mainstream Academic English from AAL or similar). The school's founder and principal refers to the first graders as coming to the school "in a state of nature...[with] no civilization". Oh, and many of these kids apparently will have "familylike" relationships for the first time with their looping teachers. It may come as a surprise to Mr. Brooks, but poor families - even poor families headed by single parents - do not exist in solitude. There are other family relationships than marriage, and despite Ruby Payne's unresearched nonsense, poverty is not a Hobbesian state.
But mostly the column lauds something disturbing. Brooks notes the founder was inspired by expensive boarding schools; I am quite certain Phillips Exeter does not have classes of sixty students. He notes the school serves "poor minority kids"; he neglects to mention that the school took less than a quarter to remove three high needs first graders to "more structured environments" and lost at least seven more to withdrawal. He admires the master teachers, but fails to mention the rest of the teachers are "novice early childhood teachers". He's excited by the "interdisciplinary" approach, but that approach includes no art instruction.
The New American Academy is indeed an experiment, but it's one that is presently responsible for "educating" two hundred and forty children this year. Brooks' "great experiment" is a gamble that sacrifices the education of those kids if (when) it fails. So amazed is he by the school's "guerilla" leadership and its innovations that he ignores the real problems with the model. So incapable of basic research is he that he can't even read his own paper before publishing such a PR piece.