The Blame Game
My last article on education left many questions unanswered, so will add this codicil as a means of expressing my views of opinions created by the media.
The media including newspapers, magazines, and TV are having a field day blaming incompetent teachers for the problems perceived in education. They have led the public to envision our schools saturated with incompetent teachers failing our eager, well behaved and brilliant children with the fantasy they are all college material. The elite have singled out public workers, including teachers as another step towards union busting. Maybe we can’t evaluate teachers by standardized test scores which have become the scale of measurement of education by the media and public.
Nicholas D. Kristof, a columnist for The Times since wrote an op-ed article in the NY Times claiming that the solution to the alleged ineffective educational system was for higher pay for teachers to attract better prepared teachers as only the lower quarter of college students are attracted to teaching. He doesn’t reveal the source of his findings, but I disagree with his figures. This and the following are examples of these false assumptions. He may need to research the college grade point averages of mine and most other teachers with 5 or more years of college.
60 Minutes had a piece last Sunday describing a Charter School that paid teachers $120,000 a year. They made an exhausted search and auditioned teachers before they were hired assuring they had the best. To make a point there would be no union or tenure.
The students in this school were from poverty areas and not achieving in public schools. In an attempt to keep this article short I will eliminate some of the other goodies of their program and will cover the last minute of the program when it was minimized that the students with the best and highly paid teachers achieved no better test scores than with their former castigated mediocre and imperfect teachers. Reporters scour the country for elixirs to promote easy solutions for a complex problem with programs that usually fade into the sunset.
This is one of many panaceas featured in the media. There have been many more that looked like the pot of gold for education, but turned out to be fool’s gold. The latest whipping boys for poor student achievement in many schools are now the teachers.
In our better performing schools teachers are evaluated by word of mouth from students and their parents. Demanding teachers forcing students to earn high grades are rated by students as bad teachers. Less demanding teachers are popular and highly rated by students. During my tenure as a Principal when charges against a teacher were made by a parent the parent, student and teacher were brought in to discuss the complaint of the student. In most cases it was found that the student was only informing the parent of half of his/her story. I have advised some belligerent parents that if they only believed half of what their child tells about us we would only believe half of what their child tells us about them.
Another concern of the media is the drop out rate. 99% of drop outs take place in inner-city schools. This could easily be explained by a visit to the ghetto and spending a couple of days in the neighborhood, a home and one of their schools. The couple days visit would shed some light on this problem. This visit would also generate not only pity, but gratitude for the teachers involved. Who is accountable for this?
Two other concerns of the public with our schools are accountability and tenure. There are pros and cons to this subject. In evaluating a teacher’s performance– large class sizes, poor attendance, poor self-motivation, little or no parenting, use of drugs, consumption of alcohol, improper diet, lack of sleep, and a plethora of emotional and learning disabilities must be taken into consideration. Can we hold the schools accountable for these deterrents to education? On a visit to an elementary school to pick up one of my grandchildren I questioned the secretary as to what the two shelves of prescription drugs were for and was told they were for hyper-active students; something teachers can’t be held accountable for. This would be a problem, even for the highly competent teachers.
Tenure has its pros and cons. Those on the attack make it sound as if all our schools are filled with incompetent teachers who would not have their jobs without union protection. My years of working with hundreds of teachers consider this an unjust conception. Every profession has some bad apples. There are bad journalists, accountants, and doctors. Bad teachers are the exception and not the rule and systems are able to fire them. The public is told that unions make it impossible to fire bad teachers, but that is simply not true. In fact, for the first two years of employment, teachers can be let go without any reason at all. Unions provide due process—the right to a hearing which keeps both sides honest and relies on facts, not accusations. This only seems fair to those who have worked for many years to enter the teaching profession.
In California new teachers are on probation for two years which gives the school district enough time to evaluate them. Tenure does protect the tenured teachers from unfair termination. In the past teachers were fired for their politics, their religion, being outspoken, gay or a personality conflict with the Principal. Administrators are the key to determining good and bad teachers in California’s current evaluation system.
Without some security teachers higher on the pay scale could be replaced with younger teachers for economic reasons. There is some repetition from my previous blog, but needed to emphasize my convictions in this area. Evaluations take time, but are essential in improving teaching and helping those who are struggling and we must be looking at ways of improving this appraisal by teachers, parents and the pundits.
Students who have the idea that teaching is an easy job will discover that good teachers work nights and weekends plus summers preparing for the coming year. Many of would be teachers leave the profession within three years. Facing classes of students each day unprepared would be a daily nightmare.
Teachers as those in other occupations need the respect of the students in their classrooms and community. Most people thrive on protecting their own dignity, so if teachers lose theirs it’s unrealistic to expect students to respect and learn from them. This degrading originates in the home and used as fodder as a story in the media.
This constant bashing of teachers demoralizes the educational process and will eventually reduce the supply of devoted teachers.