- Students: The Original American Revolutionaries - February 21, 2018
- The Case of the Shrinking Education Department - November 12, 2017
- We Must Teach the Worst of our History; Not Glorify It - August 14, 2017
- Transgender Student Rights are Human Rights - February 23, 2017
- Why "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" Still Matters in 2017 - January 16, 2017
- No Right to an Education: Detroit Schools and the Secretary of Education Nominee - November 29, 2016
- I Think I Failed You - A Civics Teacher's Letter to her Former Students - November 16, 2016
- Transforming the 'Trump Effect' in Schools - October 27, 2016
- Implicit Bias: The Missed Post-Debate Discussion - October 4, 2016
- 15 Years after 9/11: Days of Infamy & Memory as History - September 12, 2016
[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent="yes" overflow="visible"][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type="1_1" background_position="left top" background_color="" border_size="" border_color="" border_style="solid" spacing="yes" background_image="" background_repeat="no-repeat" padding="" margin_top="0px" margin_bottom="0px" class="" id="" animation_type="" animation_speed="0.3" animation_direction="left" hide_on_mobile="no" center_content="no" min_height="none"]
This week’s focus on education by NBC and its many family of channels during its "Education Nation" episodes has provoked some interesting conversation and even more predictable suggestions for "reform." After the experience the Chicago teachers, and many teachers from smaller districts, have been through lately, the same old blame game and same old non-solutions flying back and forth feels tiring.
It is a unique profession where the professionals are disrespected by their elected representatives, misunderstood (and often castigated) by the public, often ignored and unsupported by their administrators and institutions, and expected to work 80-100 hours a week for ten months of 40 hr/week pay a year. It is a unique profession where the attempt to organize and speak as a unit on behalf of the conditions their students have to learn in, the lack of protections in the work place, the non-compensated hours of work, and the lack of support in aid of each new “reform” that comes down the pike, translates to them being called “union thugs” and “moochers” on society. It is a unique profession where the professionals see their counterparts in other countries given the same status as doctors and lawyers and banking professionals, but here see their value reduced to inconvenient roadblocks to the privatization of public education.
I probably sound a bit cynical, but it seems clear to this high school teacher that there is still no structural political will to actually support equity in public schooling. And that’s what frustrates me about the kinds of conversations that took place this week on NBC shows. Inevitably, the new trend in school “reform” is to root out the bad teachers and raise standards through high stakes testing and “choice.” It’s the same policy discussion that has been swirling about for years. This week’s NBC-prompted discussions haven’t strayed from the pattern. But in all the "teachers are the problem" swirl, here are just a few questions that I haven’t heard asked during this conversation, and to which no one at a policy level has offered any really thoughtful solutions this week. These are from my perspective as a high school Social Sciences teacher:
- What provisions can states make to provide consistent and effective professional training to make sure that teachers continue to improve in their field? How can evaluations support teachers rather than intimidate and threaten them?
- How are high school teachers realistically meant to bring students up to expected levels for graduation while most districts still rely on social promotion for middle schools (based on the last era of “reform”)? Students can enter high school having failed every class for two years, not learned important skills, gained knowledge, or understood the value of their own education, and yet are expected to pass high stakes tests to graduate (the pressure to pass, of course is then put on the teachers).
- There is a huge push to make teachers available to parents 24/7. How does the expectation that teachers will stay in constant contact with parents, and use their out of school hours to pursue those contacts, account for high school teachers with 200+ students and all of that student work and planning to manage?
- How are evaluations meant to improve if administrators aren’t consistently engaging with teachers and students in the classroom beyond once or twice a year pro-formal observations that give no real feedback?
- How do we train our teachers, administrators and policy makers to understand the systemic impact of poverty so that true reform takes into account the pervasive inequalities that are simply overlooked by testing mandates?
- How do more national mandates jive with keeping funding at state levels? There is no equitable way to fund education mandates if left to the states. Funding ranges from $16,000 per student spent in NY down to $6000 per student in Utah. With continued falling revenue in states because of the Recession, how will the pressure to add more mandates be funded?
Responding effectively to all of these issues requires more than placing the burden on teachers. It requires resources. And at the end of this long train of concern, that is where we always end up. Resources: the essential bottom line for the future of our schools. In the end, nothing about the schools can be solved until we solve the underlying social question the country faces in this election: are we a society that cares for each other and the general welfare? Or, are we just the haves and "have-not's" and that’s the way it will stay? Are we a country willing to contribute to the equity of opportunity and result in order to benefit the whole? This is a question about our civic society and what we believe we are capable of.
I had the privilege of attending a workshop with the great Jonathan Kozol a few years ago. He told the story of testifying before the Education Committee in the Senate. At one point, a senator interrupted him and said, “Mr. Kozol, it sounds like you just want Congress to throw funds at schools.” Kozol responded, “Well… yes. That’s what they need.” We can blame the teachers until there are no more quality educators left to provide a free and universal education in this country. We can keep linking schools’ futures to the scores their students achieve on standardized tests. But until there is a political will to actually care about and provide resources for our schools, then nothing can truly change. That political will can be pushed into place by the civic pressure of citizens. Unfortunately, those citizens are now caught up in the false debates about whether teachers are mooching off society or people should be given vouchers to abandon their local schools. We can do better.
To buy Cari's book that details her sudden unemployment, "How to Finish the Test When Your Pencil Breaks" please click here.