Thursday, March 18, 2010

Call Me Radical

The March 15, 2010 issue of Newsweek argues that "The Key to American Education" is firing "bad" teachers. What "bad" means is not addressed. But the magazine's blame on the "relative decline of American education..." lands clearly with teacher tenure and teachers' unions.


Again, as the education system is evaluated, contributing factors are ignored. Where is consideration for poverty, for family structure, for lack of health care and proper nutrition, for the media's influence?

While I believe Newsweek's claim that "...ranked against European schoolchildren, America does about as well as Lithuania, behind at least ten other nations." But where is the comparison between single-parent families? What are those kids eating over there? What are they watching on TV? What video games are they playing?

Here in Oregon, where there is no teacher tenure, the increasing difficulty of Leaving No Child Behind can't be blamed on "bad" teachers. Simply, educating students is nearing impossible here because of everything else. Because after those students slept in a car the night before, when they've had Fritos and Pepsi for breakfast, when their mom is on meth, they are tested on a two-page writing sample titled, "My Favorite Family Tradition."

Can anyone say "Maslow's Hierarchy?"

I want American education to be better. I want it to be the best in the world. But teachers aren't responsible for that. Believe me, we're doing what we can.

How about this? How about instead of blaming teachers for America's academic failure, we look to our society. Or how about just fixing the problem?

$100,000 yearly salaries would lure some pretty qualified educators from business, medical, and government fields (The one sentence with which I agree is Newsweek's inclusion of a study which shows that American "teachers are recruited from the bottom third of college-bound high-school students," of which I was one. "Finland tales the top 1o percent.") So, yes, there's the money issue. And while we're finally spending, let's offer two high-protein, unprocessed, organic meals a day. For free. Let's hand over the problem kids to law enforcement, and ratchet up suspensions and expulsions, minimizing learning distractions. And class sizes? Under 20. With support staff. Like Japan. Curriculum? Reformed. It's out with New Math and back to basics. The stuff we learned, and understood. Memorizing times tables. Cursive. Plus deep appreciation for the arts.

It only takes money, right? Money, and a good, hard look at where education is failing, and why. And neither has anything to do with tenure or unions.


Ken said...

If teachers weren't doing their jobs, people would be unable read Newsweek. I'm sick and tired of teachers getting the bulk of the blame because "Johnny can't read." Every year, the classroom teacher is being required to do more with less. They work countless unpaid hours over and above their official time on the clock and their pay is generally far below other jobs that require a college education. Everything I am today is a testimony to the teachers I had. I don't think I had more than a few inept teachers. On the other hand, I've had a hundred good teachers from kindergarten to college. To my credit, I still appreciate (almost) all of them.

Jackee said...

Well said! The thing that rankles me the most is that education is the first thing to be cut, and the first thing to be cut is teacher's pay and classroom needs rather than administration and transportation. Teachers are the frontlines and needed to be rewarded as such.

But how do we fix public education to reflect the proper values?

Elana Johnson said...

Thank you! As a teacher, I saw that cover, reached for it, and yanked my hand back. I knew what it would say.

There are a lot of problems in education, don't get me wrong. But some of them are beyond what a human teacher can do with the kids in only 6 hours a day.

Jen said...

Some people should really watch what they say, then again some people just can't help themselves!

Love your blog, love your points, loved this post!

Jennie Englund said...

I was worried about being too radical here. There's that fine line between professionalism and free speech.

Education is just one of those things I'm really passionate about.

And I'm glad you are, too!

Great question, Jackee. I'll think about that.

Theresa Milstein said...

Your response is spot on. I'm sorry of teachers being the punching bags for all that is wrong in America. Our country's quick response without any rational thought is getting embarrassing.

Nicole Ducleroir said...

I'm so with you! One of the worst things that happened to American education was the No Kid Left Behind program. I'm sure it looked pretty on paper, but in real life it doesn't work. The emphasis on passing the standardized test (called the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, or CRCT, here in Georgia) takes all the creative fun out of classroom instruction. And don't get me started about how it's pushed the importance of art, PE, and music right off the priority list!

I'm originally from NY, so I was already weary of the GA public school system, which ranks somewhere in the bottom ten states nationwide in education. What I've found now that my kids are in school is a teacher staff that cares so much about the education of their students, but who are being strangled by the threat of their school not making Adequate Yearly Progress. No AYP for two consecutive years would mean no federal funding. So sad.

It's parents like you and I that make the real difference in our own children's education. All of us need to step up, feed our families real food, unplug our kids for the majority of the day from computers, televisions, ipods, and video games. Expect excellence from our kids so they expect excellence from themselves.

And honestly, do children in primary and middle school really need cell phones??

You said it right, let's get back to basics.

Great post! I found you by way of Jen at Unedited. So glad I did! Looking forward to reading more from you!

Jennie Englund said...

Honestly, I am shocked by your agreement with this perspective on fixing education. Thank you.

I thought I was really putting this out there in a big, crazy way.

But I believed in every word, and was willing to take serious criticism.

Instead, there's been so much agreement.

If so many of us agree on what needs to change, and how, then why is nothing changing?

Anonymous said...

love teachers and this blog rocks....

you are so right....