Guest post by Tim Daly, President, The New Teacher Project
The hunt has intensified recently for a shadowy menace: the “blame-the-teacher crowd.” Everyone seems to be on the case, from major magazines to pundits on Twitter. This anti-teacher cabal has grown so powerful that it took center stage at the conventions of the national teachers’ unions last month. AFT president Randi Weingarten spoke of being “shaken to the core” at witnessing “so few attack so many, so harshly, for doing so much.” NEA president Dennis Van Roekel warned of an effort to “blame teachers and our unions for every problem in a school.”
Strangely, nobody can credibly identify any members of this nefarious crowd. We know who’s not in the group. Not Barack Obama, who has made clear that he is “110 percent behind our teachers,” and made good on it by supporting tens of billions of dollars to save teacher jobs. Not Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who recently paid tribute to teachers and said that his “job is to fight for them, empower them and support them.” Not even Bill Gates, who earned multiple standing ovations during his speech to the AFT convention. In fact, the only people talking about blaming teachers are the ones supposedly defending them from this threat.
Perhaps the danger lies in subversive policies, not words. Allegations of teacher bashing often surface when districts dismiss ineffective teachers. But simply acknowledging that some teachers shouldn’t remain in the classroom doesn’t make you part of the blame-the-teacher crowd. If that were the standard, Weingarten, Van Roekel and a clear majority of teachers across the country would be members.
So, is there an anti-teacher streak in the actual implementation of these notions? Is that where the hostile rubber hits the road? Washington, D.C. dismissed 5% of its teachers last month, mostly for performance issues. But three times as many were rated “highly effective” and stand to be paid a lot more money under the district’s new compensation system. Overall, the vast majority of teachers were found to be doing solid work. Another example: Last week, New York City announced that it had delayed or denied tenure to 11% of eligible teachers, up from 7% last year—which means that 89% of eligible teachers earned tenure and the de facto lifetime job protection that comes with it. In both of these cases, the results of standardized tests were considered alongside many other factors.
What part of any of this could be construed as an attack on the average teacher?
The truth is that the existence of the blame-the-teacher crowd is a myth. Like many myths, it relies on heated rhetoric and fear to exaggerate controversy. Does anyone really disagree with the idea that teachers should, in President Obama’s words, bear a “measure of accountability” for helping their students learn? Isn’t the real question how this can happen fairly, transparently, and in a way that gives teachers the support they need to grow as professionals? That’s the conversation we should have if we’re serious about improving our schools. But it can’t happen as long as we’re distracted by myths that imply ill intentions rather than genuine policy disagreements.
There’s a lesson here for teachers, principals, policymakers, and even education reporters: Next time someone warns you about the monster under your bed, don’t be afraid to look. Chances are it’s not there.