Unmasking the “Blame the Teacher” Crowd

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.

53 thoughts on “Unmasking the “Blame the Teacher” Crowd

  1. Bob Calder

    The argument goes like this:
    IF there is a problem with education, THEN teachers are the problem.

    The argument stops there. Interestingly enough, it’s where education reform begins for far too many people. Is it possible that measuring teacher effectiveness will improve schools? Yes, but it will likely be a very small improvement. Yet a tremendous amount of money is being put into it. Is the time and money being wasted?

    For me, it’s a matter of emphasis.

  2. Linda/RetiredTeacher

    Let’s look at some typical students who are failing in school:

    Jose is in the fourth grade but doesn’t speak English. No excuses. His teacher still needs to bring him up to grade level or be fired.

    Mary needs glasses desperately. Her teacher already supplied her with one pair but now Mary needs another. No excuses! Her teacher must be held accountable for Mary’s achievement in school.

    Steve has asthma and often misses school because his parents can’t afford the doctor visits or the medicine. No excuses! Steve can still be at or above grade level with a good teacher.

    Hunter stays home most of the time because his guardian can’t get him to school. The truant officer can do only so much. No excuses! Hunter’s teacher must be made accountable!

    Jennifer is a high-scoring student in Scarsdale. Every one of her teachers is “highly effective.” Jim is a low-scoring student in DC. Many of his teachers are “ineffective.” No excuses! Jim’s teachers need to be as “good” as the teachers in Scarsdale or be fired.

    Are you part of the “No excuses” movement? Well, these are the “blame the teacher” people. They are real and they are causing many talented young people to think twice before entering the K-12 teaching profession. They are causing others to refuse positions in challenging schools in favor of schools with high-scoring children. Even the teachers who accept the jobs in low-income schools often leave after two or three years. These children deserve better.

    All the above mentioned students can learn and achieve at high levels but they require medical and social supports to reach their full potential. Teachers cannot do it alone; nor should they be expected to do so.

    Yes, President Obama and Congress are firmly behind teachers and will make certain that most of those laid off will be back with their students in the fall. Smart move by smart people!

    Please support all children by supporting the parents and teachers who serve them. Thank you.

  3. Eric Fry

    A reform movement that assigns no responsibility to students, parents, administrators, school boards, state and federal legislators, universities and taxpayers is doomed to failure.

  4. Andre

    Eric, did you read the blog post you’re commenting on?

    Bob i think you make a good point. Presumably we’re measuring teacher quality to we can improve it… but how? Hiring better teachers? how much of a boost could that provide? To train better? What’s our track record with that?

    There was a report a couple months ago that tried to address some of these questions. I’ll see if i can dig that up.

  5. Attorney DC

    I agree with the comments of Bob Calder, Linda (Retired Teacher) and Eric Fry, above. There is definitely a “blame the teachers” movement afoot in education politics these days. As Linda notes, it is closely tied to the “no excuses” movement: No excuses for the TEACHERS (but no accountability for anyone else, including the students, parents, school board or others). As a former teacher (who taught in the early days of NCLB), it seems to me that one of the only goals of “education reform” these days is to castigate teachers, particularly those working with especially demanding students in low-income, minority schools. This is NOT the way to reform education in America.

  6. john thompson

    Only an analyst/political operator who is unfamilar with actual schools could doubt the existance of the anti-teacher crowd. On the left we have the Ed Trust and the TNTP who want to blame teachers for the legacy of the breakdown of the family. On the right they love to use the word “accountability” over and over. On the left-center, we have Duncan and Obama who try to blame teachers just enough. Obama praised the Rhode Island firings for the same reason as he originally supported deep offshore drilling, to appease the right and to use the word accountability as much as possible. It was his Sista Soldja speech.

    This issue is not accountability. I have seen my union repeatedly offer to help fire ineffective teachers, and our proposal of peer review would efficently remove 10% of teachers every year. But we need to do so in a way that does not ruin the profession and turn public schools into nonstop test prep.

    And by the way, I would be less suspecious of your organization if you would merely apologized about your misstatements about the Toledo Plan, and show some regret about your original criticism of the New Haven Plan.

    But what I really want from your organization would be concrete guarantees against misusing test scores and other evaluations. If you were more than a teacher-bashing orgnization, you would join us and support verifiable protections so that effective teachers are not fired for simply choosing to teach in ineffective schools.

    Do you really think that Rhee fired 5% of teachers THIS TIME because IMPACT said that 5% were ineffective. Come on unless you were born yesterday, the actually range of teachers to be fired was set by this year’s political situation. And the same will be true in a decade and in a decade afterwards. Firings will be determined by a range of political, economic, and control issues. You won’t be able to continue to replace teachers so the termination wars will settle down. The question is whether the profession’s integrity is destroyed in the process.

    How much peace of mind with the more than 1/4th of D.C. teachers who are on the chopping block can have? Do they dare express an opion now on how to best educate kids? How many were determined to be Minimally Effective because they weren’t “yes men?” And your organization is one of those pushing for educational monocultures where Baby Boomers’ professional experience are unwelcome.

    And that gets back to the huge teacher-blame below the surface. In schools, for whatever political reason, the institutional pressure is for silver bullets, and invariably they are announced that these policies will only work if teachers have “High Expectations” and do “Whatever It Takes.” In other words the fad of the day typically is announced along with a preview of the blame game spin once the “reform” dies.

    If you visit a real inner city school, see if you can find a governance policy – from AB Block Scheduling to disciplinary procedures – that is not informed by the cycle of blame the teacher. That was true long before I entered the classroom. Why else would the Ed Trust, for instance, have been so opposed to pre-school and the Bolder broader approach. They, at least, made it clear that they don’t want the focus taken off the classroom. And in most classrooms, there is only one adult to blame, even though the real responsbility should be shared widely.

    I doubt you have the knowledge of real schools to understand this, but I’ll repeat this metaphorical explanation of the harm done by this ritual of teacher-bashing. It used to be that when we had a student murdered, we would get counselors. This year, we had none and they still sent 1/5th of the teachers to professional development workshops that had previously been scheduled. When of course, gang fights spread throughout the school, they responded by giving us $80,000 not for more counselors, which we need, but for classroom management professional dvelopment. In other words the problem was solved by blaming the usual suspects – teachers.

  7. Robert Pondiscio

    On the surface, there is merit to what Tim Daly writes. No one “blames the teacher.” To the contrary, we “support our teachers” just like we “support our troops” regardless of our feelings about the wars they wage. The question to be asked is whether “we support teachers” is a meaningful statement or an empty platitude. Here’s where it gets fuzzy. The typical teacher in a low-performing school was poorly trained, has no say over curriculum (and as often as not, no curriculum whatsoever), little leverage on disciplinary issues, and often has to prepare and deliver lessons in a manner explicitly prescribed by administrators, consultants or others. Professional development typically adds nothing of value, and administrative feedback when it is given at all tends to be management by checklist, principally concerned with ostensible “visible evidence of learning,” such as kids working in cooperative groups, up-to-date student work on classroom bulletin boards, and lesson aims and standards written on the board in child-friendly language.

    When teachers succeed under these conditions, we support them. When they fail, we seldom ask why they fail. And there’s the rub. Remaining incurious about why well-intentioned, hard-working people fail despite their best efforts and doing what they’ve been asked how they’ve been directed) may not be “blaming them,” per se. But it’s close.

  8. Jesse

    Robert Pondisco’s comment is thought provoking, but I wonder if the same logic couldn’t be applied to those on the other side of the education debate as well. When members of Congress approve an extra $10 billion to save teacher jobs (on top of $100 billion last year) without any strings attached, they say they are “supporting” teachers. But if all of this money merely goes to saving teacher jobs, how many of the issues Pondisco brings up will actually be addressed? What if the money is used to save ineffective teachers’ jobs? Doesn’t that actually make effective teachers’ jobs harder?

    Ultimately, the problem with saying one (or one’s opponents) “supports” or “blames” the teachers is the same as with saying one is “in it for the kids.” It’s a political statement designed to put oneself (or one’s opponents) in a particular box but says little about what a person actually believes.

    So here’s what I believe: I believe there are many factors that affect a child’s educational abilities. I believe the quality of that child’s teachers are one (but certainly not the only) vital factor. I believe the way America has turned its back on those in poverty is shameful. I believe that even without rectifying our shameful record of dealing with poverty, it is possible to make our schools significantly better (though not as good as they would be if we did actually address poverty more systemically). I believe one important way to make schools better is to improve the quality of teachers. I believe that teachers should be paid more. I believe they should get significantly better training and guidance. I believe a small but not insignificant number of teachers should be fired for incompetence. I believe any evaluation of a teacher’s competence has to include many measures. I believe standardized test scores should be part of the equation but should never be the sole basis for judging any teacher. I believe that teachers unions are far from the villains they are often portrayed to be. I believe that teachers unions sometimes do more harm than good — for their members, for students and for their own public image — when they devote so much of their time and money to defending teachers whose sole contribution to their schools is to make other teachers’ lives harder.

    Anyway, I realize that many of these beliefs put me at odds with a lot of the frequent posters on this site. So be it. I don’t claim to be an expert, just a person who cares a lot about these issues for several reasons, not the least of which is that my wife teaches at a high-poverty school. I just encourage everyone to be a little more careful about slapping these labels (“pro- or anti-teacher”, etc.) on one another. They make for good applause lines, but that’s about it.

  9. Leonie Haimson

    This is either one of the most ignorant or disingenuous postings I have ever seen. Or perhaps its meant to “gaslight” innocent teachers who come across it, victimizing them even more.

    Scapegoating teachers has become the mantra of the so-called reformers. From Katie Haycock claiming (with no evidence) that the problems of low-performing schools are primarily due to poor teaching, to the recent cover of Newsweek, proclaiming that the ” Key to saving American education” is to “fire bad teachers,” with these words repeated over and over on the blackboard, this simplistic notion notion infects nearly every blog, magazine, and DC think tank, including this one.

    In what other sphere would we make this claim? Is the key to reforming our inequitable health care system firing bad doctors? Or the key to reducing inner city crime firing bad cops? No. But somehow this inherently destructive perspective is the delivered wisdom among the privateers who populate and dominate thinking in this country.

  10. melody

    Somebody who publicly ridicules Van Roekel and Weingarten, who speak for millions, might plausibly be considered anti-teacher.

  11. Celso Garcia

    Well how about hearing mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein speaking about teachers contracts and unions being major problems? How about Obama contradicting his rhethoric by placing race to the top to undercut states way of carrying out education as mandated by the 10th amendment which reserves rights to the states. Have you worked for a principal that comes from the private sector and has no education experience yet never takes into consideration the teachers opinions? Have you worked for a principal that feels that teachers are exhangable parts in a tyrranical machine of his ego? I have seen principals make teachers cry, blame teachers for all of a schools problems, harrass teachers that were doing excellent jobs because Voltaire stated “power corrupts and absolutely power corrupts absolutely.” What ever happened to checks and balances? Due process?
    These phantoms are living and breathing people that have contempt towards teachers in both a de facto and de jure manner: Bloombergs, Gates, Walton family, Obama, Duncan and many more elitest have set up organizations such as yours to receive donations to retrain and change teacher ignoring every other factor that makes us human. Such areas as parenting style, family, psychology, nueroscience and human development are ignored because you have money. Perhaps the phantoms such as the new teacher initiative that will not admit their intentions of widening the gap between rich and poor for the sake of experimenting. These experimenting will widen the gaps between the rich and poor such as in NYC where after 8 years of experiments children have fallen behind. Give the teachers a voice do not mute us. We will keep fighting for children alongside parents that have been muzzled in NYC. Sir you are the phantom that is why you are writing this article as usual undermining. Elitist have run the working class out and plan to continued the efforts continue to attack it silently or loudly as you just did.

  12. Bronx Teacher

    You have got to be kidding me!!!!

    Whitney Tilson’s email of July 30 blabbers:

    “gutless weasels and completely disgraced themselves in siding with the unions against meaningful reforms of a public school system that systematically, all over the country, gives black and Latino students the very worst teachers and schools, thereby trapping black and Latino communities in multi-generational cycles of poverty, violence and despair.”

  13. Rural Teacher

    I can’t help but wonder if this national sentiment of resentment towards teachers stems from the practices in the past when parents today were in school. I know that as a school student in the 80s and early 90s I had educational experiences that I would definitely not like to revisit. From having to endure several teachers who joined in with other students who called me a degrading name based on a weight problem that I had as a kid to a high school gym teacher who rewarded students with extra points for drawing blood during murder ball games, I have experienced some unique situations. I am only one. I cannot imagine how many others from both rural and urban areas experienced this type of anti-education during their school years. It would be a shame if this is the case. I know from experience that school culture in many places is much better today than it was then. During the late 90s when I began teaching myself I noticed that more teachers seemed to be more passionate about their profession, and school cultures began to improve for the better. I even ended my resentment for phys. ed. when I saw teachers who actually taught as opposed to turning a blind eye towards the “character building” that kids inflicted on one another. Most importantly, teachers seemed to act more positively towards their students. They also seemed to care more about their students as people.

  14. Tim Daly

    Thanks for everyone who has commented so far – Andy will be gratified to know that the site isn’t dormant in his absence. And lots of good points raised. I can’t get to them all, but here are a few thoughts and questions:

    1) Robert, you make an excellent point about what happens when there is failure. I think this cuts to the heart of our rhetorical challenge. With so much failure in public education, with so many kids not getting the opportunities we want them to have, we spend a lot of time coming up with explanations for the failure, and the explanation verge on blame. But wouldn’t you say that the assumption of guilt falls more directly on principals than teachers in most cases? For example, the accountability-heavy school turnaround options provided by the Obama administration more often call for replacing the principal than replacing teachers. Is principal-blaming really less common than teacher-blaming?

    2) I would argue that there is a difference between saying like “teachers vary in quality” or “there are teachers who are not performing well enough to continue working with kids” and saying “the main reason our schools are not successful is teachers.” We survey thousands of teachers every year, and they feel overwhelmingly that more needs to be done to uphold a high standard for instructional performance. With that in mind, where is the line between saying teacher performance is important and blaming teachers? In essence, what’s the definition of teacher-blaming?

    3) What’s the solution to the state of the dialogue? What is a way of talking about the teaching profession that is honest and still respectful? Is there an example of a public figure who does it the best? If so, feel free to share in comments.


  15. Marcy Snider

    The incivility of these comments are truly shocking, particularly the commentator who resorts to name calling and cherry picks one magazine article, Newsweek’s, as representative of the thinking of every journalist, politician and advocate on teachers.

    You can agree or disagree with Kati Haycock’s particular advocacy positions. But Ed Trust has produced plenty of compelling evidence that schools with high concentrations of poverty systematically have more teachers without certification in their field, as well as poorer-paid teachers on average. That alone should be cause for concern, whatever the reason behind those patterns.

    Now you can agree or disagree with solutions for them and certainly with the Obama administration’s plans. But these days, even suggesting that some aspects of our teacher-quality systems don’t operate in the best interests of teachers or children gets one labelled instantly a “teacher basher.”

    Frankly, I think that there is no one right solution to these problems. No one route into teaching or leadership positions is going to solve the problem of teaching yet we continue to argue about some misguided sense of “professionalism” depending on entry route. I frankly worry about some of Rhee’s and Klein’s rhetoric, and that we are rushing into these new evaluation systems, but at some level there has to be a real discussion about what we mean when we say that a teacher is effective.

    Jesse is right when he writes that we should all be careful about labeling anyone “pro” or “anti” teacher. The issues are far more complicated than that, and it would be nice for once to see real dialogue on this board.

  16. ceolaf

    Who blames the average teacher?

    Well, let’s think about a policy that blames the average teacher: merit pay.

    The idea behind so-called “merit pay” as a lever of reform is that we can incentivize teachers to do better. Unpack that thinking you and you the assumption that teachers could do better if only they really wanted to. Give them more incentive (i.e. the possibililty of more money) and they will do better.

    In other words, they’re holding back.

    Note that these programs are proposed with serious capacity building (i.e. training and other support) components. There is no acknowledgement that average teachers might already be doing the best they know how/can. Instead, these programs — which clearly are NOT aimed at the worst teachers — are aimed at average teachers who can be turned into great teachers.

    Obviusly, they are not aimed at great teachers. After all, rewarding already great teachers does nothing to improve schools. They obvisuly are not aimed at the wretched teachers, those who cannot be salvaged up to decent levels. So, they are aimed at those teachers in the middle — average teachers.

    Show me someone who backs merit pay as a lever to improve schools — individual or collectively based — and you will have shown me someone who blames teachers.

    Got it?

  17. ceolaf


    I left out that most critical word, “not.”

    Note that these programs are NOT proposed with serious capacity building (i.e. training and other support) components.

  18. Chris Smyr

    I had a few questions for some of you.

    Bob Calder:

    Can you please give examples of individuals who believe in the mantra of, “If there is a problem with education, then teachers are the problem”?


    As the blogpost suggests, can you please provide a list of names of these “blame the teacher” people? Please also give citations for the claim that “young talented people are thinking twice before entering K-12 teaching” because of these said individuals.

    Eric Fry:

    Please clarify which education reform movement has assigned “no responsibility to students, parents, administrators, school boards, state and federal legislators, universities and taxpayers”.

    Attorney DC:

    If firing failing teachers is “not the way to reform education in America”, what do you suggest be done with teachers who fail?

    John Thompson (yours runs a bit longer, surprisingly):

    Can you remind us why the president of The New Teacher Project would be considered “an analyst/political operator who is unfamilar (sic) with actual schools”? Can you also tell us why you being “suspecious (sic) of [TNTP]”, or asking for apologies for off topic points, is important to the discussion here? And do you have evidence that “the actual 5% of teachers fired [in DCPS] was set by this year’s political situation”? Or that “more than 1/4th of DC teachers are on the chopping block”? Or that their “opions (sic) on how to best educate kids” are going unheard, or that these opions (sic) would save education? And how would you use that $80,000 (which may have been allocated for routine professional development?) to fund student counselor(s), and how long would you like to fund them for with that lump sum?

    Martha Infante:

    Can you explain why Michelle Rhee is “the foremost teacher basher of them all”? And who else is in the club?

    Leonie Haimson:

    Can you please explain why Katie Haycock’s claim that “firing bad teachers” is evidence of “scapegoating teachers… the mantra of the so-called reformers”? And are you suggesting that firing bad doctors is also an example of scapegoating doctors? Or that firing bad cops is also an example of scapegoating cops? And would you rather see bad cops and bad doctors kept on staff?


    Can you explain why ridicule of Van Roekel and Weingarten would constitute an attack on all teachers? Do you know of other persons that hold a similar honor of representing all others who work in the same field they do, and whom arguments against would constitute arguments against the field as a whole?

    Celso Garcia:

    Can you explain why arguments against teacher contracts or teacher unions are equivalent to arguments against all teachers? Or why having a bad principal is evidence of an anti-teacher establishment?

    Bronx Teacher:

    Can you please provide the context for that quote? And can you explain why arguments against “giving black and Latino students the very worst teachers and schools” is indicative of anti-teacher sentiment?

    Rural Teacher:

    Can you provide evidence for the notion that this “national sentiment of resentment toward teachers” has been caused by adults who had terrible experiences with their own education?


    Can you explain why rewarding teachers would further an anti-teacher sentiment in schools? Why does acknowledging that teachers ought to be capable of continuously improving their instruction tantamount to an insult?

  19. john thompson

    You write:”What’s the solution to the state of the dialogue? What is a way of talking about the teaching profession that is honest and still respectful? Is there an example of a public figure who does it the best?”

    You could start towards being such a figure. You’ve already “reconciled” your false statements regarding Toledo. Now say, “we’re sorry.”

    Then follow this distinction Its great to play hardnosed physical ball. Politics is a contact sport. But your opponent is your opponent, not your enemy. Stop trying to take the knees out of your opponent. Expicitly state guarantees that keep your policies from dividing unions through dual contracts, firing effective teachers who have low test score growth due to no fault of their own, dissassociate with “reformers” who play the race card, and push to the edge of labor law and perjury. If you would just repeduiate Michelle Rhee it would go a long way.

  20. john thompson


    I would use the$80,000 and millions more every year to hire people, not pay for the programs and materials that Title money has been buyng. The Obama Admininstration just started us down that path this month with new guidance on Title funding.

    But don’t overlook my point about the non-stop anti-teacher rhetoric in sustaining CYA policies. “Reformers” perpetuate it with their claim that teachers just needHigh Expectations. Remember when the Ed Trust ridiculed Ed Weeks’ “Kids Count” and as “Sociology Week?”

  21. thenofunzone

    someone above said, i think ceolaf, that merit pay is designed to “make teachers work harder.” i don’t think the idea of overhauling the single salary schedule and moving toward performance incentives in public educator pay is actually about the current crop of teachers at all. part of the idea is that you can begin to draw a new type of candidate into the profession – so it may be more about recruiting future teachers than making the current ones “work harder.” hoxby and leigh’s research on how the salary schedules of today work toward lowering the aptitude of those who go into the field is pretty convincing. i mean it did end up in the American Economic Review – the field’s top peer reviewed journal:

    Pulled Away or Pushed Out? Explaining the Decline of Teacher Aptitude in the United States (with Caroline Hoxby), American Economic Review, 2004

    There are two main hypotheses for the decline in the aptitude of public school teachers since 1960: improved job opportunities for females in other occupations and the compression of teaching wages owing to unionization. Using data on several college graduating cohorts from 1961 to 1997, we investigate both hypotheses. To separate the hypotheses, we exploit the fact that states varied considerably in the progress of unionization and female wage parity. We proxy for a teacher’s aptitude with the mean college aptitude of students at her undergraduate college. We identify the effects of unionization using laws that legalized and facilitated teachers’ unionization. The evidence suggests that compression of teaching wages is responsible for about three-quarters of the decline in teacher aptitude. Females’ opportunities in alternative occupations do matter, but opportunities improved rather similarly for females of all aptitudes. Although alternative occupations drew women out of teaching in general, they did not have a sufficiently disproportionate effect on high aptitude women to explain the bulk of the decline in teachers aptitude.

  22. Celso Garcia

    Chris Smyr have you ever heard of the leadership academy of NYC they train school leaders that come other fields. They teach them an recruit people that believe in the General Electric business philosophy of laying off ‘the bottom 10 Percent”of workers. In the private industry their are targets ans goals in productivity that can be reached. however teaching is more abstract in the sense that student come in with different skills some that are measurable and some that are not. Therefore getting rid of the bottom 10 percent of teachers is going to be based on?
    These leadership academy principals have been having higher than normal attrition rates per the nytimes article (more near 30 to 50 percent per year). Remember principals are appointees selected to tout the administrations line in this instance their loyalty to Billionaire Bloomberg and antitrust lawyer now Chancellor Klein. Their strategy is to bust the union and negotiate a contract public (still no contract for nyc teachers after a year of negotiations).All teachers want is due process and to be treated with respect. As the middle class shrinks so do protections for workers. Would you want teachers making less and doing more with the high attrition rate of teachers. Believe me were not in it for the money like these high paid consultants making six figures and companies making millions. Remember teachers suffer from stroke, high blood pressure and many other stress related diseases at a higher rate then the general population. Teaching is never easy especially will all the new demands we end up working a lot more hours that are even in our contracts take work home. Only if you knew how many times I left the school building after 7pm after being up at 5am and still taking work home to then be told all teachers are lazy or should be fired like in Rhode Island. Attacking teachers unions is attacking teachers because the unions are run by teachers in the best interestbof teaching. Unions are not separate from teachers because it is made up of teachers that elect our leaders. These individual employees make up what you are calling the union. We fight for education and for children.

  23. Jonathan

    The first thing NYC teaching fellows program tells incoming new teacher candidates is that the failure of students is the teachers fault.

    David Brooks of the NY Times frequently claims that it is the teaching and not social factors that determine students success, going as far as to dismiss the social benefits extended to parents in the Harlem charter schools.

    Tons of articles about the Equity Project charter school have said it is teaching that makes a difference. Mind you, the students did not do well on tests in their first year at the school where they hired superteachers for double the pay of the majority of NYC teachers. Don’t worry though, they’ll weed out the problem students at attrition rates double to triple that of public schools and not have to replace those students with incoming trouble students THEN they will show us all how much they can improve students, unlike those pesky public schools that can’t just get rid of students.

    I know someone who does PR charter schools in NYC and their clear position is that it is bad teaching that is failing the students, and, trust me, despite never having taught a day, she will toe the organizations party line and argue it quite vehemently. She will cite tons of skewed statistics that simply aren’t true to push across this point.

    You may want to check out the site http://teachersunionexposed.com/ and their attack of teachers unions, who actually protect teachers and guarantee fair and safe work conditions. YES, they do some things I don’t agree with, but, overall, teachers are underpaid for the level of education they have and the work required.

    Those are just a few off the top of my head. You point may be that there is a group of folks who are purposely going after all teachers, but, I have to disagree. The charter school movement is bankrolled by some serious cash and lobby groups and charter schools are often very profitable for private businesses. They treat teachers like resources and the teacher turnover rate is insane. The majority of charter schools show direct correlations between student attrition and testing gains. You don’t need charter schools for this to work. Any public school would show gains if they “counselled” out the bottom 30% of students by telling them they will repeat the grade if they stay at the school but will move forward if they return to a public school.

    Now, I challenge you to go find me as many articles talking about the poor leadership/administrations in schools, the lack of funding, and the lack of real understanding of education by the majority of education reformers. I challenge you to find articles explaining why charter schools are being pushed as a solution when in reality they are not doing anything innovative or showing serious improvements in students with massive amounts of student attrition. Why are charter schools being pushed as a solution by people who cite skewed statistics? There are only 3 reasons I can see:
    1. a lack of true understanding of the issues
    2. disband teachers unions
    3. profits for private corporations that run charter schools.
    As with most things in America, follow the money and you will have you answers.

  24. thenofunzone

    Umm to the last poster, “Jonathan”… I don’t know where you live but in New York State… Charter schools – all of them – are by law operated as “nonprofit educational corporations” and receive nonprofit 501(c)(3) status. In addition, every charter school gets publicly funded the same way, according to the school district where its students reside.

    If anyone knows the numbers nationwide please post. But I don’t think the majority of charter schools are “for profit”…I know Edison schools introduced this concept but my sense is that example is in the minority. Most charter schools … like ALL charters in NY State are non profit and actually funded BELOW the per pupil cost that the traditional publics get.Z

  25. Teacher Reality

    The fact that this posting was written by Tim Daly, President of The New Teacher Project, says it all. I agree with Leonie Haimson’s comment that this is a disingenuous posting. The condescending tone also sheds light on the writer’s true view of teachers.

  26. Jonathan

    To thenofunzone,

    I should have been more clear, I know you are correct. New York City charter schools, who, despite often having high student attrition rates, are non profits. And, to my understanding of the studies and statistics I have read, are higher performing than charter schools in most other states.
    Despite this, these studies did not take into account increases in test scores and high attrition rates.
    As far as funding goes, where are you getting these numbers? The one report I have seen about NYCDOE numbers uses completely different methodologies to estimate numbers. And, I was sure the budget for charters used to be on the DOE’s page but I can’t get to them now. The overall budgets I can see seem to show charter schools are getting more money.

  27. thenofunzone


    …and in general I think the evidence points to charters getting less funding per pupil from state and local government resources than traditional publics – though I am too busy today to look this up in the national context. that said, charter advocates need to be fair about the fact that charters today are doing good at pulling in philanthropic dollars (e.g. Gates)… but I don’t necessarily see that as 1) for profit (they are non-profit foundations Bill doesn’t make money when charter schools bloom) and 2) Traditional public schools have had their era of bounty from philanthropies (e.g. The Annenberg Challenge – which by all accounts was a massive FLOP).

  28. Jonathan

    Oh, and to add to that, check out for profit charter management fee companies.
    You may also want to read this article about how some Florida charter schools are making money from the rental of buildings they essentially own. http://www.examiner.com/x-12824-Dade-County-Education-Policy-Examiner~y2009m7d6-Who-profits-from-forprofit-charter-schools-in-Florida

    And, also, get the facts straight. NYC DOES have for profit charter schools. New laws will not allow more to open. Check out here http://gothamschools.org/2010/07/27/victory-for-victory-schools-comparing-charter-management-options/

    Business and rich lobby groups are pushing for charter schools. I understand that many people involved with the movement have good intentions and that some charter schools are making a difference. There others that are failing. Many people in public schools have good intentions and are making a difference. There are others that are failing. Charter schools are not the panacea the public is being presented with and they vilify teachers and teachers unions in the process. When corporations are salivating for more charter schools, there’s probably a financial payout for them somewhere.

  29. Jonathan

    I’m a scientist turned science teacher, the research methodology in that report looks pretty terrible to me for a number of reasons. If you remove pension costs from the public education, it is actually CHEAPER per student in public schools. I’m not so sure that the best way to better education is to get rid of teacher pensions. I fully admit that I don’t know the details of charter school pensions, if they have them for the administration that work at the non profits and if those will be factored in when charter school staff starts retiring. I will stress that I could be wrong, maybe this study is very well structured. If I was peer reviewing at a journal I would not find the methodology of comparison at a high enough standard to publish.

    Take a different approach. Go look at the budgets of a few comparable schools on the NYCDOE page. Public schools have a full breakdown while you can only see the total DOE spending at charter schools. I’ve heard that charter schools don’t have to be as transparent about their spending, but, I believe NYS is becoming more strict about this with new laws. Again, this is something I am not certain of but have read it in a few articles. I am skeptical of most sources in this argument because there are people on both sides who have financial interest of the charter school debate along with people on both sides who want the best for students.

    Bill Gates is a great example because he has been funding public schools as well. The standard arguments I hear for charter schools don’t sit with me. I have seen tenured teachers fired at every school I have taught at. There is no evidence that closing schools is in the best interest of children. What happens to those students? Do they just end up at another bad school? Does another bad school open?

  30. Kelsey

    To respond to Tim Daly’s questions about how to talk about teaching in a way that is honest and professional, I’d say look at the comments here. To highlight two, Linda/Retired Teacher and John Thompson both give specific examples and commentary. Respond directly to the issues they raise. What I hear from”reformers” is PR response – people stay on point without responding directly to specific questions and issues. Arne Duncan’s recent NPR interview is a perfect example, but you are doing the same thing here.

  31. Bob Calder

    @Chris My intent was to point out the overwhelming number of people who have education reform priorities that are seriously out of touch with reality. Let’s talk about something that has just begun as an example. There is a movement afoot that claims there is a crisis in higher ed and that tenured professors are the problem.

    It’s a question of priorities. I propose that every article you see that talks about teacher quality and accountability before addressing other issues should be put on your list. In my opinion the list is endless.

    Education research has the worst reputation in academia, bar none. When I see announcements of new ed research coming out of foundations, I am frankly skeptical. Did you know that during the W’s administration, the NSF Education directorate was stripped of funding which was transferred to the Dept of Ed? Why? Because NSF has rigorous research standards. During his second term, Bush asked the architect of Puerto Rico’s turn-around to take the NSF Ed Directorate position, but was refused.

    When you talk to people about designing investigations, you hear things like “We can’t do that to children.” or “We don’t have that kind of time.” But what is current ed reform doing? Dorn’s book _Accountability Frankenstein_ is aptly named.

    There is some well-designed research but it isn’t discussed in forums like the one we are in. It is entirely possible that the Earned Income Credit (IRS code) will turn out to be the most effective education investment ever made. Massachusetts and Minnesota are now among the top ranked nations in Math, ranking 4th and 7th in the world in 4th grade math. But the Common Core supporters at the Fordham Institute put them a cut below the states that have merely adopted the CC standards. What cheek! Are the rest of the states considering using Singapore math? Heck no.

    Instead we talk about how many teachers there are teaching out of field and how we have to take immediate legislative action. For goodness sake, that kind of thing already violates education rules in every state. Does having two laws against the same thing help somehow?

    When you ask a conservative ed reformer what the top priority is, they will utter some tripe about how children deserve the best teachers we can find. But it’s tripe. A useless serving of intestinal tissue. We are in the midst of a serious conversation about education. Repetition of Happy Birthday isn’t a contribution to the conversation.

    You know how RIck Hess hates it when some little old lady says he hates “the children”? That’s what I’m talking about.

  32. Tom Conry

    I am concerned that the real context of this faux “teacher accountability” movement is rarely if ever acknowledged by its enthusiasts, including the author of this insultingly condescending and adolescent post.

    It is no secret that there has been a sustained effort on the part of the right to devalorize and destabilize public education as part of the program toward eventual privatization. This is part of the neoliberal agenda, that there must be nothing that is not-the-market; in Margaret Thatcher’s words, there is no such thing as society, only individuals.

    Ever since Milton Friedman’s essay on school choice, the right has been hammering away at these themes, the better to get at the last big piece of virgin public territory left in the American economy. When Lehman Bros. was still a going concern, they had held a yearly conference for at least eleven years on how to profit from the privatization of public schools.

    The “blame the teacher” movement is an essential part of that strategy. It is about getting rid of the union, about subverting solidarity, about recapturing control of the shop floor. It is about the necessary Taylorization of learning (more than it is now), of its final re-packaging as a commodity and the transformation of students into consumers.

    Teachers are all who stand in the breach between a humanistic classroom and the student-as-product. If history is any guide, teachers aren’t the type to be handed a script and reliably recite it. They claim a special relationship to the student that supersedes their obligation to a test bubble. They claim that their training and expertise and continued presence in the classroom gives them better tools to understand growth and ability than does a battery of standardized tests. They are right.

    Do you want to help students learn, really? Are you actually concerned “for the children?”

    Honestly, reading many of the posts here over the past months, that is hard to believe. But, let’s say I’m wrong about motivation. Let’s say everyone’s motives are pure.

    Then make an equal society. Make a society where my students have the same number of books in their home as do the rich children. Make a society where my undocumented students are not looking over their shoulder. Make a society where my students have not experienced years of racial bigotry. Make a society where my students come to my classroom having had adequate medical care. Make a society where my students do not read in the paper that the school across town is adding Arabic, and their school is cutting French. Make a society where my students have adequate nutrition. Make a society where my students’ parents are employed at wages equal the students on the other side of town. Make a society where my students come to my class knowing the same vocabulary, having the same cultural capital as the kids across town.

    Do you want to help? Get to it.

    And get off the backs of the teachers, unless you’re there to help out.

  33. Chris Smyr

    John Thompson:

    I didn’t ask what you would do with millions more. You specifically brought up an example where you thought $80,000 was egregiously spent on professional development instead of on school counselors, and I asked you how you would go about budgeting for school counselors with that lump sum, and how on earth funding professional development would count as evidence for “blame the teacher” sentiment. You succeeded in answering none of the 8 simple questions posed to you.

    Celso Garcia:

    That was a lot of typing, but yet you still didn’t answer the 2 questions posed to you.

    Bob Calder:

    You didn’t answer the question, either.


    In summary, when I asked a few very simple questions that asked for the evidence supporting the many accusations made in this thread, I received no direct answers, but rather a lot of examples that are nearly all irrelevant to what was asked.

    Folks, you shouldn’t bombard a forum with your opinions, which are being disguised as facts, if you aren’t willing to adequately support them with evidence. It’s also not helping your case when you type up a storm of a comment, with many examples that are or are not appropriately explained with context, that in the end are poorly linked to the actual assertion you are making.

  34. john thompson


    At the time I proposed two additional counselors rather than take more teachers out of class for workshops. I wanted a system where every time an administrator assessed disciplinary consequences, there was a counselor, who already had a relationship with the kid, to provide a timely intervention and followup. I’d want the intervention to start when the student was first sent to the office, perhaps while he was waiting for an administrator, and before he returned to class. If he didn’t return to class appropriately, the counselor jumps on it.

    That sort of proposal can’t be discussed on its merits, though, because the party line is that teachers would be handingly those things if they had high expectations. They blithely check something off the policy “to do” list – somethings that would cost millions to do properly – by blaming teachers and sending us to workshops.

  35. Chris Smyr

    John Thompson:

    Did you give any thought as to how long you’d be able to afford the salaries of two additional counselors with the lump sum of $80,000?

    And how about a cursory cost/benefit analysis? Did you quantify the impact two additional counselors would have on your student body? Did you compare that to the many more hours the entire student body will spend with teachers with additional training versus the time a few will get to spend with counselors?

    Not to mention that you’re working from this flawed idea that monies ought to be routed at a moment’s notice if a few teachers demand it. That’s not how a budget works. You don’t get to throw more money at a problem on a whim.

    And I don’t know if you were implying this, but certainly professional development itself is not evidence of “blame the teacher” sentiment, either. You don’t have to be a bad teacher to get a lot of help and guidance from a seminar.

    At my school, we used to have guidance counselors that were supposedly meant for the same purpose you are elaborating on here. We’d have these intervention meetings with all of the student’s teachers, his/her parents, and the counselor, and we would devise a plan for getting the student back on track. These interventions weren’t very successful (and we had lots of them), and so our counselors were the first to go when the budget cuts started.


    Only an asshat such as yourself would assert that asking for folks to justify their claims– and to rightfully step down from several obtuse arguments leveled– is pedantic. Feel free to contribute more of nothing to the conversation.

  36. TFT

    I didn’t assert any such thing, except the part where I call you a little pedant. You are!

    My responses to you, or, if you prefer, my non-responses to you, have nothing to do with your status as a pedant.

  37. edlharris

    We must compliment Chris Smyr. He is calling for people to back up their claims with facts, data and quotes. I don’t think anyone can critise that.

    This is a turn-around from his recently held position that Michelle Rhee can make claims about her Baltimore Miracle of 15 years ago.
    Claims that are not only not supported by facts or data, but in fact are contradicted by facts and data.
    Despite presentation of evidence showing that none of what Miss Rhee claimed was true, Chris persisted in his belief of Miss Rhee and the story of her miracle.

    Congratulations, Chris.
    I will try and meet this standard of discourse.

  38. john thompson


    Districts waste incredible amounts of mony on CYA every year. Check out Linda Perlstein’s latest post. The cost benefit of investing in people is overwhelming. To bureaucrats, however, the value of making sure the patient dies on someone else’s operating table is priceless.

  39. Chris Smyr


    You deserve some kind of award for the level of incompetence you can keep up in these threads.

    I’ve lost count of all the times you’ve brought up Rhee now. If you desperately want to continue that discussion from months prior, *RESPOND* in that thread, instead of avoiding all counterarguments made against you and citing irrelevant evidence that have no bearing on the arguments made in as many off-topic threads as you can. It’s like you think it’s a game. I don’t expect you will actually respond in that thread, nor do I have much interest in entertaining any kind of further discourse with you, so why do you continue to make it easy for readers to laugh at you with posts like the above?

  40. Chris Smyr

    John Thompson:

    You avoided my questions again. Why would you make an $80,000 investment that will benefit very few students? Further, why make the investment in someone you will not be able to afford longer than maybe a year? Further still, why assume you can just simply reroute this professional development money at the demands of a few teachers?

  41. john thompson

    very few students? Do you have any idea what an inner city school is like?

    OK lets put it this way, if you don’t have a clue about teaching and learning, you might want to leave these issues to the central office.

  42. Chris Smyr

    John Thompson:

    Your sleight of hand in argumentation there was a bit less skillful than before. “Very few students” should be read relative to *ALL* students that would be impacted by professional development. The few times a student will encounter his/her guidance counselor should be valued relative to the time he/she will spend with all of his/her teachers.

  43. edharris

    Chris Smyr Says:
    August 9th, 2010 at 12:52 pm

    You deserve some kind of award for the level of incompetence you can keep up in these threads.

    Chris (or eddy)
    My award for incompetence is matched by the award for failing to get 90% of their biology students to get a 4 or 5 on the AP Biology exam.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *