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5 Replies to “More Mathews”
The main problem that I have with the “no excuses” viewpoint is that it creates a false binary — a majority of the teachers, administrators and other individuals who do not believe in this kind of full teacher accountability are not, on the other hand, proponents of teachers giving up. Just because someone believes teachers are not solely responsible for students’ test scores does not mean that individual has given up. It simply means they are realistically looking at the situation in today’s schools and realizing that in some situations even the hardest working teachers will face failure. Rafe Esquith put this well in his response to the article.
I think education will never be what it could be in this nation until we truly begin to embrace the idea that schooling is a community effort. Many programs and schools already realize this, creating and implementing family and community outreach programs that have been successful to keeping kids in schools and helping them succeed there by linking home and school life. Unfortunately, it is often the parents we most sorely need to be involved in schools that do not show.
It also depresses me that much of this article seems geared towards answering the problem of children’s failure with, “Who can we blame?” rather than, “How can we fix it?” Sure, realizing where the problem lies is important, but we’re not really doing much to fix that. Even when it comes down to poor quality teachers, what is the answer? Not better teacher education, changes to entice graduates into the profession, no real rewards for the luck of somehow having a teacher’s classroom test scores go up. No, we just punish them or fire them, and how their replacements will magically do a better job. Honestly, banking on magic is how much of America’s education policy is geared these days.
Thanks for pointing out Jay Mathews’ article. I had missed it in the hustle and bustle of the holiday weekend. In my opinion, it is foolish to pretend that a students’ background, past classroom experiences, and actual level of knowledge are unimportant.
I once taught in a 9th grade classroom of low-income DC students. On the first day of school, I asked them, “What is your favorite book?” Many students told me they had never read an entire book. Needless to say, the approved, shiny 9th grade literature textbook was mostly inappropriate for these kids. Did that mean I gave up and taught them nothing? Of course not. I taught them the basics, starting from their level of knowledge and moving upwards. I obtained modified versions of the classics like Moby Dick and Shakespeare. I conducted lessons on basic grammar and writing skills. Would I have been a better teacher if I had ignored the students’ skill levels and backgrounds? Of course not.
Correction: The word “students'” in my first paragraph above should have been “student’s.” Pretty bad for an English teacher, huh?
Thanks for the link and the opportunity for a wonderful exchange. Jay Matthews, as I recall, has 30 years of experience in education, and he said he agreed with the teachers who he most admired that school effects are more important. Then, educators like Rafe Esquith offer an intelligent refutation, and Matthews listens. His article inspires more comments by teachers, and again Mathews listened.
Non-teachers do not have to agree, but they need to listen to teachers who say that the issue is not being correctly framed. The prime issue is not whether you believe that “High Expectations” can overcome out-of-school deficits. The issue is whether we continue with the political correctness and the litmus test, which kills honest conversations, and like Esquith says, that burns out so many teachers.
I don’t think non-teachers are aware of the extent of the disrespect dumped on teachers. When I was a phd, an academic, or a political lobbyist, it was incomprehensible that I would have so many indignities dumped on me – the worst being the direct effects of the litmus test. By the way, the CEP has documented this dynamic in its studies of the ineffectiveness of school turnarounds.
I’d just like to share some of my favorite comments from the Matthews article. One teacher asked, “Why would teachers ignore poverty? Why would they ignore any factor that might have an effect …?”
Another teacher wrote, “… the question isn’t ‘should’ teachers ignore poverty, but ‘can’ we ignore it.” Another wrote, “… the question is not … The question we ought to ask is ‘how can I educate myself about each student’s needs, interests, passions … and ‘how can I use this information?'”
A couple of teachers raised the perennial issue that teachers are not allowed to raise – how can we raise standards when schools can’t enforce disciplinary consequences? I’d add another question that the High Expectations school will not allow us to discuss – highly mobile and chronically absent students. Not to be advertizing This Week in Education, but less than a month ago I blogged on the students who were transferring into my high school class on a daily basis. Then, I had 120 students without mobility problems, and 60 who had transferred in and out, and sometimes, in and out and in again. Now, I have about 100 students who don’t have a mobility problem although many have an absenteeism problem. But I have now had more than 120 transfers. And the rate picks up every day. So, I’m not supposed to voice my professional judgement because it would undercut my ability to serve 100 students, and remain silent on the larger number who are not being served?
That brings up a last point about the gag rule placed on teachers; “reformers” are extrapolating their beliefs regarding elementary students to secondary students. By definition, as the child ages, the difficulty in “schools alone” and “teachers alone” in solving problems increases dramatically.
In one sense we shouldn’t blame policy analysts, commentators, and journalists. How are they supposed to learn about the gag rules that have always been imposed on teachers but have gotten worst since NCLB? But we should remember what we’re talking about. We’re taliking about schools and education. I realize we are public schools, not higer ed, but nobody should contemplate censorship without some serious soul-searching. And if you think the word “censorship” is too strong, you should teach in a inner city school for awhile.
John Thompson: Well said.