More Blame Game

Last week’s TIME column was about our dysfunctional debate over teacher quality.  In a letter to the editor AFT President Randi Weingarten kindly makes my point for me.

9 Replies to “More Blame Game”

  1. You are not denying that the New Teacher Project, which you cite is anti-teacher are you? You cite one of its accurate stats but ignore its long line of false and misleading attacks on unions. ditto Eric Hanushek. We can agree that removing the bottom 5% of teachers should be a top priority, and that test scores (lousy as they are) confirm that itsa not hard to identify the bottom teachers. But he consistently advocates unnecessary policies that would undermine the effectiveness of good teachers and drive talent out of poor schools. More than anything else, if you want a real discussion, and want constructive results, drop that “multiple measures” soundbite. Which is worse, a single completely bankrupt system, or a system that starts with that dysfunctional model and then adds other things, including a lot of teacher bashing policies, to it? a functional debate would focus on the many constructive ways we can improve teacher quality, and clearly distinguish itself from systems like IMPACT or Tenneessee’s system that drives effective as well as ineffective teachers from the classroom and institutionalizes counter-productive rote instruction. Yes, an effective system, like PAR, would use multiple measures, but not as multiple clubs to defeat teachers and our unions.

  2. For at least fifty years, people have been allowed to become teachers with only a bachelors degree and maybe six weeks of training in the summer. We know that these individuals are often hired by the very school districts that are now crying about “ineffective” teachers.

    Randi Weingarten is smart enough to know that teachers have been fighting this for years. They want high standards for teachers, better salaries and improved working conditions. Like all professionals they’d enjoy a reasonable expense account for classroom supplies, professional journals and conferences. If given the chance they would like the opportunity to admit only fully qualified people to their ranks.

    We can’t fire our way to a world-class teaching force because Andy, Michelle, Joel, Kevin and many other “reformers” and ordinary citizens wouldn’t be caught dead in a classroom. This of course is why the “bottom 5%” often gets rated “effective” by desperate administrators. Who will take their places?

    The whole world knows how to improve the teaching force. You must have rigorous standards into the profession, hire fully qualified people, pay competitive salaries, and basically do whatever is necessary to attract the kind of people that are needed.

    Let’s destroy the status quo of sending our least prepared teachers to our neediest schools. It’s a national disgrace and needs to stop now. Please support teachers in their efforts to offer every child a fully qualified teacher.

  3. Linda: I’m not so sure I agree with you about the solution to poor teaching in low-income schools. Theoretically, it would be nice to only have very highly educated teachers with years of training in their subject. I certainly agree that it would be beneficial for all teachers to get expense accounts to purchase basic classroom supplies and attend conferences in their field (like most professionals).

    However, in my experience, the CONTEXT in which a teacher works heavily impacts his or her effectiveness. For instance, many teachers who teach successfully in high income schools would flounder in low-income classrooms (where students often come to class with serious behavior and social problems, let alone their academic deficiencies).

    Working in lower-income, minority schools, I frequently saw hard-working teachers who were simply overwhelmed by their difficult situation. They often were not supported by the administrators, who left them alone to deal with severely disruptive students and difficult parents, as well as all the lesson plans, paperwork and other obligations.

    In my opinion, rather than (or in addition to) trying to replace the teacher workforce with more ‘highly qualified’ individuals, I think we need to give serious thought to improving the working conditions in which all our teachers work. Proper administrative and legal support for teachers is critical. This would include secretarial help in copying and filing as well as critical administrative support in handling conflicts with parents and disruptive students.

    This type of support is relatively simple and inexpensive, but would allow many more teachers to thrive and become the effective teachers we all say we want in our schools.

  4. To flesh out my proposal about ‘administrative support’ (above), here is one example from my experience.

    In one school where I worked, there were two copiers, but they frequently malfunctioned. Teachers would often walk across the school to the copier room, only to discover that one or both machines were out of order. This could occur up to several times in a week and resulted in a huge waste of time that teachers could have been using to grade papers, develop lesson plans, and many other tasks.

    This problem could have been solved with better copier machines, an aide to assist teachers with copying, more copier machines (placed closer to teachers’ classrooms) or simply a notification system so that teachers knew when the machines were broken (before walking across campus). This may sound simple, but it really resulted in significant waste of teacher time and added to the difficulty of preparing lessons, when the teachers couldn’t count on the copier machines to function.

    My point from this example (I could give MANY others) is simply that there are many teachers who are trying very hard to be effective, but are not supported by their school in ways that would easily improve their effectiveness. Rather than continuing reform efforts that call for teacher dismissal and punishment (resulting in high turnover rates), it would help to examine the daily workings of schools and determine ways we can improve the school’s working conditions, which would allow existing teachers to be much more effective in their jobs.

  5. Attorney DC:

    I wrote you a long response and then my computer had an “error” and had to be restarted so I lost it. Now I have to go help with my newborn twin grandchildren so I don’t have time to write it again.

    I agree with everything you have said but I do believe we have to copy successful nations by having rigorous standards for teachers. Even if alternate routes are used the standards should be high. (For example, someone with a masters and three years of successful experience in a private school should be able to apply for a credential.

    Other professions, such as medicine and law, went through a long period where people who had the knowledge were allowed to practice but now there are requirements that can’t be waived. I feel it should be the same for teachers, although I admit that some very capable people would be shut out. I feel the way I do because rigorous standards would ensure minimum standards for all teachers and especially for teachers of our neediest children. Also, I believe it would eventually make the profession more attractive to our top college graduates and lead to competitive salaries. Full professional status for teachers will help our children. I strongly believe that the present attempt to deprofessionalize teachers by lowering standards is the absolute worst thing we can do.

  6. Linda: Sorry you lost your response! I hate when computers do that. But back to your comment: I do agree with you that it would be good to ‘professionalize’ teaching to an extent that it is not yet professionalized in America today.

    However, my problems with ramping up requirements to be a teacher basically boil down to the following:

    1. In practice, I’ve seen many requirements simply become a series of red tape obstacles to teaching. As I’ve mentioned before, switching from state to state or from private to public school can be a time-consuming process, which may effectively prevent people from working as teachers because they can’t take a year or more to move through the bureaucracy.

    2. My teaching credential course at a California university was, in my opinion, basically irrelevant for improving my teaching. It was heavily theoretical and spent little time addressing practical issues. The program consisted of many psychology, sociology and education theory courses of little practical usefulness in the classroom (many of which repeated concepts I’d previously learned in college).

    In sum, I would like to professionalize the career of educators BUT am against increasing the requirements to teaching if such requirements essentially become: (1) Completing forms, credentialing paperwork, re-tests and other red tape; and (2) Taking unnecessary classes that don’t help in the day to day job of working as a teacher.

    Just my two cents… As always, I enjoy hearing your opinions.

  7. When I first moved to California thirty-six years ago, I had a master’s degree and about eight years of experience. I called the local state university and they told me that in order to get a credential in CA I would have to complete so many “competencies” – I think about thirty of them. My husband said, “That’s crazy. Call Sacramento.” So I did and they sent me a life credential within weeks.

    In my undergraduate school the education courses were so bad that I dropped the major and studied economics, English and sociology instead. But when I received a fellowship at one of the best colleges of education in the United States, I learned many critically important skills, such as how to teach reading to children with learning problems and how to teach writing (composition) to young children.

    I tell the above stories to show you that I know EXACTLY what you are talking about, but I don’t think the answer is “The education classes are so useless so let’s abolish them” but rather “Let’s make our teacher preparation courses much more rigorous.”

    I do agree that teachers should not have to apply for a new credential each time they cross state lines. Many states do have reciprocity agreements. I would favor credentials that are good in all states.

    I respect your opinions also. Thanks for responding to me.

  8. Linda: Thanks for sharing your experiences. I can see you’ve had some of the negative experiences I had regarding teacher certification and training, but you seemed to get positive ones as well.

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