Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The crisis in American education is a myth

(The following is my latest Huffington Post blog.)

One of the most frustrating things teachers have to deal with every day is this myth that our profession is filled with lazy, undermotivated educators who arrive just in time for the first bell and leave immediately at the end of the school day. We watch as, year after year, politicians devise radical plans that totally revamp our "failed" system. Many times these plans involve taking public money and putting it into private schools, relying more and more on standardized tests, and tearing down the teachers who are the key to the success that public education has always been and hopefully, after the fallout of this well-organized attack, will continue to be. So across America, including my home state of Missouri, teachers teach to the test, hope and pray that the legislative attacks on our profession can be held off for yet another year, and watch as our livelihood is devalued and our reputations savaged by elected officials whose pockets are lined with campaign contributions from the billionaires who don't want to pay a cent to help anyone who is not in their tax bracket. And we do all of this hoping and praying as the headlines are filled with news of a crisis that does not exist. We live in an era where No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have been allowed to define public schools as failures, when, in fact, they still offer the best chance for children who were not born with silver spoons in their mouths to climb the ladder to success. For too long we have allowed politicians to ignore dealing with the real problems of poverty and permitted them to use education as a convenient scapegoat for their negligence. No one denies that the lowest test scores are in inner-city school districts. However, if you take into account the conditions in those districts, including the poverty and high crime rates, you are accused of making excuses and ignoring the real problem, which, of course, according to the detractors of our profession, is bad teachers. Where are the jobs initiatives, the rehabilitation centers, and the programs that could help keep children on the right path, socially and educationally? The answer to that is simple. Programs that would help inner-city communities rebound have been cut to the bone or eliminated entirely, while the people who criticize teachers the most, are cutting taxes, promising to cut more, and stopping any revenue increases since those would harm the job providers who never seem to provide any jobs. While the idea of a crisis in education is a fiction created by a combination of those who do not want to spend tax money on anything and those who are making a killing off the sale of standardized tests and practice standardized tests, there are obviously things that can be done to improve public education- and we have been doing them. Teachers today are far more prepared when they walk into a classroom than the teachers of the past. Mentoring systems have helped the quality of the profession to improve. Instead of teachers who work alone in one-room fiefdoms, the profession has embraced a spirit of collaboration, which has helped lift it to greater heights over the past couple of decades. Technology has been embraced by educators (where the budgets allow), not at the expense of a solid foundation of learning, but as an enhancement. Public schools across the U. S. have been slandered and libeled by comparison to the handful of school districts where it takes years to fire a bad teacher. In the rest of the country, the relatively small percentage of "bad" teachers who do exist can be removed from the classroom within weeks, not years, and most of these "bad" teachers are gone well before they ever reach the stage of receiving tenure, either because they have been fired or because they quickly realize they are in the wrong profession. The forces that are aligned against public schools and public school teachers are formidable. Not only do we have to deal with politicians from both parties, but also with a media that has little understanding of how education works and is much more interested in a good story (or good visual) like Michelle Rhee wielding a broom than it is in spending the money and time it would take to get a true picture of the educational landscape. Meanwhile, the attacks continue and in the next few years they will pay their toll. The promise of higher salaries to a handful of teachers whose students excel on standardized tests is not going to bring hordes of capable young people into the classrooms. Why should they join the teaching profession? For the past several years, they have heard nothing about it except how many failures are in it. And how long before people catch on to what should have always been obvious? People who take six weeks of Teach for America training are not more capable of producing classroom results than veteran teachers. In a few short years, public education will be completely devalued, inner-city children will still be looking for a way out from their prison of poverty, and a relative handful of people will be paying less taxes and seeing some of those they do pay going to support their children in private schools. The crisis in public education is a myth. In a few years, the destruction of public education, a system that has served this nation well, may become a reality.


Anonymous said...

cry me a river, randy. Public education is a train wreck that won't be fixed by charter, private, or religious schools. It won't be fixed by the government handing out more money. It's going to take people standing up to the waste, corruption and disruption in the school administrations and with the teachers in the classroom. And it should start with the teachers who are closest to the students. There are just too many bad, lazy and immortal teacher who dress like the kids, talk like the kids and are not showing any leadership. How often do you wear a tie to school, Randy? Do you set yourself apart from the kids? Yes,education is a mess.

Anonymous said...

I only wish I could be an immortal teacher. It might be some compensation for dealing with students that don't know how spell or use proper capitalization. Although the prospect of such an eternity might be more than I could face.

Anonymous said...

Throughout my many years of schooling and higher education, I can honestly say there were maybe 3 teachers total that in my opinion shouldn't have been teaching. Now I've had contact and instruction from many many teachers of all kinds. Teachers are handicapped with not having the ability to discipline the problem students. I'm a concerned parent just like you I'm sure, but the education of my child lies mainly in my hands. It's my job to make sure my child is learning what they should be learning. Parents are too lazy now adays... Whether or not Randy wears a tie to school isn't going to change his ability to present material for a child to learn in class. Parents really need to be told they need to start getting involved in their child's life more.

Joshua Platner