Inept politicians on the national and state levels, combined with Betsy DeVos, whose title should be Secretary Who Needs An Education, have continued to keep education in American public schools in a precarious situation.
This essay and many of others I have written about education, as well as stories from my days as a teacher, a student and an education reporter, can be found in my books Let Teachers Teach and Classroom Confidential.
From March 2011:
For a long time, I tried to fight it.
Whenever someone had the temerity to criticize public schools and schoolteachers, I stood staunchly in the corner of those who practice my profession. I noted that in my 12 years as a teacher, I have had the privilege of serving with hard-working, skilled professionals.
Prior to becoming a teacher, I spent the previous 22 years as a newspaper reporter and had the opportunity to observe dozens of schools doing outstanding jobs of serving their communities.
Sadly, I have finally had my blinders removed and I no longer have the same glowing view of public education.
It has nothing to do with test scores, considering most of the schools are taking poorly-worded tests from companies that are making a mint off selling tests and practice tests. After all, if the tests are any good, there would be no need for these practice tests, which have turned out to be a lucrative sideline for the companies.
It has nothing to do with lazy, incompetent teachers who received tenure and cannot be fired. On the contrary, that is a phenomenon of some large, suburban schools whose failures are then exploited by those who wish to see public education destroyed. From what I have seen over the years, many young teachers who are not cut out for teaching quickly discover that and move to other work. Others are encouraged by administrators to leave education, while others are removed before they can do more damage. Few incompetents receive tenure in Missouri and most of those are as a result of administrators not doing their jobs.
It has nothing to do with the stories about teachers misusing their positions of trust to take advantage of students. Some critics have targeted teachers because of these few who have brought shame on all of us. The reason those instances are so well publicized is because they are still thankfully rare.
It has nothing to do with out of control unions who care about teachers more than children. It has not been my experience that union members put anyone ahead of children.
It has nothing to do with teachers working 8 to 3 and getting three months off in the summer and Christmas breaks. I don't know many teachers who don't take their work home with them and most arrive well before first bell and work long after children have gone home. Summers are spent either teaching summer school or taking classes and attending seminars to keep up with the latest developments or to earn higher degrees.
Of course, those higher degrees and the debt the teachers have run up earning them will be wasted once laws are passed, including one scheduled to be voted on this week in Missouri that will eliminate years of valuable experience and advanced degrees in favor of a system that relies on the same poorly written tests I mentioned before. Poverty, parents who don't care, children with no interest in learning (or allowing others to learn) -- none of those things mean anything. After all, if you believe the rhetoric from our politicians, the sole problem in American public education is horrible, inept teachers.
And that brings me to the sole reason I have changed my mind about the competence of American public schoolteachers -- if we were doing our job, somewhere along the line we would have taught the politicians who are systematically destroying public education, the greatest of all American experiments, something about decency, respect, and developing the mortal fortitude to resist the siren song of the special interests who are well on their way to making the U. S. into a world of haves and have-nots, where public education will serve to provide low paid feeder stock for non-union companies and taxpayer-financed private schools will continue to cater to the elite, with the middle class existing only in history books.
Public schoolteachers have failed miserably by producing the most incompetent, mean-spirited legislators in U.S. history.