Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Bloody Truth

Articles referenced in this essay:
“School’s Shake-Up Is Embraced by the President” The New York Times 3/6/10
“Building a Better Teacher” The New York Times Magazine 3/7/10
“Math and English Classes Could Be Standardized” Los Angeles Times 3/10/10
“Texas Approves Curriculum Revised by Conservatives” The New York Times 3/12/10“A.J. Duffy: Teachers’ Choice” Los Angeles Times 3/13/10“The Big Idea—It’s Bad Education Policy” Los Angeles Times 3/14/10“Obama Seeks To Overhaul No Child Left Behind” Los Angeles Times 3/14/10
Newsweek (the entire issue) 3/15/10

The Obama administration is intent on renewing George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind legislation, even while many of the architects of that policy rush to refute it and outright distance themselves from it. Educators like Diane Ravitch, one of the proponents of the legislation under Bush, have realized that the last eight years were a disaster for American education. Let’s examine two problem areas.

Charter schools were touted as the panacea for poorly performing public schools. But what we have learned is that these charter schools offer no better results than their public counterparts. They simply suck resources—good teachers, students, and programs—from regular public schools, leaving behind poorly performing students with disciplinary issues, weak teachers, and under-funded schools.

The rise of charter schools taken from the public system means that instead of fixing what is wrong with public education, we simply convert some public schools into charters, good students and teachers compete to work in such places, leaving the failing schools with all their inadequacies.

The second major problem with No Child is the reliance on standardized test scores to measure a teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom. If we set up a classroom with a teacher and students, tell that teacher that her position and salary will be based on increasing the scores on a standardized test given each year, and if her students do not show improvement, she will lose her position entirely, are we surprised when that teacher spends the year drilling students on the test? Ravitch and her crew are now quite clear that relying on these test scores to measure teachers is a colossal failure that has led to instruction limited in scope and focused solely on the material on the test in lieu of art, history, geography, civics, science and foreign language.

Teaching to a test produces short-term, easily measured results, a boon to bureaucrats and those who love to impose a business model on schools. But they are woefully inadequate to measure the development of a child into a life-long learner, one who can analyze, think critically, and be creative in the workplace. “…[M]any factors affect student scores other than their teacher,” Ravitch writes, “including students’ motivation, the schools’ curriculum, family support, poverty and distractions on testing day, such as weather or even a dog barking in the school’s parking lot.” She goes on to say that “Education is a slow, arduous process that requires the work of willing students, dedicated teachers and supportive families, as well as a coherent curriculum.”

Teachers alone cannot make education successful. Administrators, teachers, parents and students need to pull together and create a culture where wisdom and knowledge are considered of utmost value and importance. We need to show students that educating oneself is the most important priority, not how much money one makes. Difficult tasks are often the ones most worth doing, and getting an education is a challenge, but it is worth every drop of sweat in the end.

We are in a fight for our cultural life in this country. The bloody truth is that we lack the brain power, the initiative, the leadership, to steer a course for the future. President Obama has proven to be shortsighted in his views on education, and No Child Left Behind is a dismal failure inflicted upon our children, crippling their futures. We need to get back to basics: solid teaching that educates children in the broadest sense, exposing them to language, art, music, history, geography, English, literature, math, and the sciences. Forget about standardized tests and start worrying about turning kids into life-long learners. Forget President Obama, teachers’ unions, and the theories of those teaching in education schools who have limited classroom experience. We must face the hard choices and the steep challenges to create the education system we want for our country’s future.


  1. I quite agree with your essay, but it would be helpful to write more specifically about what we need to change.
    In the Obama campaign, he was vocal about the need to pay teachers well. Somehow that has dropped from the recent conversation except in terms of performance pay, which is a weasily cop out.
    While I hate to have to bring up money, this country does not understand anything unless dollar value is attached to it. While the public supports teachers, it is to politicians' advantage, and those they represent, to keep us at a blue collar level. Yet, it is simply that that keeps us from improving education.
    The truth is that there are not enough good or great teachers out there. Without a competitive wage compared to other professions, attract new teachers and therefore we cannot stock low income schools with good teachers.
    If that were to be solved, and I don't see the political will to do that, we could bring back what we believe is good and equal education for all.

  2. I wholeheartedly agree with you, Re N Vision. We pay entertainment and sports people so much, but teachers, fire and police personnel so little. It is a cliche at this point.

    I do think we need to do away with tenure, however. I understand its purpose on the college level, but there is a lot of dead wood teaching high school these days. If you cannot do it, then you should go. Teaching is an art and craft; there are many other professions that are similar.

    I once wanted to be a musician. I lived and breathed music for 20 years. Bottom line, it was clear to me that I lacked an aptitude for the craft of playing the piano. The jobs I took quickly revealed my weaknesses. I washed out of the profession, but I found what I was good at: teaching.

    Why do we let people who cannot communicate with people, who lack the tools to think up and organize a lesson, continue to be teachers?

    The good teachers who have proven themselves should be paid more. By good, I do not mean just test scores. There is so much more to being an effective educator.

    The only thing I take heart in: the current state of education in America is one of extreme crisis. Usually, that leads to a revolution. We can only hope...


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