Teachers have been taking a terrible bashing lately and are increasingly blamed for the woes plaguing our public schools. Behind this is the assumption that if Johnny and Susie don’t get it, then it’s the teacher ‘s fault. This assumption, familiar to students of logic, is a non-sequitur, since other factors may be at work, among them, a large influx of disadvantaged students, inadequate funding, competing priorities, and a lack of parental involvement.
For me, while there’s no single factor, I hold that parents are vital to their children’s success. Unfortunately, many homes lack both parents, although many single parents do compensate with valiant, and successful, efforts. If you ask teachers about what happens when they assign homework, a key indicator of parent involvement, they’ll tell you that much of it never gets done. They may send emails home, make phone calls, yet the problem will persist among some students. And the teacher is the blame?
The assumption that bad teachers are responsible has exacerbated in the incipient efforts of “civilian” cadres to rid the schools of tenure, seen as protecting these alleged incompetents. Again, this is another non sequitur. Tenure does not protect a teacher from dismissal. It does assure, however, due process. Consider what might otherwise happen, given extraordinary federal, state, and local budget deficits consequent with our economic downturn: one can maximize reductions by targeting senior teachers. Age discrimination can be neutralized under the pretext that it’s incompetent performance that is the criterion of dismissal.
This debate is now sharply underway in the NYC school system. It’s further premised that talented new teachers shouldn’t be sacrificed for entrenched, ineffective teachers protected by tenure. Now there is merit to this view, but only if exercised in a context of due process with empirical evidence of incompetence assessed from multiple criteria. I remember well how a few years ago a troubled suburban school district in Illinois found they could maximize savings by dismissing teachers with master degrees. In fact, the district got rid of all of them.
The No Child Left Behind approach with its reliance on performance measurement, initially of schools, now increasingly of teachers, began in the Republican administration of George W. Bush. Its subsequent implementation is supported by Arne Duncan, current Secretary of education. Its best known proponent in the DC schools was Michelle Rhee, who resigned following the defeat of the mayor, who supported her policies. The truth is that despite years of investiture in the billions and reliance upon testing, our schools continue to decline.
I will bring more to this discussion in a later entry.