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I worry about the future of education in this country.  

Day after day I read news reports about state governments passing laws against teachers' unions and about the desperate need to reform our schools and get rid of the deadbeat teachers who are apparently the root cause of all of the problems of our society.  I read stories about the unbelievably lavish salaries and pensions that these public servants take for themselves from the public trough while fighting against legal changes that would make it easier to get rid of even the weakest among them.  I read about their selfish desire to protect their jobs instead of focus on our children.  And I read how our children continue to fall behind China, India, Japan, South Korea and other countries in test scores, all because teachers' unions have made education such a cushy little gig with lifetime job security, incredible salaries, and so many other perks that teachers just don't seem to have motivation to do a great job teaching anymore.

I read these things and I wonder (as a teacher who knows the truth) just how many of our best and brightest minds, seeing all of this, could possibly desire to enter this profession in the 21st Century?  Where will our next generation of great teachers come from?  It's been difficult enough to recruit teachers with the (negative) salary disparity that (actually) exists between this and any other profession, but add on the societal blame game that the GOP is fomenting and I am not sure that I would have entered the profession despite my strong calling to it.

A teacher in Topeka, KA, recently published a column in the Topeka Examiner in which he wondered,

In what other profession are the licensed professionals considered the LEAST knowledgeable about the job? You seldom if ever hear “that guy couldn’t possibly know a thing about law enforcement – he’s a police officer”, or “she can’t be trusted talking about fire safety – she’s a firefighter.”

In what other profession is experience viewed as a liability rather than an asset? You won’t find a contractor advertising “choose me – I’ve never done this before”, and your doctor won’t recommend a surgeon on the basis of her “having very little experience with the procedure”.

In what other profession is the desire for competitive salary viewed as proof of callous indifference towards the job? You won’t hear many say “that lawyer charges a lot of money, she obviously doesn’t care about her clients”, or “that coach earns millions – clearly he doesn’t care about the team.”


A facebook friend of mine, in response to my posting this article, suggested perhaps a minister might be another example of such a profession.  But I've been involved in many behind the scenes discussions in our church council about our minister and his inadequacies, some involving a faction of the church who want to see him gone, and still I have never once heard anyone claim that he does not know what he is doing.  

Whether you are speaking of the professions that require apprenticeships and technical training before certification and licensing or those that require considerable education before even stepping into the field, members of every other profession are accorded by the public the courtesy of the simple acknowledgement that, by virtue of their profession, they know more about their fields than lay people do. Not so for teachers.  I assume that a professional hockey player knows more about the game than I do as a fan. I assume that a film director knows more about his profession than I do, though I teach film. I assume that a plumber knows more about plumbing than I do, and I'd better be correct because I know next to nothing. I assume that a doctor knows more about medicine than I do. Heck, I assume that the barista at my local Starbucks knows more about making a good cappuccino than I do. So why, given that I have two MA's in my field and over 30 years of experience, would any lay person assume that he or she knows more about teaching than I do? Yet they do. Nationwide, they do, again and again and again.

They think that, because they have read a few articles and listened to a bunch of talk shows, they know enough to question the experts. Let them use WebMD to do the same to their doctors; see how far it gets them. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and these people have a little knowledge but believe that they have so much more.  One issue here is simple consistency. Treat everyone the same way. Remember that the people to whom you have entrusted the education of your children are educated and licensed professionals and they are using the most modern techniques available to help your children learn, just as you'd expect your doctor to use the best methods possible to cure their illnesses. Teachers are constantly updating their knowledge in their fields and in the psychology of education. What these people have read and think they know, we have read and studied and discussed in groups and argued about and put into practice. But children are not little pieces of plastic that can be molded so they come out the same every time. Perfection is not a possible outcome. So people should stop expecting it any more than they expect a doctor to be able to cure everything that comes into his office. Treat all professional people the same way. Consistency. And it is a thing that the majority of the loud voices and politicians in this nation cannot seem to figure out how to do.

People complain about other professions, true. People complain a lot. It's their nature. But they do not believe that they know more about the profession than the professionals in it. With education, it is only natural I suppose: we've all been in school and we've all had our share of teachers who we feel have been less than edifying in their instruction. So if things do not go well it is not a great leap to begin to believe that too many teachers must be like these weak links from our past. And from there that tiny bit of knowledge I spoke about before, gleaned from right wing talk shows and magazine articles, reinforces a belief that teachers are the problem. It is patently absurd. It's also pretty much unique in the world. Most countries treat their teachers with utmost respect and honor. And if you want to ask why we are "falling behind" in education--a disputable "fact" anyway, since most of the countries we are trailing in test scores desire to emulate us in the creative and openly socratic methodology we use in our classrooms--you might begin with that very basic and simple fact. As I said at the outset, I keep wondering why in the world any intelligent young person today would want to be a teacher in America. And I deeply fear for the next generation.

An article in the New Yorker last fall even questioned the entire concept of the "crisis" in American education itself:

It should raise questions when an enormous, complicated realm of life takes on the characteristics of a stock drama. In the current school-reform story, there is a reliable villain, in the form of the teachers’ unions, and a familiar set of heroes, including Geoffrey Canada, of Harlem Children’s Zone; Wendy Kopp, of Teach for America, the Knowledge Is Power Program; and Michelle Rhee, the superintendent of schools in Washington, D.C. And there is a clear answer to the problem—charter schools. The details of this story are accurate, but they are fitted together too neatly and are made to imply too much. For example, although most of the specific charter schools one encounters in this narrative are very good, the data do not show that charter schools in general are better than district schools. There are also many school-reform efforts besides charter schools: the one with the best sustained record of producing better-educated children in difficult circumstances, in hundreds of schools over many years, is a rigorously field-tested curriculum called Success for All, but because it’s not part of the story line it goes almost completely unmentioned. Similarly, on the issue of tenure, the clear implication of most school-reform writing these days—that abolishing teacher tenure would increase students’ learning—is an unproved assumption.

The article says that "The school-reform story draws its moral power from the heartbreakingly low quality of the education that many poor, urban, and minority children in public schools get" and the issues we are now dealing with were first dealt with by laws passed under Johnson's Great Society.  It's nothing new.    But as to trying to reform American education as a whole?  
One should treat any perception that something so large is so completely awry with suspicion, and consider that it might not be true—especially before acting on it.

No one--OK, I'll speak for myself--I don't have any problem with getting criticism. What I do have problems with is getting criticism from those who have never been inside a school (as adults), who have never taken a single course about the ways in which students learn, who have never once tried to do the thing that they are criticizing in order to know first hand all of the infinitely variable elements and aspects that compose it. I particularly dislike being the pawn of politicians' whims of the moment. Here is a terrible, insane irony: we have spent the better part of the last decade working to "reform" our educational system by creating more and more standardized tests and demanding that our students score higher and higher on them, emulating models we believe have been successful in China, Japan, South Korea, India and elsewhere. What those countries have been doing for the last several years has been to study our educational system. They have realized that all their lovely "teach to the test" methodologies have achieved for them is to created nations full of little brilliant automatons, while here in the US we create thinkers. They want to know how the creative, interactive classroom model helps to achieve that because it is in the ability to imagine and invent that we unlock the keys to the future, and these are abilities not scored on any test. These are what good teachers provide to their students. Of course, in this country, mired in our emulation of the model that our "rival" nations seek to abandon for the one that WE are seeking to abandon, we will only discover when it is far too late that we were actually the leaders all along...which is why those countries sent their best and brightest to our universities.

I will concede that the notion that teachers are considered the "least knowledgeable" in the educational profession is a moment of rhetorical flourish by the writer of the story I linked to. But he is entitled to it, I think: hyperbole helps us to understand the underlying argument.  These things are descriptive. They are a form of metaphor, which is in essence what hyperbole is: a means to make a comparison in a creative and inventive way that captures the reader's attention. But what he IS saying is that our opinions about education often are valued less than those of the politicians and the micro-educated (see my above comments) though well-intended Tea Party advocates who feel the need to believe themselves to be sudden "experts" on every subject from the national debt to their children's education. I admire these people's zeal and their desire to make the country a better place. Sadly, their information is almost always poor and misguided. And of course it is: they have gleaned in months from the internet and talk radio and magazines what professionals have learned in years and years of careful study that has often led to MA's and PhD's. These sudden experts are on the rise in this country, and they are causing problems in pretty much every area that is important. And the real problem is that they are drowning out the voices of those who truly do understand the issues and who truly do know the options we have in resolving them. No one has ANSWERS; these problems are not so black and white as that. But true experts have ideas based on lifetimes of study, experience and, yes, expertise. When state governments disempower teachers from decision making in matters of education, when well-meaning people believe that the only thing that matters to us is job security and the mostly apocryphal cushy salaries and retirement packages we are earning, our ability to affect the right kind of changes in our own profession is weakened and even eliminated.

I don't know how we are going to get out of this.  Dave Eggers and Ninive Clements Calegari argued last month in the New York Times that we need to do the exact opposite of what we are now doing.

The consulting firm McKinsey recently examined how we might attract and retain a talented teaching force. The study compared the treatment of teachers here and in the three countries that perform best on standardized tests: Finland, Singapore and South Korea.

Turns out these countries have an entirely different approach to the profession. First, the governments in these countries recruit top graduates to the profession. (We don’t.) In Finland and Singapore they pay for training. (We don’t.) In terms of purchasing power, South Korea pays teachers on average 250 percent of what we do.

And most of all, they trust their teachers. They are rightly seen as the solution, not the problem, and when improvement is needed, the school receives support and development, not punishment. Accordingly, turnover in these countries is startlingly low: In South Korea, it’s 1 percent per year. In Finland, it’s 2 percent. In Singapore, 3 percent.


That's a future I would love to see.  And it's one that might just save American education.  But it's not the one we are currently heading toward.  I fear for us.

Originally posted to sunspark says on Mon Jun 20, 2011 at 06:17 AM PDT.

Also republished by Education Alternatives and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  There is no crisis in education, (29+ / 0-)

    the goal of the trumped-up crisis is privatization of the public schools. Teachers are in the way, so they are being scapegoated. The kids who the public system is "failing" are the economically disadvantaged, the kids whose families are victims of the corporate/conservative class war.

  •  There is a crisis. (13+ / 0-)

    The crisis is due to a lack of quality health care for low income families, a lack of jobs with sufficient pay to support a family, and flat incomes for working families over the past 30 years. When wage earners have to work two or three jobs to make ends meet, little time or energy is left for the important job of raising and helping to educate children. When this country walks the walk rather than talks the talk regarding the value placed on children in this society, we may begin to see gains in the educational achievement of our most vulnerable citizens - our children.

  •  The school district I live in is tops, (15+ / 0-)

    literally a "best" district.  We've had smart, sensible, strong administration for years at the district and building level.  No bloated admin staffing, no crazily funded multimillion dollar sports complexes to the detriment of academics, good balance of activities available so kids of all interests can participate outside of class.  We also have several schools designated as in need of assistance, including the high schools, both of which have very high completion/graduation rates. Of graduates the vast majority go on to higher education, many at top level universities.  High achievers, all around.

    But again, we have several schools designated as in need of assistance.  Why?  Not because of the schools.  Not because of the administrators.  Not because of the teachers, or because of all the special hands-on programs and neighborhood assistance programs put in place.  The two primary reasons for the designations are the pure existence of students of special needs, who by their nature are NOT capable of performing better than average, and the transitory nature of the families in some of the neighborhoods.  We have families moving in and out, transferring from higher-poverty pockets in more urban areas, and back again. The children don't have a stable base from which to build.  The teachers and administrators in those neighborhood schools are just as good, just as qualified, as in the highest-performing schools.

    In this district, and I will only speak for my own, the TEACHERS are not the problem, and in fact the DISTRICT is not the problem.  The problem is poverty and the issues associated with it.  

    I woke up this morning only to realize, it's opposite day again.

    by Melanie in IA on Mon Jun 20, 2011 at 07:52:05 AM PDT

    •  actually, i'd argue from your description (7+ / 0-)

      of this district's circumstances--which by the way are replicated in many, many strong districts across the country--that it isn't even poverty that is the issue here, at least not for your district.  It certainly is the issue for these children.  Their lives are forever impacted by their socioeconomic status, and that is a problem that must be addressed and fixed.  But the fact that your district's schools are designated as needing assistance is a fault of the laws that demand that they become accountable for each and every student in them, including all of these transient ones who lack the opportunity even to take advantage of what the schools have to offer them.

      Behind every successful woman is a substantial amount of coffee. ~Stephanie Piro

      by sunspark says on Mon Jun 20, 2011 at 08:48:05 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I would suggest a visit (21+ / 0-)

    to browse the incomparable archives over at Bob Someby's site, The Daily Howler, for an intelligent look at our Nations test scores and how they are distorted.

    "Again and again, it seems true: People who pimp education “reform” seem to know nothing about education! One such person was Chris Matthews, bellowing, wailing and playing the fool as he spoke with Michelle Rhee last week (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/20/10). Matthews misstated various facts about international tests—and treated Rhee like a god of reform. Needless to say, he trashed America’s public school teachers, along with their infernal unions.

    Before he was done, Matthews even managed to ask the dumbest question ever asked on cable TV. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/23/10. Prepare to avert your gaze.

    That said, Matthews did ask one important question: Why don’t American students do better on international tests? Although Matthews overstated the problem, American students don’t score at the top of the world on such measures. Matthews referred to the newly-released scores from last year’s Program for International Student Assessment (the PISA), a program which tests 15-year-old students. Last year’s testing focused on reading literacy. Just to establish the lay of the land, these are the average scores attained by the 34 member nations of the sponsoring agency, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (the OECD):

    Average score, reading literacy, PISA, 2009:
    Korea 539
    Finland 536
    Canada 524
    New Zealand 521
    Japan 520
    Australia 515
    Netherlands 508
    Belgium 506
    Norway 503
    Estonia 501
    Switzerland 501
    Poland 500
    Iceland 500
    United States 500
    Sweden 497
    Germany 497
    Ireland 496
    France 496
    Denmark 495
    United Kingdom 494
    Hungary 494
    OECD average 493
    Portugal 489
    Italy 486
    Slovenia 483
    Greece 483
    Spain 481
    Czech Republic 478
    Slovak Republic 477
    Israel 474
    Luxembourg 472
    Austria 470
    Turkey 464
    Chile 449
    Mexico 425

    As you can see, the U.S. finished tied for 12th, “with Iceland and Poland,” among the 34 member nations. The U.S. outperformed such well-known nations as Germany, France, the U.K.

    The U.S. finished lower in the other two subjects tested as part of the PISA. American students finished seventeenth out of 34 in “science literacy,” 25th out of 34 in “mathematics literacy.” We’ll focus on reading because it was last year’s featured subject. As such, it’s the only subject for which the Department of Education provided a demographic breakdown in its public report (click here).

    A quick note: For ourselves, we think it’s somewhat surprising that the U.S. scores this high in reading. Within the American student population, we have a rapidly growing number of deserving, delightful immigrant children. Many of these deserving kids come from low-literacy, low-income backgrounds; they may not even speak English, presenting an educational challenge for their American schools. Beyond that, we have a uniquely American situation based on our brutal racial history. Uh-oh! Among those 34 OECD nations, only the United States spent centuries aggressively trying to stamp out literacy among a major part of its population. The legacy of that benighted history lives with us today, although our “reformers” work very hard to avoid such painful discussions.

    "We’ve sometimes referred to the “Three Americas” in this context. (John Edwards miscounted when he said “two.” For an earlier discussion of this matter, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/4/10.) But only a nation in rapt denial would choose to avoid such discussions when answering Matthews’ question—the question which had him directing Big Major Fury at teachers. Why don’t American kids score at the top on international tests? Our brutal history is part of the answer, as is the immigration policy we maintain so people like Matthews can pay low wages to the people who care for their homes.

    Why don’t Americans students score at the top? Here are the scores from that same reading test, broken down into demographics. Warning: When these test scores are rendered this way, we’re forced to look at the painful backwash of our brutal history:
    Average score, reading literacy, PISA, 2009:
    [United States, Asian students 541]
    Korea 539
    Finland 536
    [United States, white students 525]
    Canada 524
    New Zealand 521
    Japan 520
    Australia 515
    Netherlands 508
    Belgium 506
    Norway 503
    Estonia 501
    Switzerland 501
    Poland 500
    Iceland 500
    United States (overall) 500
    Sweden 497
    Germany 497
    Ireland 496
    France 496
    Denmark 495
    United Kingdom 494
    Hungary 494
    OECD average 493
    Portugal 489
    Italy 486
    Slovenia 483
    Greece 483
    Spain 481
    Czech Republic 478
    Slovak Republic 477
    Israel 474
    Luxembourg 472
    Austria 470
    [United States, Hispanic students 466]
    Turkey 464
    Chile 449
    [United States, black students 441]
    Mexico 425

    Good God! Those test scores, broken down that way, depict a vast American tragedy. They also reflect some effects of recent immigration policy, however one may judge that policy overall.

    Let’s summarize: If Asian-Americans students were viewed as a separate nation, they would outscore every OECD nation. (Somehow, those infernal unions haven’t screwed them up—yet!) White students trail only two nations—Korea and Finland, whose educational output suddenly doesn’t seem quite so miraculous. For the record, Korea and Finland didn’t spend centuries aggressively trying to stamp out literacy within one part of their populations. Neither nation has a significant immigrant population—a population of delightful, deserving kids who don’t even speak the language.

    Those test scores represent a national tragedy. But so does the inane conversation between Matthews and Rhee last Wednesday. When you see those test scores rendered that way, it may perhaps get harder to think that America’s international standing is caused by a bunch of sleeping teachers, with their infernal unions. It becomes easier to see where the educational disaster is actually occurring—even after several decades during which test scores by black and Hispanic kids have risen, to a substantial degree.

    Here at THE HOWLER, when we look at those painful scores, we think of all the beautiful kids who will show up for kindergarten next year, already “behind” their peers. And we think of the worthless talk which tends to fall from a famous ex-chancellor’s lips."  12/24/2010

  •  Excellent analysis of the PROFESSION of (8+ / 0-)

    teaching in America.  I'm sending this to my legislators in Michigan. They seem to think curtailing teacher's collective bargaining rights will fix everything in education. Ha!

    Liberal (from Webster's Dictionary): tolerant of views differing from one's own; broad-minded

    by 50sbaby on Mon Jun 20, 2011 at 08:31:31 AM PDT

  •  I've noticed (12+ / 0-)

    (with a small nod toward the irony of it all) that the rise in discussions about the crisis in education seems to correspond with the growth in the professional category of 'educational administration'.  Once there is a category of professionals who 'oversee' teachers and the teaching profession then the increase in scapegoating of the profession as a whole.  

    It is as if the profession of teaching can not be adequately accepted as a profession on its own, so that a specialization of administrator (the true "professional" class in contemporary US corporate climate and training programs) must be created and valorized and the cost of that particular class of administrator's 'professionalization' is the de-professionalization, demagoguery and ultimate destruction of the teaching profession.

    Not an uncommon dynamic in the history and sociology of professions (see medical doctors and midwives).   Any im- or explicit gendered patterns remain to be explored.

    Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

    by a gilas girl on Mon Jun 20, 2011 at 08:48:52 AM PDT

    •  interesting thought... (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      fiddler crabby, Lujane, jolux, bkamr

      Our district went through an explosion of administrators a decade ago, but recently we've been cutting them back...

      Behind every successful woman is a substantial amount of coffee. ~Stephanie Piro

      by sunspark says on Mon Jun 20, 2011 at 08:55:45 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I wouldn't be surprised (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        sunspark says, Lujane, jolux

        that individual districts are cutting back on administrators as a cost cutting action, but my thinking was a little bit more macro-oriented, that even if not employed as administrators we have created this class of people known as "educational administrators" and they have been the ones (aggregately speaking) who have displaced teachers as the social "experts on teaching".

        not a particularly original or brilliant thought, but it did strike me as one contributing explanation for what your diary is talking about.

        Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

        by a gilas girl on Mon Jun 20, 2011 at 09:28:22 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Failing upward (8+ / 0-)

      With all the discussion about how to reward quality teaching, no one talks about the fact that the best way right now to increase your salary in education is to get out of the classroom.  I have had experience with administrators who taught the minimum number of years before moving up and they often don't know how to evaluate effective teaching.  In fact, TFA pushes a model that has their "best" teachers moving toward administration in three years

    •  Administrators are not necessarily bad (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sunspark says, Mlle L, jolux, Dretutz, bkamr

      The proper role of an administrator is to facilitate the job of the teacher.

      That means they do whatever tasks the teacher needs done so the teacher can focus on teaching. It can include:

      - assisting with kids who are disrupting the class
      - ensuring that the classrooms are clean and supplies are available
      - arranging for professional development
      - doing all the legwork for the state mandated exams
      - putting together schoolwide activities
      - coordinating collaboration between teachers
      - arranging for tools and resources like bandwidth, textbooks, computers, etc
      - providing mentoring and feedback for teachers.
      - providing counseling and guidance for students
      - providing problem-solving assistance for students
      - communicating with parents and the greater community
      - managing budgets and seeking out money to benefit the teachers and students

      My district is small, and the district office is located on the school campus. Every administrator except perhaps the business manager works with students every day as part of his or her daily responsibilities. They don't count as classroom time, but they provide essential support that the teachers rely upon so that they can do their best work.

      Good administrators are key, however. It is interesting to me to see all the focus on "bad teachers" and to see so little focus on administration - because administrators set the whole tone for a school and will make the difference between a great workplace where teachers are treated like professionals and a punitive, nasty place to be.

      Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

      by elfling on Mon Jun 20, 2011 at 11:07:11 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  i agree...but... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        jolux

        The key is that you need good administrators.  And usually that means that they need to have spent time in the classroom.  Your last sentence, where you define two sharply different climates administrators can set in a school?  I've seen both in my school in this decade under different administrations.  There is no doubt that you are correct.

        Behind every successful woman is a substantial amount of coffee. ~Stephanie Piro

        by sunspark says on Mon Jun 20, 2011 at 11:25:45 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  To my mind, I'd like to see (0+ / 0-)

          administrators evaluated confidentially and distinctly by the teaching staff. The school board should make clear to their teachers that their input on this, collectively, is valued and important in deciding the future of an administrator.

          If your teachers give the administrators bad reviews, then you have something destructive going on at the school. It may be that the teachers are problematic or it may be that the administrator is problematic or it may be that they just don't fit together philosophically for the school in question. But it needs attention and remediation in some form.

          Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

          by elfling on Mon Jun 20, 2011 at 12:03:52 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  That kind of 360 degree evaluation is done in (0+ / 0-)

            some places.  The District where I served on the School Board required teachers and classified staff to evaluate the principals and the principals and District office classified staff also participated in the evaluation of the Superintendent.  The Board used that to set each administrator's goals and salary.  We also used it to move some administrators along to other districts if they were not effective leaders.  We also required principals to do many classroom visits as part of developing new teachers.

        •  Dead on (0+ / 0-)

          A close friend, former teacher now middle school principle and the person I most trust on matters of education reform has stated time and time again that he could not be the  administrator he is today without having spent much time in the classroom.

      •  no doubt that administrators can (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        happymisanthropy

        and often due increase utility, efficacy and quality of education in schools.

        my point was more about the sociology of hierarchies and the dynamics involved in the professionalization.

        "teachers" don't necessarily have to be thought of as the professionals when a specifically designated category of non-teaching professionals had been created and identified.

        I was thinking more about the professionalization administrative mindset and how that brings with it the "business model" for success and quality, since what administrators are generally trained in is an equal mix of business model thinking along with any educationally specific expertise.

        Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

        by a gilas girl on Mon Jun 20, 2011 at 12:36:24 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Don't mean to imply admins are all bad (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        slatsg, Dretutz

        The best one I had practiced "Management by walking around".  I knew I'd see him at least once a day.  I'm talking about the kind who are in love with their Blackberries, start every faulty meeting with power points of data analysis, and do not want to hear that "the next new thing" might have some downsides.  
        OK, I'm exaggerating, but I think you know the type.

        That said, a principal's job is tough.  They've been given a lot of additional duties too.  Many things like responsibilities for budgeting & purchasing have been shifted to the school sites and away from district office control.  And with additional duties, there never seems to be additional personnel.

  •  Beautifully written (16+ / 0-)

    and I give you an A+ for hitting all the marks of this discussion.  
    I have a knee jerk angry reaction to anyone giving a voice to Michelle Rhee.  Can you imagine any profession giving so much power to a person who actually practiced so little in doing the actual work.  
    I believe the woman taught for three whole years.  Her claim to fame (amazing test score jumps) were fudged quite a bit.  And one time she duct tapes a child's mouth.

    First of all, why would ANYONE who only practiced for three years be considered an expert in any profession.  Would we put a doctor who had practiced for merely three years in charges of  hundreds of doctors?  Or thousands?

    Chris Matthews comes from a parochial school background.   He is my age and went to the same kind of schools I went to in Philadelphia.  The Archdiocese of Philadelphia tested kids quarterly from the time we were in the first grade.   By high school you either were a great tester or you were deemed "unteachable" and sent to public schools.  Matthews is no expert on education. The fact that he admires and idiot like Rhee speaks volumes.

    For the record I am a retired teacher, forty years plus in public education. I have taught (a few years) in well to do, mostly caucasian public schools where the majority of the kids's parents are college grads.  They walk in the building and a majority of them are in the top quadrant upon arrival.   Not because of ability but because of life experience.  I sub there now and half the kids I teach there are more well traveled than any adult in my family/friend circle.
    Parents are supportive and have the time to volunteer.  Even though the district has cut the arts, cut field trips, their PTA makes sure their kids continue to have those things.  
    Much of my teaching time was in poor, transient neighborhoods.  And we, too, often got scores up.   It was not easy.  Sometimes you all (kids and teachers) worked so hard and boom, right before the test, your top student's family got the chance they had been working hard for.. a new house in a safer, better neighborhood.  And they were gone.    Plenty of times, our successes moved on out and up financially.    

    Teachers KNOW the impact of poverty, of transience, of the lack of early infant nutrition, of drugs.   But the NCLB mentality is that they are excuses.  But they are not.  They are realities.  Somehow, folks, even progressives, have been convinced it's not the variables in a child's life that have impeded their learning...it's those lazy teacher union types.   If only we had more teachers who wanted to work longer hours for less money, more teachers who bowed down to the hierarchy of the business world who knows how to make and sell stuff, education would be fixed.

    The fact is, and I say this over and over and over and over.  THERE IS NO MAGIC POTION, THERE IS NO PERFECT TEACHER OR PERFECT STUDENT OR PERFECT FAMILY.  Within a family, there are difference between siblings on how they learn.  In a classroom there are vast differences.
    Thus, good teachers KNOW teaching is an art.  No "scripted" text from a text book company out to sell book, not to educate, that do it.  Teaching is an art...no matter how much a person KNOWS their subject if they do not have the innate skills to pass on the knowledge to young children, they fail.  
    A good teacher can sense mid-lesson a hit or a miss.  If it is a miss, a good teacher can turn on a dime, or switch gears.   Or even just stop and know it's OK to come back to it.   A good teacher can sense immediately if they are going too slow or too fast.   A good teacher can sense if the lesson needs to be broken into parts for this particular class, despite the fact that perhaps with other classes, it worked well.    

    But the Rhee types want to convince people that there is a scientific, always hits, never misses way to teach ALL children.  THAT's BS and any good teacher recognizes it.

    Anyway, thanks for the diary.

    •  i wish there were a way... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jolux, too many people, bkamr

      to hit "recommend" many more than one time for this comment.  It is so dead on.  Thank you for everything you did in your career.  I'm sure it was highly valued by your students.  Sometimes I think that the admin folks think of us as interchangeable parts, but to the kids we are their teachers, and it is a very personal connection.  If it were all as automatic as Rhee and her ilk pretend it is, we could put it on video and teach over the net.

      Behind every successful woman is a substantial amount of coffee. ~Stephanie Piro

      by sunspark says on Mon Jun 20, 2011 at 09:44:04 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Stats can change with just a few family decisions (7+ / 0-)

      I recently read a diary post about a middle class school in Oregon.  They failed to meet Average Yearly Progress because  of a few ESL students.  These were students who had enrolled in the middle of the year and missed a lot of days but were still required to take the test.  I have learned it takes 7 years of learning a language to be proficient in understanding at the more complex level of instructional language.  Yet in AZ, we require ESL students to be tested on grade level in their seccond year of enrollment.
      And most people don't begin to understand how twisted the reporting requirements are in NCLB.

      •  I hear you (6+ / 0-)

        In CO we have a lot of ESL (we now call it ELL here...English Language Learners).    I also read the research about how long it takes to be proficient in another language.  

        One year, my principal allowed me to do a tutoring project with our fifth grade students.  I was, at the time the Media Center educator.  But for most of my career I taught in the classroom.  Anyway, the two fifth grade teachers allowed me to take their top math students daily for 45 minutes.   I worked with them for four months before the state NCLB tests.  Four of the students were ELL.  All four spoke beautiful English but none of their parents did.  Anyway, we made a 300% jump in the math scores for 5th.  One of the ELL students went from the low end of proficient to advance.  The other three were within two points of advance.  And I KNOW part of the reason they all did not score high in advance was because of the wording of some of the questions.  I knew that these kids most likely still thought in Spanish and translated in their heads. I also knew that no matter how hard we worked on some things, wording of questions could throw them off.  

        Anyway, in the end our school did better that year but we were still in the bottom of the listing because the bar is always raised because that is how the system works.  Unless all the students in the top schools just stand still, the bar is raised.  

        It's like asking kids to run a race where they start way behind the rest of the field.  Then we tell them that they were not good enough for not catching up or surpassing people who get a hundred yard lead to start.

        •  People do not appreciate that the math scores (5+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          mrkvica, Mlle L, jolux, too many people, bkamr

          are heavily reliant on fluent english skills especially past the 3rd grade level or so. The kids may know how to calculate just fine, but not be able to parse a carefully sneaky english word problem.

          Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

          by elfling on Mon Jun 20, 2011 at 11:10:45 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Word problems can be very tricky (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            RetAZLib, bkamr

            Many are culturally biased and can mean nothing to even native English speakers.

            How many inner city students know what a bungalow is?  Or a silo?  How many students from Arizona understand seasonal heating costs?  How many ELL's have mastered wrapping paper or the names of every single object that could be named on a geometry test?

            We ask way to much of our ELL's, I would include many inner city and very rural students into this category, without the support for them to increase their vocabulary and fluency.

            •  We should start writing culturally biased tests (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Dretutz, bkamr

              from other frames and see how people react.

              I think a lot of people don't recognize how much their particular frame of reference is not common knowledge.

              For example, why don't these tests include questions about rate of gain for a steer? It's just simple math...

              Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

              by elfling on Mon Jun 20, 2011 at 12:11:09 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

            •  Whose standard for standardized tests? (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              bkamr

              Long ago I was proctoring a group of young desert-dwelling Native American students while they took the Stanford 9 test.  I remember one question that asked the students to name a picture. The picture shown, a downhill skier.  Another question showed a picture of a cactus.  It didn't ask for it to be identified, something this group could have easily done.  The question wanted the students to pick the correct adjective for it; in this case "Prickly".

              •  We had this kindergarten student (4+ / 0-)

                in our school.   He was lacking all kinds of language skills.  Mother was a gang banger, no dad we knew of, sometimes he was with grandma, sometimes not.

                Anyway, the language specialist was working with him on establishing the level of his vocabulary.  She would show pictures and he would name them.  It was amazing how many words he did not know, not because he was stupid but because of experiences or lack thereof.  
                He had no idea about a picture of a little boy wearing pajamas.   The question was "What is the boy wearing?"
                The teacher finally asked after getting answers like clothes, a shirt and pants,  "What do you wear to go to sleep at night?"
                The boy looked at her with this shocked look that said what a stupid question and answered  "Underwear."   Other words he had never hear of: napkin, dining room.  There were many common words, can't remember them now, but it reminds us of how our experience are reflected in our vocabulary.  I read somewhere that kids from poor socioeconomic areas have about half the vocabulary a child from an upper middle class student would.    And it's hard to teach vocabulary words in isolation.  Most incidental learning comes from home, from parents, during normal family interaction.  Some kids simply do not have many of those times.

            •  Biased tests (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              bkamr

              How about asking students to write an entire essay about electronic readers?  Most of our poor students have never seen a Nook, Kindle or other e-readers.  They have never held one or tried one but had to write an open ended response about one on the recent high stakes test. How can you write adequately about that which you know nothing about?

              •  Seriously? OMG. (0+ / 0-)

                On NPR yesterday they mentioned that there's a new test for electronic literacy. They asked the moderator to tell something about how cell phones have evolved.... and I have to say, it was a pretty bland 2/5 answer on any rubric. Shows some minimal knowledge, but no true understanding.

                I'm not sure, when people talk about kids not 'meeting our standards,' that most people get just how high those standards are.

                Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

                by elfling on Mon Jun 20, 2011 at 04:54:21 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

  •  Lily Eskelsen did a great riff (10+ / 0-)

    using dentistry...

    Why can't they make it easier to become a teacher?

    She said without thinking, “I just don’t see why they can’t make it easier to become a teacher.”

    And I said, “And of course, we shouldn’t stop with teachers. I don’t see why they can’t make it easier to become a dentist.”

    She looked confused.

    “I mean,” I continued, “there are a lot of people who have ideas about how to take care of teeth. There are a lot of people who have really good teeth, and they just want to help other people have healthy teeth.”

    She furrowed her brow trying to catch the thread of connection and pull it through the eye of some needling of understanding. I caught the silent, “What are you talking about?” in her expression. I’m used to that look. I carried on.

    “We have to stop making people jump through hoops just to become dentists. We should make it easier to become a dentist so smart people don’t have to take a bunch of college classes and boring internships to learn from an experienced professional. We should let them give it a try and then make it really easy to fire them if it doesn’t work out.”

    “I mean,” I concluded with my big finish, “what’s the worst that could happen?”


    Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

    by elfling on Mon Jun 20, 2011 at 10:53:21 AM PDT

  •  It's said that if the army fails.... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jolux, happymisanthropy, Matt Z

    ....we blame the generals, not the soldiers.

    However, you also have to remember that the people in the forefront of the attack on education are precisely those who would blame the soldiers. Because Dear Leader does no wrong!
    So perhaps it isn't surprising that they blame teachers as well.

    I dance to Tom Paine's bones.

    by sagesource on Mon Jun 20, 2011 at 11:30:33 AM PDT

  •  Had me then lost me. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lujane, Sparhawk

    I agree with the vast majority of everything you have said, but something really jumped out at me as ringing false.   That being that we create "thinkers".  

    Do we?  Based on what evidence?   If we remove any sort of standard measure, like tests, then how do we determine whether or not we are creating "thinkers".  

    Are we creating more and/or better thinkers now than in the past?  Are students now better off and more prepared for the world than they were in the past?  I don't know.

    I agree with everything else you have said.  Teachers are valuable and they are also an easy target.  We seem to live in an age where information is everywhere and yet we want to block as much information as possible if it says something we don't want to hear.   Instead of being a benefit, all this information seems to have encouraged people to pat themselves on the back and surround themselves with people who only agree with them.

    But it just jumped out at me, and struck me as strange that you take such pride in not believing in testing and that teachers are creating "thinkers".  I have no idea what that means and I'm not sure I get what you are talking about with that comment.  

    I'm also not sure I see more "thinkers" out there than any other time or any other part of the world.  

    •  not more than before...and not just "thinkers" (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Lujane, virginwoolf, bkamr

      The comment had to do with the approach we have taken to education in this country, encouraging discussion and free and creative application of learned principles instead of merely focusing on whether a student fills in the proper oval on a test sheet.  It is this approach that has allowed us to outpace the rest of the world in invention in the last several decades.

      Think about this: not that long ago, it was generally understood that most innovative technological ideas came out of...Japan.  Now, however, that is not the case.  The greatest idea factories are right here in the USA.  That is not an accident: we teach our children to be innovative, to think outside the box.  That is why China and Japan and other countries come here to study our educational system.  It isn't just "thinkers" that we turn out; it is "creative thinkers."  And we are utterly blowing it in our love affair with standardized tests, which foster exactly the opposite kind of achievement and learning styles.

      Behind every successful woman is a substantial amount of coffee. ~Stephanie Piro

      by sunspark says on Mon Jun 20, 2011 at 11:55:06 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I agree that we are utterly blowing it. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        sunspark says, bkamr

        I spoke with a lawyer recently who complained that the most recent hires want to be told exactly what to do.  They have a tougher time now just taking a case and handling it than the new hires in former days.  We both felt this was due, in large part, to being taught to the test and having less exposure to music and the arts and creative thinking in other subjects.

        Hopefully employers will step up and say our kids need to be taught more than how to pass a test.  NCLB has been terrible for the education of our kids and has convinced too many teachers to resign because of the tremendous administrative duties that have been piled on.  Let the teachers teach, and the children will learn.

        •  this is becoming a common complaint (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Lujane, virginwoolf

          More and more you hear this regarding the youngest hires: they are fantastic as long as they can be told what to do but ask them to think for themselves and they haven't a clue.  When we take away the very aspects of their education that taught them how to do that and valued how to do that and replaced them with educational components that prized parroting back memorized responses, what did we expect would happen?

          Behind every successful woman is a substantial amount of coffee. ~Stephanie Piro

          by sunspark says on Mon Jun 20, 2011 at 12:45:30 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  Thanks for clarification (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        sunspark says, bkamr

        I have some follow up questions.  

        As an "arts" major, much of my education is founded on critical thinking, being able to rationally provide an analysis of some text, etc.  So I agree that creative thinking is extremely important.

        But what I also see is a very sharp rise in what I call "faux scepticism".  People who think they are smart simply because they take a contrary viewpoint.   An example is when, say, a Michael Moore movie comes out.  There is always a group of people who claim to have wanted to know all/both sides before going in and just google "Moore lies" or something.  Then they watch the movie not with an open mind, but with the supposed "lies" at the back of their mind.  Then they play gotcha with other people.

        I call it faux scepticism because they seem to have a view that being contrary is automatically smarter because it is more "original".  They are part of a private little club of smart people.

        Think of the Brietbart's and the other right-wingers.  It would be hard to deny that they aren't VERY creative thinkers.  But if that is being applied negatively or wrongly, are we any better off?  Another example is I remember being in a University level English class and someone was upset their essay on a poem got such a low score.  She tried to make the case of "That is how I interpret it and poetry is all about what interpretation".  

        The prof quickly shut her down saying that the issue
        was that she wasn't able to effectively argue that her interpretation actually fit the poem.  That there were parts of the poem that didn't fit her interpretation and so her interpretation was either incorrect or her arguement incomplete.  

        I don't know.  Like I said before, I agree with you and enjoyed the original diary a lot.  I also agree that standardized tests ignore the simple fact that we don't live in a static, standardized world.  These tests simply don't work for many parts of our population for a number of reasons.  I just find the idea of raising "thinkers" to be more interesting, I guess, and just as worthy of discussion.

        •  cool questions! (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          bkamr

          And worthy of far more discussion than we can probably give them in this forum...

          Here are some quick thoughts:

          About the Moore faux-critics: these people seem more akin to my "sudden experts" than anything else I spoke of in my diary.  They are indeed thinking, though I'm not sure how creative their approach is if they respond in the same tired and predictable manner each time a stimulus is presented.  And at any rate they are not thinking very deeply.  As a teacher, it is my job to help my students learn how to probe deeper into the questions than the first two or three east web pages will allow them to.  The ones who refrain from doing so out of the mistaken notion that the end product is all that matters are missing the point entirely: it is the journey that matters.  So your friends are actually not a "private little club of smart people" at all; they are a private little club of pretenders, and they are the kind of people who will be lost in the world when they have to learn to think on their own.

          Breitbart is like that too, but he has a forum.  He is a one-trick pony who was unfortunately correct on the Weiner story, a fact that he will milk until doomsday as if it validates everything else he does and has done.  Is he creative?  Well, the first time he did what he does, yes, most certainly.  But playing the same altered video card again and again--the only thing more pathetic is the way that the MSM falls for it.

          As to the prof and the girl with the poem analysis: without the benefit of reading the essay, it sure sounds like a case of Entitlement Blues to me.  Interpretation requires valid analysis, and that requires that the interpreter support her case with the entire poem; if something in the poem contradicts her, then her entire analysis loses validity.  These young people have been coddled: they need to be shot down by alert and demanding professors like this one and reminded about what academia is all about.  

          Behind every successful woman is a substantial amount of coffee. ~Stephanie Piro

          by sunspark says on Mon Jun 20, 2011 at 01:03:50 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Chicago experiment (0+ / 0-)

    The talking heads like to pretend that by just getting rid of the teachers' unions you'd get rid of the worst teachers.

    Well, Chicago didn't get rid of thte teachers' union or the contract. But they did ignore the contract.

    And the teachers who they let go -- they didn't call it "fired" -- included only a few that had prerviously got a bad evaluation. And, mostly,  the same principals who were pushing the teachers out the door wer the ones who had given them the "satisfactory" evaluation.

    Corporations are people; money is speech.
    1984 - George Orwell

    by Frank Palmer on Mon Jun 20, 2011 at 12:26:57 PM PDT

  •  asdf (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lilypew

    Light is seen through a small hole.

    by houyhnhnm on Mon Jun 20, 2011 at 12:28:38 PM PDT

  •  Double Standard (6+ / 0-)

    I would love to see some other professions have to jump through the hoops that teachers are expected to jump through - especially the police. Imagine a world where police officers would be laid off if they didn't reduce crime every year, until it reached zero! Imagine a world in which police officers had to get recertified at frequent intervals to make sure they could do their jobs - including a fitness test! A lotta lardasses would go by the wayside in our community on that one! Imagine a world in which the longer an officer had been on a beat, the more he would be criticized for being out of touch with the people he serves!
    How about the military? If they didn't succeed iin the task they were assigned - turning Iraq & Afghanistan into functioning secular democracies, say - they would be denied funding and resources. That'll solve the problem of unsuccessful international interventions, you betcha! The idea that the goals they were asked to reach might be unrealistic should not even be mentioned.
    And your captains of industry - now if they fail spectacularly, they get rewarded with golder parachutes. Let's reform that: if they do well, they get to earn a percent of what the company made. If they fails, they have to pay back the same percent of what the company lost. We might actually see some decent management under that scenario!
    But no, only teachers are expected to reach unattainable goals, under pain of having even more of their limited resources and relatively low pay snatched from them.

    Democracy - Not Plutocracy!

    by vulcangrrl on Mon Jun 20, 2011 at 03:00:27 PM PDT

  •  when society goes amok... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bkamr

    I think it does not have much to do with the concept of "professional."  We abuse professions in different ways. Physicians get sued, Lawyers get mocked, plenty of people say all police and preachers are on the take

    The assault on teachers, is a subset of the attack on all public employees. It's going to get worse as the wealthy have weaker and weaker cases for their "feed the rich, no taxes, no civilization" agenda.

    Why is that?  Because the wealthiest figure they don't need government.  But the only way they can win elections is to agitate the gullible.

    We have to figure out some why to talk to the angry and whittle away their numbers.

  •  A recent NPR story gives weight (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bkamr

    to your diary.  The "crisis in education" is unmitigated bullsh*t.

    Here's a quote from the story:

    "The test called upon the students to identify at least two of the contributions to the political, economic, or social developments of the United States by such famous Americans as Lincoln, Jefferson, Jackson, and Theodore Roosevelt," an article in The New York Times reports. "Only 22 percent of American students had mastered enough history in their high school days to identify two contributions made by Lincoln to this country."

    When was this study done and when was the article published?

    That article was published April 4, 1943. But it could have been written this week.

    Here's a link:

    Students have never known history

  •  Thanks for including this (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sunspark says
    Here is a terrible, insane irony: we have spent the better part of the last decade working to "reform" our educational system by creating more and more standardized tests and demanding that our students score higher and higher on them, emulating models we believe have been successful in China, Japan, South Korea, India and elsewhere. What those countries have been doing for the last several years has been to study our educational system. They have realized that all their lovely "teach to the test" methodologies have achieved for them is to created nations full of little brilliant automatons, while here in the US we create thinkers.

    This is so so so true. As a teacher of master's degree students here in China, I deal with students, all of whom are more intelligent than I am, all of whom can solve math problems that I can barely begin to understand, yet have no idea how to even vary their own seating in the classroom, let alone help each other create something new. As it is, that's exactly what I'm trying to teach them. They are quick learners, but still it takes time, as the concepts are so foreign to their experience.

    As much as I love China and Chinese people (though not necessarily the government here) I really don't want that system to invade American education the way it seems to be doing right now.

    None of this makes a bit of difference if they don't count your vote.

    by Toddlerbob on Mon Jun 20, 2011 at 06:30:31 PM PDT

    •  and here it is! (0+ / 0-)

      From someone who is there, seeing it first hand.  This is what that kind of education leads to, which is why these countries are trying to move away from it...to the style we are so enthusiastically abandoning!

      Behind every successful woman is a substantial amount of coffee. ~Stephanie Piro

      by sunspark says on Mon Jun 20, 2011 at 07:05:02 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I think climatologists (0+ / 0-)

    might feel that they also belong to the class of professionals where where many people in the general public think they know more about their subject.  And many economists have credibility problems with Republicans.  

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