“We owe a lot to teachers. I’m fed up with the blame game, pointing fingers, blaming teachers, the teachers are the problem,” he said. “Teachers aren’t the problem, teachers are the solution.”
The Governor candidates have hit on the issue of school and teacher performance.
Jerry Brown has talked about weeding out bad teachers and providing incentives for better and more creative teachers, but also focusing on providing preparation and support for average teachers, who in most instances are the ones educating our children.
Unlike a lot of others, he talks about training teachers and strengthening recruitment.
Meg Whitman, on the other hand, looks at education as though children were widgets and teachers were on an assembly line. She wants to “provide special bonuses to high-achieving teachers, administrators and schools to attract high-quality professionals into teaching and to reward those teachers who are doing an excellent job.”
She also claims, “California suffers from a lack of math and science teachers who are actually educated in those disciplines. To fill the gap, create and strengthen alternative pathways to the classroom that allow professionals with math and science backgrounds to receive expedited accreditation to teach in public schools.”
It is of course not just about teachers, but about schools.
Jerry Brown wants to “Hold schools accountable for outcomes – not for how to achieve those outcomes – by simplifying the Education Code so that school districts have more flexibility on how to best meet state standards.”
He also wants to continue to focus on narrowing the achievement gap and reducing the state’s dropout rate.
Meg Whitman wants to grade schools by instituting “a system that grades schools from A to F so parents can easily understand how well their children’s school is performing. Post the grades online and give parents the option of transferring their kids out of failing schools or converting them to charter schools.”
“If a school receives an F grade, allow parents in that school district to immediately petition to turn the school into a charter school. It would only require a fast-track election and a simple majority vote to change the status,” she says.
This is not just a California thing. Last week in the Washington Post, Chancellor Joel Klein of the New York City Department of Education, Chancellor Michelle Rhee from the Washington DC Public Schools and 14 other leaders in education from across the country wrote a “manifesto” on “How to fix our schools.”
They write, “It’s time for all of the adults — superintendents, educators, elected officials, labor unions and parents alike — to start acting like we are responsible for the future of our children. Because right now, across the country, kids are stuck in failing schools, just waiting for us to do something.”
I cannot disagree, although we may disagree on the number and frequency and definition of those failing schools.
It caught my attention when they wrote, “The glacial process for removing an incompetent teacher — and our discomfort as a society with criticizing anyone who chooses this noble and difficult profession — has left our school districts impotent and, worse, has robbed millions of children of a real future.”
They continue, “There isn’t a business in America that would survive if it couldn’t make personnel decisions based on performance. That is why everything we use in assessing teachers must be linked to their effectiveness in the classroom and focused on increasing student achievement.”
The easiest thing in the world is to blame the teachers. Are there bad teachers? Of course. There are bad people in every profession.
Is it difficult to remove bad teachers? Yes it is.
Are there ways that schools can better deal with teachers who are not performing well? Probably. Herein lies my problem with this whole approach. From my experience, one reason there are bad teachers is that they get little support, little direction, little training, little help. They are stuck into bad circumstances and told to perform. And when they don’t, we do not provide them resources to improve their performance.
The other problem I have is that while I may know a bad teacher when I see one, the ability to define and measure bad teachers is extremely problematic.
This gets to what I really want to talk about here – the problem that we have is that school performance is not just a function of the job that teachers and schools are doing to educate children, but a function of the job that parents and society are doing getting children to the point where they can be educated.
If we want strong schools, we have to stop cutting school funding every time we have a budget crunch. We cut funding and then we wonder why schools are not succeeding.
People want excellent teachers, but compare a teacher to a doctor or lawyer. Most teachers have comparable education and training when compared with a lawyer, while perhaps slightly less than a doctor. But their salaries, even if they are prorated to a twelve-month calendar, which I think is extremely problematic, are not comparable.
Forget about prorating salaries, if you want top professionals to aspire to be teachers, you have to pay them like top professionals.
That is not to say that there aren’t good teachers out there, but it is a point that should be emphasized.
But it does not matter how much we fund schools or how much we pay teachers, if the students coming into the system are beaten down by society’s ills. And yes, a good teacher may be able to save a few exemplary students in rough circumstances, but the enormity of the burdens on these children is overwhelming.
I have seen it first hand. Some people have said if the children just work really hard, they can overcome their circumstances. And some people, the lucky and most capable, can. The real problem is how much psychological damage these circumstances can cause.
Kids growing up in substance-abusing households lack not only skills and developmental advantages, but also lack a support structure, a positive environment, stability and emotional well-being.
Schools can only do so much for these kids. We need to do the rest.
So for me, teachers are not to blame for failing schools. And schools haven’t failed us, we have failed them. Education is an absolute priority for me. But the biggest thing that needs to change is the way we deal with society, because we could have the best schools in the world, but a lot of these children still aren’t going to make it.
—David M. Greenwald reporting