Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Unspoken Issue

Hello friends! I am still finding the beauty but, as my hands are a bit better, I thought I would blog about an issue close to my heart, instead of ranting at my hubby about it for like the fifteenthth time. More pics to come, and also a post about the zen of knitting, but in the meantime:

Our education system is broken. Newsweek's recent article, Why We Can't Get Rid of Failing Teachers, is the latest indication of just how bad it's gotten.

The article makes a persuasive argument in favor of wresting power from unions and giving it to administrators to fire teachers when the need arises. As a teacher, I feel conflicted about this; teachers get such a bad rap that the idea of firing them at will just appears to load on the disrespect. Need somebody to blame? Here, have a bad teacher!

But what really concerns me about the article are the assumptions that underlie it.

It's a foregone conclusion, for example, that current teaching methods and curriculum are fine. The emphasis on standardized tests as a reliable measure of children's learning, as well as the idea that all kids should learn the same things, at about the same age, are assumed to be okay too. A student's imagination and interest - the theory that a child should have a say in what he or she learns - has been totally sidelined. Are these ideas really so embedded in the national consciousness that they can be dismissed without mention, in an article about how to fix education?

Also, if teachers are failing, how is that measured? There is not a word about how to determine this in the whole article. Who decides that a teacher is failing? Aside from the obvious, like those who sexually assault students, or overtly abuse them, the criterion I've read most about is... the height of students' test scores.

As this system slides down the rabbit-hole, it's taking kids and adults with it. The system nearly took my oldest son, and we only realized how broken public education is after we started homeschooling.

So, bully for us, right? What about the kids who can't homeschool, or can't afford private school? How do we make it right for them?


Lise said...

Yes, rant! You said it well! We need more people ranting about this problem.

Susan said...

What bothers me is the top down effort to precisely dictate what and how teachers teach. Lawmakers are forgetting that a teacher is a person interacting with students who are people. Given freedom they can work to find the place where their interests and needs meet.

jugglingpaynes said...

This was sad on so many levels, I'm not sure where to start...

Did you notice any of the comments? In particular there was a recent comment with this quote:

"In the movie stand up and deliver, all the trouble makers from the beginning just disappear and the teacher ends up with nice and willing students. I can inspire those."

I find it interesting that the commenter should put it this way. I can inspire the nice and willing students. Hmmm...

I think there are many good teachers who become burnt out, overworked teachers. Does this make them bad teachers? And as you said, how is goodness being measured? Through high stakes testing? Don't get me started on standardized tests!

And yes, the unions have made it difficult to get rid of the bad apples, but that does not explain a lack of talented people entering the teaching profession. Why work in an environment where you get buried under bureaucratic paperwork and then blamed for perceived failure almost as much as parents do?

It seems so obvious, even in this article, that they skirt around the issue of how children learn. As long as they avoid this issue things will stay the same, no matter how many teachers they manage to fire.

OK, I'll get off the soapbox now. :o)

Peace and Laughter,

PS: Do you read the Freedom to Learn blog? Because you would probably love it! If you need the link, let me know.

bugsboysandbooboos said...

I read that article and stomped around my parent's house for a little while afterward.

I had a teacher tell my brother that he liked me, so he'll give him a grade up...from a D to a C.

I had a teacher laugh AT a kid, along with the rest of the class.

Those are the sorts of things that should be taken into consideration when deciding when to fire a teacher. You can't measure a classes efforts and achievements accurately enough to base a firing system on. I do think that tenure needs to go. Seriously, if the old gym teacher is too fat and old, don't stick him in as the new math teacher. The classroom teacher who couldn't handle a classroom should not be moved to made guidance counselor - only to be telling brilliant minds to apply to community colleges. By the way, these are real-life examples. I'm sure everyone's got some. This topic upsets me to the point of poor grammar!

I have been an education student and have worked with children for years. I understand tenure's place in the education system. If Sally's mom simply decided she was not happy with Mr. Smith as a teacher and got other parents to rally, then poor Mr. Smith might see his last day as a teacher.

We are far from the early 1900's. Women can't be fired for being pregnant. Women wear pants and even short skirts to work...gasp!

Oregon has renewable contracts. Everyone should go the way of Oregon. Yay, Oregon!

The end.

Firefly mom said...

Having had a number of truly horrible teachers (the stories would make your jaw drop), I have to say that I think the system is set up to make it difficult for good teachers to stay, and ends up becoming a breeding ground for ineffectual or downright bad teachers.

And to be honest, I'm not sure that the problem can ever be "fixed". It needs to be completely redone (which will never happen).

Jena said...

Peter and I have often dreamed of a perfect education system for all kids, not just homeschooled ones. When we figure it out, we'll let you know. :)

LOVE your writing style. You are so eloquent and passionate.

Anonymous said...

I have too many soapboxes already. How could you stick yet another one in front of me and dare me to get on it?? You didn't double-dog dare me, did you???!!!

Susan said...

Ok, I have to admit that my first comment was not related to the article. I just read it and what really got under my skin was the completely unsubstantiated claim that good teaching is innate. There is no evidence given to support this.

Thankfully the NY Times has this antidote article on research on teaching techniques that work.

Karen said...

Lise - thanks. I have a hard time with the word 'rant,' it makes me feel kind of lunatic fringe-y, but yet that's really what this post is meant as: a (hopefully) well-reasoned rant :-)

Susan - that is EXACTLY what bugs me about this system too. Kids have brains in their heads, and should have the opportunity to use them in ways that they choose.

Cristina - the comment that you mention sent chills down my spine... made me think of a bank robber saying, 'okay, as long as everybody just does what I say, no one will get hurt.' NOT a positive metaphor for what's needed in our education system!

I felt the lack of respect that you mention often during my years of public-school teaching, and it was so frustrating even before this climate of Throw The Teachers Under the Bus.

I'll check out Freedom To Learn, it sounds interesting!

B&B&B - You are right, you are so right - teachers should not be allowed to do those awful things!

And yet, I also worry about good teachers getting the shaft; interestingly, Firefly Mom (who commented right after you) lives in Oregon, and does not make it sound like their system is a panacea. It leaves me thinking, 'the system is broken.' How the hell do we fix it?

Firefly Mom - I'm interested in hearing how the system there seems to promote the bad and squeeze out the good. Any chance you'd write about it, either at your blog or at The Relaxed Learning Cafe?

Jena - as I said over at your blog, Peter's words about education give me hope for the future. If anyone is going to figure this out, it'll be people like him!

Topsy - I triple-dog... no, I can't do it :-) This will have to be my soapbox for now - but should you want to rant, come on back and do so!

Karen said...

Susan - I took your first comment as totally related, both to that article and this post, because all the responsibility can't be on the teachers, and you express that very well.

Maybe, if the idea that good LEARNING is innate was supported and written about more generally, we wouldn't even need to have this discussion?

Food for thought.

Melissa R said...

We know that students aren't being assessed fairly and yes, I agree that neither are teachers. Both groups are being forced to try to succeed in systems that just don't make sense.
Sure there are "bad" teachers but most would be wonderful it they were given autonomy.

Sparklee said...

As soon as I saw the COVER, I was already peeved! It's so easy and simplistic to blame teachers without taking into account all the other factors that prevent learning. My mother was a teacher for 35 years, and you wouldn't believe the obstacles she had to overcome in order to reach her students: in addition to all the "usual" behavior problems, she taught kids who came to school hungry every day, kids who didn't have shoes, kids who were truly unable to utter a sentence without a curse word in it, kids who observed domestic violence on a daily basis, etc. In many cases, she was the only stable, kind adult in their lives, and yet she was judged solely on how they tested each spring. It just doesn't make sense.

Still, I agree that there are LOTS of problems with education, including ineffective teachers (I had plenty of mediocre teachers myself), bad curriculum, AND poor parenting that doesn't prepare children for learning. I feel so fortunate to have this time with my kids and to be able to customize their education to meet their specific, unique needs. But I can't help but worry about the vast majority of kids who are spending their childhood in classrooms that, for whatever reason, aren't meeting their needs.

Just thought I'd add my personal "rant" to the rest!

Karen said...

Melissa - I agree, people allowed to have more choice in what they do in their daily lives are happier people, and thus more likely to be better at what they do. It is human nature to push back, become angry, and rebel against a system - whether you are a teacher or a student - and that is yet one more reason to bring some freedom back into the classroom. Everyone needs to feel that they are respected, and that their choices make a difference.

Sparklee - Thanks for the 'rant':-) It was well-written, and gives an insider's perspective into the crummy conditions under which many - all? - teachers work. Now, we just need to figure out how to get back on track!

Anonymous said...

"What she said!!"

Thank you for this, Karen. I love the way you mentioned the kids who can't be homeschooled or attend more personalized institutions---the kids who have to go along with whatever the public school system throws their way.

Thank you, thank you.

Karen said...

Susan - you're welcome :-)
That is one of the things that freaks me out the most, it is really random luck in schools whether you are treated well or not, whether you're in a good situation or a bad one. It shouldn't be that way!