Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Blame Game

Since when do we target a group of people and hold them solely accountable for society’s problems?

In an effort to improve the performance of Central Falls High School in Rhode Island, the school board on Tuesday approved a plan to fire the entire faculty and staff.

Other school districts around the country have also attempted to fix failing schools by cleaning house. The Chicago Board of Education voted Wednesday to close or turn around eight schools, which means about 300 teachers will lose their jobs, according to Chicago Public Radio. School board members in Houston voted a couple of weeks ago to fire teachers whose students consistently fail to improve on standardized tests, according to ABC News.

Standardized test scores are often used to gauge a teacher’s efficacy. But standardized tests do not adequately measure a student’s knowledge, skills or understanding. And the pressure on teachers to produce acceptable standardized test scores is forcing them to spend more time on test preparation strategies and less time on creative and intellectual activities.

I interviewed more than fifty teachers for my book, The Teacher Chronicles: Confronting the Demands of Students, Parents, Administrators and Society. I was alarmed by the many obstacles society hurls at teachers. And then we blame them when things go wrong.

But there’s plenty of blame to go around. Parents need to be involved partners, rather than adversaries, if they want their children to succeed. Administrators and school boards need to give teachers more support and freedom, rather than issuing paralyzing threats. Taxpayers need to be willing to compensate teachers for the vital service they provide.

Above all, the federal government must ensure that all schools have adequate funding so teachers can do their jobs effectively. It’s unacceptable that students in low-income areas are deprived of the resources, supplies and experiences that students in affluent areas enjoy.

The real losers in the blame game are not the teachers; it’s the students. The teachers at Central Falls High School provided more than an education—they offered stability and support to children in a community rife with poverty and unemployment. “My teachers, they’re there for me. They push me forward,” a 17-year-old senior told The New York Times yesterday.

Yes, some teachers are incompetent. Every profession has its share of incompetence. If a teacher is not capable of fulfilling the job’s requirements, he or she should be replaced. Teachers want ineffective colleagues to be dismissed. But blaming all teachers—as a group—is wrong.

Are Chicago, Houston and Central Falls harbingers of what’s to come? President Obama said in a speech in November that states have to be willing to turn low-performing schools around by replacing a school’s leadership and at least half its staff.

And how far will society’s campaign against teachers go? Parents in Detroit recently demanded teachers serve jail time because students received poor scores on a standardized math test. I hope parents, administrators, school boards, government officials and taxpayers stand up and assume their share of the responsibility for our education system’s failings before things get worse.

1 comment:

  1. That is completely scary! I have a special needs child who might not ever score well on a standardized test. It is not his teacher's fault or his. He works twice as hard everyday as a "typical" kids at his school in a system that is not designed for his needs and he can never succeed in. The way that he perceive information is different than other people.

    Those tests are such a joke and a waste of time! If your kid tests well then they will do well on a standardized test. Just means they test well and testing well doesn't mean that you will have the skills you need to be a successful person in life.

    The testing interrupts his routine and upset him. He is out of sorts for days during the testing. Come to my house and they will see what damage they are doing to the children they are think they are helping! They really marginalize a whole section of the population of this country. The President and the Secretary of Education should be ashamed of themselves!

    My son's teachers work very hard at getting him the best education that he can have. They have to do it in a slower and more deliberate pace to avoid him shutting down with anxiety. This valuable and child-geared education can not be measured with a test!