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Topic: Stand up for our teachers
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
Stand up for our teachers
Posted: Sep 19, 2012 12:43 PM
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From The [Louisville, KY], Wednesday, September
19, 2012, See

As scapegoating rises, stand up for our teachers

Written by Eugene Robinson, The Washington Post

WASHINGTON - Teachers are heroes, not villains, and it's time to stop
demonizing them.

It has become fashionable to blame all of society's manifold sins and
wickedness on "teachers' unions," as if it were possible to separate
these supposedly evil organizations from the dedicated public
servants who belong to them. News flash: Collective bargaining is not
the problem, and taking that right away from teachers will not fix
the schools.

It is true that teachers in Chicago have dug in their heels against
Mayor Rahm Emanuel's demands for "reform," some of which are not
unreasonable. I'd dig in, too, if I were constantly being lectured by
self-righteous crusaders whose knowledge of the inner-city schools
crisis comes from a Hollywood movie.

The problems that afflict public education go far beyond what George
W. Bush memorably called "the soft bigotry of low expectations." They
go beyond whatever measure of institutional sclerosis may be
attributed to tenure, beyond the inevitable cases of burnout, beyond
the fact that teachers in some jurisdictions actually earn halfway
decent salaries.

The fact is that teachers are being saddled with absurdly high
expectations. Some studies have shown a correlation between student
performance and teacher "effectiveness," depending how this elusive
quality is measured. But there is a whole body of academic literature
proving the stronger correlation between student performance and a
much more important variable: Family income.

Yes, I'm talking about poverty. Sorry to be so gauche, but when
teachers point out the relationship between income and achievement,
they're not shirking responsibility. They're just stating an
inconvenient truth.

According to figures compiled by the College Board, students from
families making more than $200,000 score more than 300 points higher
on the SAT, on average, than students from families making less than
$20,000 a year. There is a clear relationship all the way along the
scale: Each increment in higher family income translates into points
on the test.

Professor Sean Reardon of Stanford University's Center for Education
Policy Analysis concluded in a recent study that the achievement gap
between high-income and low-income students is actually widening. It
is unclear why this might be happening; maybe it is due to increased
income inequality, maybe the relationship between income and
achievement has somehow become stronger, maybe there is some other

Whatever the cause, our society's answer seems to be: Beat up the teachers.

The brie-and-chablis "reform" movement would have us believe that
most of the teachers in low-income, low-performing schools are
incompetent - and, by extension, that most of the teachers in
upper-crust schools, where students perform well, are paragons of
pedagogical virtue.

But some of the most dedicated and talented teachers I've ever met
were working in "failing" inner-city schools. And yes, in
award-winning schools where, as in Lake Wobegon, "all the children
are above average," I've met some unimaginative hacks who should
never be allowed near a classroom.

It is reasonable to hold teachers accountable for their performance.
But it is not reasonable - or productive - to hold them accountable
for factors that lie far beyond their control. It is fair to insist
that teachers approach their jobs with the assumption that every
single child, rich or poor, can succeed. It is not fair to expect
teachers to correct all the imbalances and remedy all the pathologies
that result from growing inequality in our society.

You didn't see any of this reality in "Waiting for 'Superman,'" the
2010 documentary that argued we should "solve" the education crisis
by establishing more charter schools and, of course, stomping the
teachers' unions. You won't see it later this month in "Won't Back
Down," starring Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal, which argues for
"parent trigger" laws designed to produce yet more charter schools
and yet more teacher-bashing.

I've always considered myself an apostate from liberal orthodoxy on
the subject of education.

I have no fundamental objection to charter schools, as long as they
produce results. I believe in the centrality and primacy of public
education, but I believe it's immoral to tell parents, in effect,
"Too bad for your kids, but we'll fix the schools someday."

But portraying teachers as villains doesn't help a single child. And
there's a better way to learn about the crisis than going to the
movies. Visit a school instead.
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
625 Wham Drive
Mail Code 4610
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244

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