Shame on US
Nicholas D. Kristof has written an opinion piece, "Our Greatest National Shame," for the New York Times. I paused to read the piece fully expecting to read about dumping more debt onto future generations, ToddlerTate being my future generation. Instead, Kristof broadly sweeps through public education and labeling us as the greatest shame. Well, actually, the failure of some students who pass through our halls.
He tells us that other countries are better than us. He tells us that some schools and programs have had success.
He points out that an education degree doesn't make a better teacher--a point I fully agree with, as well as the corollary that a master's degree doesn't make for a better principal.
And then of course he finishes with:
One of the greatest injustices is that America’s best teachers overwhelmingly teach America’s most privileged students. In contrast, the most disadvantaged students invariably get the least effective teachers, year after year — until they drop out.
May I punch the screen, honey. We'll buy another one and thus support our economy.
What evidence suggests that the "best teachers" teach privileged students? Is it the test scores, the G.P.A.'s, the college admittances? Or could it be that those students will succeed in spite of mediocre teaching?
Yes, I'm defensive. I've taught privileged students and disadvantaged students. In both places I've seen great teaching, average teaching, and ridiculously poor teaching. The difference isn't in the number of quality teachers, the difference is in the students.
No, I won't say that our disadvantaged students can't learn. But I will say the task is much more difficult, and for a host of reasons:
A third grade teacher who formerly taught at a private school now teaches at a poverty school. She sends home newsletters, notes, and homework folders. When she finally is afforded a meeting with a parent of a student who is failing, the parent admits to never reading those letters, notes, or ensuring that the students has accomplished the homework.
With little money coming in from property taxes, and numerous budgets being rejected, young and fresh teachers are let go, professional development for brand new research based interventions get scrapped, windows stay broken, halls remain unkempt.
Every outside reform agency, from NEASC to Cambridge to the State, want you to implement their version of success, simultaneously and without collaboration. A host of new initiatives and meetings take away from the time a teacher has to prepare.
Theory tells us that wildly disruptive students should not get out of school suspensions. The State says that OSS is not an option in the future, find a new way to discipline consistent troublemakers.
Free will. That's right. Free will. If you've ever dealt with a toddler, you know what this is like. Now, add twelve years of firming that defiance, that mindset, and multiply that number by some non-researched or empirically sound number like 450 and that is what teaching at an urban school is like. NOT ALL URBAN SCHOOLS; I better get that out there before all of my detractors come hounding me.
You see, people--yes, the general public, come see what it is like. Come spend some time and observe the students, observe the teachers. What you will find is not what you read about in the NY Times op-ed page.
You will find wonderful teachers who are tired, worn down, from the constant test of wills. You will find wonderful students who are tired, worn down, from the constant pain of circumstance. And if after spending more than a glancing moment at these schools, if you still believe that public education is the shame of the nation, then okay, shame on US.