"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be...nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." – Thomas Jefferson

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Problem is...

Teachers have a serious problem...they are observed most often and most closely by children.

Think about a teacher from your past -- your kindergarten teacher, your 5th grade teacher, your high school English teacher. Everything you learned and remember about that person (unless you still have contact with them) you learned when you were a child. Your memories are colored by the immaturity of your age.

Teachers stand out in our memories because of their greatness or their failures. I remember Mrs. Gilbert (third grade, Rogers School, Chicago) and Mrs. Hirsch (8th grade math, same school). One was great...the other, not so much. But after having taught children from the age of 5 to 13 for more than 30 years I'm experienced enough to know that I can't evaluate those teachers based on my memories. I was a child when I last observed them.

"Oh come on," you might say, "you can tell if your child has a poor teacher."

Yes, parents can often tell if their children are in a great teacher's classroom, or a poor one, and the annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitude Towards Public Schools consistently shows that most parents of public school students rate their schools and their teachers high.
The last of the three-question sequence asks parents to grade the school their oldest child attends. With this question, we continue to see an increase in the percentage of public school parents who assign either an A or B...
This year greater than 75% of parents of public school children graded their local public schools an A or a B. If we add the grade of C it reaches 93%.

In a sidebar of the PDK/Gallup Poll, Sara Nicholas, president of Future Educators Association wrote:
I imagine that many see how hard these teachers work and how much they dedicate their lives to the job in their community and so they don’t blame them for problems at schools.
Parents of public school children know how hard their teachers work...it's the teachers at that other school who are lazy and no good. The same PDK/Gallup Poll shows that only 19% of the nation as a whole gives the public schools a grade of A or B. Our schools are fine...it's those other ones that are bad (see Where are all the Bad Schools and Where are all the Bad Teachers).

However, it's not parents who are destroying the education profession.

For the last couple of years politicians here in Indiana have been working hard to increase the number of poor educators. The State Board of Education passed REPA2, which lowers the qualifications one needs to become a teacher or principal. There's a bill in the Indiana House which would lower the qualifications one needs to become a superintendent. Dan Carpenter at Indystar.com...
Dan Carpenter: Leave education to the pros

...the persistent lowering of teacher and administrator qualifications that has taken place since Tony Bennett's election four years ago and even -- over her protests -- since Ritz's election in November...

...The latest example is a Republican bill in the Indiana House that would remove already weakened requirements for school superintendents. No superintendent's license, no teaching license, no need for specialized knowledge of the complexities of modern schooling or for on-the-ground empathy with the employees. Translation: A politician or entrepreneur can get the job, and be answerable to politicians and entrepreneurs.
"Problem is..." wrote a "friend" of a friend of mine on Facebook, "some of the pros don't belong in education."

Ok...I can agree with that to a point...I know a few teachers who shouldn't have been teachers (or who should have retired before they did). On the other hand, I know doctors who shouldn't have been doctors, police officers who shouldn't have been police officers and lawyers who shouldn't have been lawyers. Does that mean we shouldn't trust doctors with our health, police officers with our safety and lawyers with our legal issues? In what other profession do we remove the professionals from the decision making process and then require them to do what non-professionals (with no experience) determine should be done? In what other profession do we make laws and public policy lowering the quality of training and preparation for one of our most important public sector jobs?

The problem is...a significant number of politicians, pundits and policy makers think they know everything about education...just because they went to school.

What's going to happen when professional educators are stripped of all professional input? What's going to happen when a 22 year old with 5 weeks of training can replace a 20 year veteran teacher? What's going to happen when lowered requirements for becoming an educator results in (even) smaller salaries and less job security?

Too many teachers are quitting, experts warn
Across North America nearly half of all new teachers leave the field within five years,” said Jon G. Bradley, associate professor of education at McGill University....The education field is in crisis, said Bradley. “It’s almost as though we’re doing everything in our power to discourage these fully trained, committed people from making teaching a career,” he said...

“Any other profession that had that kind of turnover would look at working conditions, would look at salaries and other things surrounding the teaching environment,” said Joel Westheimer, university research chair and professor at the University of Ottawa’s faculty of education. “Instead, in education, we bring up talk about testing teachers and linking their pay to the students’ performance. I mean, can you imagine Microsoft suffering a crisis because there were not enough programmers going into the profession and leaving after the first five years? Would (the company’s) response be to increase salaries, recruit better people, change working conditions so that they could work in different places, have free soda and free lunches? Or would it test them?”
The old caveat "You get what you pay for" is appropriate here.

Problem is...public policy about education is being made by people who don't know anything about education.

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