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Sensationalist “Journalists” Tell the World How Teachers Failed (and How to “Fix” It)

March 17, 2010 Leave a comment
        With regards to articles about how to fix the failing education system (one from Newsweek, "Why We Must Fire Bad Teachers" on  http://www.newsweek.com/id/234590 and another from Time, "A Quick Fix for America's Worst Schools" on http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1963754-3,00.html), I cannot help but scoff as I seethe while reading pundits tell us teachers how to do our job, no, how to "fix our mess" (at least that's what they're trying to convince their readers). What both articles fail to mention in the middle of their gushing love letter for vouchers and charter schools is the fact that public schools CANNOT select (i.e., "cherry-pick") students that they/we serve. 

         As some people have already stated, one of the biggest factors pre-determining a student's – and consequently, a school's academic  success is socio-economic status, and if your school is right smack in the middle of the "'hood" or "the projects," then you will have some students who have parents who don't care about their child's education (sometimes nutrition and/or hygiene), who think you are their child's babysitter, who don't help with their child's homework, don't read to their child even if they seem to have all the time in the world to attend to other more "pressing" needs, and who don't hesitate to tell you what they think your job is (I called a parent once to tell them about their child disrupting the class and throwing expletives and threats at me in front of the entire class of 6th graders with one Kindergartener, only to be told that managing their child's behavior is MY job). Some of these students struggle in the classroom – struggling to read or to solve the most basic of mathematical problems, and show their frustration, for which their only outlet is to be disruptive. They act out in the classroom, preventing everyone else from paying attention, preventing the teacher from going on with instruction. This is an all too familiar occurrence in inner-city or low-income neighborhood schools. Ask the teachers, they will tell you.

        On the other hand, in private and charter schools they have the "luxury" of  choice, that is, they can choose their student populace by kicking out the ones they cannot "handle." I've seen it first-hand far too often. We have had chronically misbehaving students who brag that they were going to "good" or "better" schools, only to return in a couple of weeks due to behavior problems in that other school. Now, if the government have their way and implement their plans, what do you think will happen? One scenario that my skeptic/cynic self has conjured is one where there will be more charter schools (or the existing ones will get bigger) who will attract students from the public schools. Then, the ones that they can't "handle" find their way back into the public school system, much like "gentrifying" private (as if they aren't already) and charter schools, while the public schools are left to fend for themselves, only to slowly wilt and wither. Granted that this is all conjecture and tends to be hyperbolic, but it has some grains of truth….

Going back to the original articles, I found the following gems amidst all the rubble and perfunctory words of support (from the comments on the Newsweek article on http://www.newsweek.com/id/234590/output/comments):

Posted By: pgutpgut @ 03/17/2010 11:53:05 AM
No other profession insulates its members from accountability? What planet are these writers on? How about the banking profession, Wall Street, and the health insurance CEO's just for starters? Why do these folks get a free ride while teachers are vilified as a societal evil? Very few educators object to real accountability – the kind that propels life-long learning in students and enhances their teaching skills in the classroom. What we do object to is the sophomoric assumption that a single test score is an accurate measure of a teacher's effectiveness or the progress of a student. What we do object to is teacher-proof scripted curricula that have little basis in how children actually learn. What we do object to is the illogical assumption that all children should arrive at the standard or benchmark at exactly the same moment – that's like expecting every single baby to walk or talk at the same time and threatening parents with punishment if their kid doesn't meet the mark on time. What we do object to is not having a voice in the discussion – no other profession would put up with the intrusion by non-members or the exclusion from decision-making. And yet when teachers protest, we are branded as fearful of accountability. Real reform involves students, their teachers, and their families collaborating as a community. The psuedo-reforms being touted will not promote lifelong learning and reading OUTSIDE of the classroom, and will sustain the false notion that assessment and education are done TO students rather than WITH them. Newsweek should rename themselves Newspeak since facts or a balanced story don't seem to matter…

Posted By: eslteacher @ 03/15/2010 12:43:10 AM

As a college professor, I would give this article an 'F'. Why? The authors do not present any data to back up their claims; instead, they rely on opinion the "common knowledge," that teachers have it easy. Wait, have these guys ever taught? Nope. So, they are very ignorant. 

Oh, and as far as the subtitle is concerend (In no other profession are workers so insulated from accountability) there are many professions that are not accountable: They all work on Wall Street.

If anybody asks me what I think about Newsweek, I will, of course, tell them not to subscribe.

Posted By: nancyking2001 @ 03/15/2010 9:23:52 PM

I usually look forward to reading my Newsweek magazine every week, but this article made me want to cancel my subscriiption. I am so tired of my profession being maligned by those who have absolutely no experience in the classroom. I have been a teacher for 22 years. I still buy my own books, my own paper, pencils, and even the cleaning supplies for the classroom. My students have become successful professionals as well as petty criminals. I spend every waking moment thinking about how to reach them and how to make sure they love to learn. I am not a bad teacher and I belong to the union. I graduated at the top of my class, not the bottom five percent. I am surrounded by dedicated, hard working professionals. I know the parents want the best for their kids, but I think our society has a culture of neglect when it comes to children. No one has time for them anymore. I spend all my time teaching and compensating for that neglect. Don't blame me for doing a great job. Thank goodness for my students…at least they appreciate me.

  • Posted By: VibrantEducation @ 03/15/2010 5:49:09 AM

    Open Letter to Evan Thomas (Part 1)

    Dear Evan,

    I wanted to thank you for your recent cover story in Newsweek Magazine. I have been using it in my composition class as a model of a poorly written, poorly supported, and poorly reported essay.

    I'm not sure how Princeton journalism professors treat a sentence like: "Although many teachers are caring and selfless, teaching in public schools has not always attracted the best and the brightest," but, at the middle school where I worked, we said it contained a dangling modifier and faulty subordination. 

    Grade school grammar aside, I was most impressed by the dazzling stupidity of your article's thesis that schools should fire bad teachers and replace them with 22 year-old, freshly minted Teach for America recruits with absolutely no teaching experience or training. After reading your article it occurred to me that one way to solve America's crisis of meaningless media commentary, would be to send college graduates (and God knows they don't need an Ivy league degree) to work at Newsweek. More than a few of my journalist friends have told me that, contrary to popular belief, "Much of the ability to write news stories is innate; it requires little more than an ability to inspire readers and maintain control in unruly newsrooms." Please don't take offense to that line; I know that what you do for Newsweek (the difficult business of commenting on the news rather than reporting it) requires a great deal of skill. You have to trust that readers will swallow sweeping claims like "teachers are born and not trained" without a shred of evidence.

    Moving along, I was particularly fond of the adjectives you used to describe good teachers. They included: "caring," "selfless," loyal," and "hardworking" – curiously, these are the exact same words the Chinese government used to promote the Cultural Revolution – you know, the revolution that ran doctors, teachers, engineers, government bureaucrats and other professionals out of cities and replaced them with passionate undertrained young people bursting with infectious can-do spirits. 

    Notably absent from your article was any mention of a teacher's intelligence, depth of education, or level of preparation. Indeed, the only education that seems to matter to you and Newsweek editors is the color of a would-be teacher's degree, preferably Ivy. But what do I know, I went Stanford University's School of Education where I sat around doing "a lot of insipid and marginally relevant theorizing."

  • Posted By: VibrantEducation @ 03/15/2010 5:48:01 AM

    Open Letter to Evan Thomas (Part 2)

    Your article (stretching metaphor to creative lengths that would shame any self-respecting tabloid reporter) compared teaching to the Marine Corps. Teaching, as you explained it, is a calling for the chosen few, those brave enough to holster cell phones that students can call 24 hours a day. KIPP schools, which really do implement militaristic discipline in an effort to garner ever higher test scores at the expense of pithy things like, "well, imagination, creativity, and the ability to think and make decisions for one's self, are celebrated. And indeed, in a world where John Dewey is insipid and marginally relevant, such a curriculum and educational focus makes sense. KIPP and its ilk are, as you say, mercifully free of red tape and bureaucratic rules, unless, of course, you count physically forcing a child to wear his shirt inside out because he forgot his homework as a bureaucratic rule. 

    Ahhh, but there is more. If Teach for America and all those passionate, experience-less, credential-less, Ivy League graduates who currently make up less than 0.1% of the country's K-12 teachers can't save American education, then hurricanes can. That's right folks, those unions which insist on crazy things like keeping class sizes small, are so insidious that the only way to destroy them is to destroy the schools where their members work and the cities where their members live with rain and wind and floods. Only then can bad teachers be fired and replaced by ranks of inexperienced and passionate young people who haven't a clue how to teach children (all of whom are hungry to learn) how to read.

    All and all Evan, thank you for your model of how not to write an essay. I shutter [sic] for the students that have to sit though your classes. In the end though I suppose we can take heart that, "Although many reporters are caring and selfless, jobs at publications like Newsweek has not always attracted the best and the brightest."

    Yours sincerely,
    Teachers Everywhere

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