Monday, October 24, 2011

Blame Game: Let’s Talk Honestly About Bad Teachers

Andy Rotherham with a powerful and spot-on article challenging those who cry teacher bashing whenever anyone points out that there are some terrible teachers out there:

When a prominent educational figure remarked that, "a lot of people who have been hired as teachers are basically not competent," it was a rare candid statement about teacher quality. The comment arguably overstates the problem and — in fairness — he was also quick to point out that with several million teachers there would of course be some lousy ones, just as there would be in any field. Still, it was a jarring thing to say.

Education policy debates are often like an argument between a couple in a bad relationship — about everything except the actual problems. Our leaders seem congenitally unable to lead a difficult but honest conversation about our nation's teaching force that acknowledges that several things are all true at once — we have a teacher quality problem and a management problem, teachers are not to blame for all that ails our schools, we can't fire our way to better schools, but removing some percentage of low-performers would be quite good for students. Instead we have a shallow debate dancing around the thing that matters most in schools: instructional quality.

To be clear, as a nation we are blessed with many incredibly hardworking, talented, and dedicated teachers. They're worth much more than they're paid and it's been dispiriting to watch them get blamed for issues beyond their control, for instance, bad policy choices that have led to soaring pension costs in some states.

But let's also be clear: there are more than a few teachers who shouldn't be teaching. Just ask their peers. In survey after survey, teachers themselves say that not all of their colleagues should be teaching and that some have tenure who shouldn't. The data bear this out, too. It's clear that some teachers are substantially more effective than others. They should be celebrated and learned from. But a small subset of them are startlingly bad, and they should be doing something else for a living.

Yet until recently there was little formal effort to recognize this. A landmark 2009 report by The New Teacher Project found that almost all — 99% — of teachers were given satisfactory evaluations even in the lowest performing schools.

Unfortunately, to raise these issues is to invite the charge of "teacher bashing." This summer, education activist Diane Ravitch blogged on the New York Times' website that, "Although politicians and corporate leaders claim they want to reform education, it is impossible to see how the campaign against teachers will advance that goal." American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten told her members this summer that "so-called reformers" are trying to "blame teachers for everything."

Weingarten, Ravitch, and many others echoing these claims surely know that this is hyperbole and that there is not an organized effort to denigrate teachers or a campaign against them. But these charges are not leveled to help teachers. Rather, they're made to squelch debate. It's basically intellectual McCarthyism intended to dissuade people from raising the hard questions.

Blame Game: Let's Talk Honestly About Bad Teachers

Removing the lowest performing educators would pay big dividends, but saying so invites charges of "teacher bashing"

By Andrew J. Rotherham | @arotherham |  | 29

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