April 23, 2014

Teachers are not the enemy of education reform

There is a very popular idea that teachers do not want their students to be successful. That educators are really at fault for what ails the failing education system. Additionally, there is the popular belief that those who have money have the answers. And finally, popular opinion is that newer, younger teachers are better than more experienced teachers who may or may not have tenure.

I am going to do something that I have refrained from doing on We of Hue. I am going to be blunt and direct. That is, I will sum up the above notions in one word:

Bullshit!

Because you see, I am a Teacher. An Educator. And a Parent, which encompasses both. I became a High School teacher through an alternative certification program and went back to the Bronx where I was raised to teach at Harry S Truman High School. While there, I had the pleasure of working with some amazing educators who are dedicated, exhausted, innovative, and frustrated. I have had the pleasure of dealing with some extremely compassionate administrators who, despite their personal ideologies, were forced to adhere to the guidelines put forth not by experienced educators, but by politicians who have never stepped foot in a classroom, yet alone a public school. Furthermore, I have had the spirit-crushing opportunity to meet with parents who were unwilling to actively participate in their child’s education in anyway. I have had my efforts to step outside the box and introduce new techniques of learning and teaching be hindered by the test-centered efforts of NCLB. I have been bogged down by administrative paperwork for five classes of 34 students each. I have taught students who had amazing potential but were forced to choose between being smart or fitting in- students who needed extra attention but had to compete with the extremely divided attention of their teacher. Students who needed more support and guidance than any school could possible provide as their home lives were not providing the support they needed outside the classroom.

The problem is not the teachers.

You, those of you who are so anti-educators, seem to think that the teachers have decision-making power in the schools or even in their classrooms. We do not. They do not. We are merely ship-hands on the Titanic sinking faster than ever imagined and as much as we beg for life-jackets and lifeboats we are given nothing.  And contrary to popular belief, it is not a part-time job for us. Most of us, the good teachers, bring it home with us and carry it around ALL THE TIME. It is our life’s-work. It is the only profession that requires that you have a masters and continually earn credits in order to make money. It is the only profession that requires you be skilled in a particular area and then fight to be called a professional….

Teachers are not the problem. You are.

You , the parent who believes that what you read and see on the news is the truth and the whole truth. You, the parent who believes that someone else is better at disciplining your child or advocating for your child simply because he started a company or has money. You the parent who thinks that because someone is finally paying attention to minorities that they have your best interest in mind. You the parent who spews words of hate at educators without actually knowing that for every bad teacher, there are 100 good ones who are never given attention in the news.

Some say that because the public system is not working it needs to be privatized. That charter schools (controlled by corporations and seem to succeed because they handpick the students who are more likely to succeed while denying access to those who need extra help like special education students), KIPP schools (whose philosophy that minority children need intensive discipline and structure that would never be accepted in white neighborhoods rather than addressing the societal ills that have contributed to the poor education available to minority students and whose students are actively enrolled by parents (which already says that those parents understand the importance of education and those children would probably succeed at any school)), and Bill Gates (whose Microsoft approach to education (repackage what others are saying and doing without actual long-term thought) turns success into a standard product instead of individually specific one that is based on one’s own ability)  and the Walmart Waltons are the only answer because money solves problems.

But let me ask you this: If the Waltons are truly concerned about the education and well-being of the working class, why do they continue to break the law by denying their employees basic human rights everywhere they operate? And does philanthropy negate Bill Gates’ very fascist corporatist beliefs (which may look good when taken at face value but is actually a method of controlling opposition and rewarding political loyalty by taking power away from the people and putting it in the hands of those who proclaim to know better) that do not align themselves with the betterment of the very population he claims to want to help? Why do we hesitate to question their agenda? Why do we follow blindly and then accuse those who don’t agree of supporting the status quo? And why is it that we forget those who are trying so desperately to prove that “poverty is not an excuse” are the very ones keeping people in poverty.

I don’t deny that accessibility is a problem in poor districts. But, providing equipment and materials is only one part of the problem. Increasing instructional time by 62% on average as done in the KIPP schools is only a minor fix. What is ruining education is that politicians are content to change the focus whenever their financial supporters come calling. The corporate push is why testing has become the backbone of NCLB. There is money to be made in the creation of these tests and in the materials that are used within the schools to prepare students for them. New York City changes tests so often that just when the teachers begin to understand how to revise their curriculum to meet one standard, they are forced to learn a new one. Let’s not forget another important fact of which I was reminded by a close friend, the NYC Chancellor of Schools creates the very regulations that bind teachers when it comes to discipline, requires that they teach to the test and force them to pass students who cannot read, then bashes those teachers/schools for failing, while allocating the monies given to help those failing schools to charter schools. And while public school teachers are struggling to find a way to affect positive change in the classroom with limited support regarding discipline, those charter schools are given the freedom to do just that!

Are you following, because THIS is the reality.

While many are content to put a band-aid on a gaping wound, there are people like Diane Ravitch (who was pushing for National  Standards before The Gates Foundation was even a thought) who believe that education reform must be a partnership between parents and teachers. Corporations and politics are not essential to providing children with a good education. It must be done through other means- and that is by creating a system the addresses societal failures- that incorporates more than just testing and nodding and chanting and pretty packages. Educating children must be a holistic approach in order to create free thinkers and not brand loyalty.

And this superficial blaming of teachers needs to end. Teachers want to teach. They want to educate students. It is not a field one enters into and stays in because he/she wants to make money.

We need to look to the nations that are surpassing the USA in education and realize that what matters in not quantity (extensive hours spent in the classroom) but the quality of what is being taught. We need to demand that our children receive a quality education by spending less time appeasing these egomaniacs who believe that they have the best answer. We need to revisit the old philosophies- before the indoctrination approach to education and before the Deliberate Dumbing Down of America.

In short, we need to cut the bullshit and get real!

And here are some links to help you do just that:

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Kristina Daniele

Kristina Daniele

Kristina, Founder and Oz of We of Hue is one of many doing it across hues-homeschooling, wifing, mothering, and business building. She is a web designer and social media consultant with a love of building communities on line. She looks forward to intelligent conversation that is eye-opening and statement-making.

More Posts - Website

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michele-Gray/1366817996 Michele Gray

    A friend of mine, Dr. Tim Slekar, Head of the Division of Education and Human Development at Penn State Altoona, recently told me of a study which showed that children who lack health care between the ages of 1 and 3 can be slow learning to read. Why? Because without health care coverage, toddlers have untreated ear infections which means that they lose their hearing which retards development of speech. By the time these little ones get to school, they are already way behind. So all the talk of measuring teacher performance by test scores is actually punishing some teachers because toddlers didn’t have health insurance.

    NCLB is punishing all teachers, but it is also destroying schools and hurting children. Instead of spending hundreds of millions of education dollars every year on NCLB tests, we could be spending it on schools that really need the resources.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001527579457 Kristina Brooke Daniele

      You are so right. And one of the issue that is being overlooked is that poverty- systematic poverty- and the strain on the working class because of low wages creates situations where there is very little time for early education. So like you say, teachers are being judged by their inability to help children who begin with a huge educational deficit. It’s all connected and instead of changing the system we are placing blame on those the system prevents from succeeding.

  • Gotjaz

    Kristina,

    Let me start off by saying that this is one of those times I wish we were in the same city so we could be having this discussion over a bottle of wine after the kids are asleep :-) With that said, I’m not going to go point for point on where you and I disagree, I’d rather focus on a few areas you touched on that I believe are paramount to this discussion, but get lost in the shuffle.

    As I mentioned in my own piece, I don’t believe it is the fault of the teachers in the classroom, it’s the “system” in which they are in. Granted, are there bad teachers (new and tenured) in our classrooms today? You’d be a fool if you thought there weren’t. But you’d also be a fool if you thought for a second that there aren’t teachers out there for whom this career was not a “fall back” choice. This is their chosen profession. Why? Because they love to educate young minds. I know many teachers personally and I, for one, could not put up with the nonsense they deal with daily. Some of it from the administration, some from the kids, and even more from some parents who just don’t get it. The good ones (and they are a plenty) take it home on a daily basis, stay late, come in early, spend their own money to purchase supplies (ask my sister-in-law about that one!), and yes, continue to hear from a very ungrateful nation that THEY are to blame for the current state of affairs in education. Anyone who comes to this discussion with the mentality that the teachers in the classroom are to blame, should NOT be allowed to play with us. More often than not they are doing the best they can in less than pristine circumstances, and they should be congratulated for getting us this far.

    Instead of picking on the teachers, our focus should be more on the system itself which has failed them as much as it has failed our children. And this is where the discussion gets a bit dicey; Do you work to fix the system or do you take your ball, go home and start your own game? This is where, I believe, Kristina and I differ. There comes a point in time where you need to cut bait, cut your loses, and realize that no matter how much you love your old car it’s just not fixable. I don’t care how much time/money you continue to put into it. As far as I am concerned, especially at this stage, all ideas should be all the table. And nope, I don’t really care too much on “why” certain people or corporations are trying to fix education in this country. As I mentioned before, I don’t think there is an evil plan by some companies (WalMart) or individuals (Bill Gates), but what I do know is that because of entities inside of private industry, many children across the country are getting a great eduction. Instead of looking at some of these schools as offering “intensive discipline and structure that would never be accepted in white neighborhoods”, why not look at it as a prep academy style education w/ access and opportunity that, without, these children would NEVER have a chance at an education like those kids in the “better neighborhoods”. Sometimes the ends justify the means and from the parents I have spoken to, they could care less who, what, why, or how these non-public schools came into existence, all they see is their child getting an education they never dreamed possible.

    This brings me to when I mentioned “time” in my own article. Time in which I don’t have, nor do my children. The fact is they are getting older and I want what is best for them, be it Montessori, charter, private, or yes, even a great public school. The one thing that I think we can agree is that changing the entire system and changing the perception of teachers (good and bad) is going to take alot of time. I think we can also agree that there are so many factors to consider in changing the system because it’s SO fragmented and no one can truly agree on what area to address first, let alone second, third, etc… My question to you, Kristina, as well as others is what do you do with your own children while we figure out the best way to attack the problem? It’s a complex and layered answer that I’m not one to just sit back and let someone else answer for me, because like I have said numerous times, I don’t have the time to wait on others, nor do I trust what “they” believe is best for my babies. Which brings me to your point, Kristina, when you mention that it’s “You” who is responsible for certain things in this debate. Although I have a bit of a different slant on it.

    What I don’t hear being talked about alot is that it’s YOU who are responsible for your child’s education. First and foremost YOU have to get involved, YOU have to ask questions, YOU have to give a damn! Ask yourself, did you research the local schools? Do you know EVERY option that is available to you? Do you volunteer? Do you read to your children? Do ensure homework is done? Do you talk to the teachers? Before YOU point fingers, make sure YOU have done just about all you can to make sure your child’s educational experience is a success. I’ve lost count on the number of times I’ve heard parents talk about not knowing about this, that, and the other in reference to a school, or that, “I didn’t know I could do that.” Yet and still these are the first folks to complain when little Johnny doesn’t pass a test.

    Now, before I get the little snippy comments about how my children must be in private schools, etc… and that I don’t know anything about public schools, yada, yada, yada. Let me inform you that not only are both my wife and I products of the “good ole’ days” of public education, my children too are going to be attending a local public school. But not the one they “should” be attending. Why? Because Mommy and Daddy didn’t like our choices and found out early on what avenues we needed to pursue to have our children enrolled in a better performing school. Did it take time, preparation, and ALOT of persistence? Oh my goodness, YES! But you can do it too, trust me! They don’t make it easy, but like I said, you CAN do it too.

    At the end of the day we all can blog, post, reply, and debate until the cows come home, but until YOU as a parent take a VERY active role in the education of your child YOU should not blame the system, the school, or the teachers. Yes, there are plenty of factors outside of your control, but there are just as many within your control and you should educate yourself as a parent on to the ins and outs within your local area. Because, if this discussion does nothing else it should open your eyes to the fact that while this education debate is global in scope, the education of your children is arguably one of the most personal and important decisions you will ever make and you should treat it as such. Just my two cents….What say you?!?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001527579457 Kristina Brooke Daniele

      James, are you familiar with Bowen’s Theory of Societal Regression? If not, please look it up because it explains why the “fix it now” philosophy has failed us time and time again.

      Additionally, I urge you to read that articles that I linked to in my article because what you are writing off as “an opportunity,” is much more damaging than you believe.

      The ulterior motives matter. The matter a lot!

      I am all for taking an active role, but I am also for understanding and being a ware of the forces that come together to ensure that progress is minimal and superficial.

      I homeschool my daughter because I did not want to put her in a system that did not have her best interest in mind. I left teaching to focus on my daughter AND to have the freedom to become an active participant in the reform discussion without fear of losing my job (and it happens more than you can imagine). I lead parents to resources and information necessary to make an informed decision and I visit schools of all different backgrounds. This is a discussion that I continue to research and learn about and debate. And I urge every one to do the same.

      • Gotjaz

        Know quite a few teachers who left for the very same reasons you did. We are just gonna have to agree to dis-agree on this one my friend. Just so you know when I said “you” I didn’t mean you personally :-)

        I think you pretty much summed it up at the end by urging everyone to do the same, only we both know the ones who need to learn and educate themselves on the process, won’t.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001527579457 Kristina Brooke Daniele

          I know that, but wanted to share that info so people know where I am coming from.

  • Chaz

    Great post and how true. You tapped into all the ills that the ed deformers close their collective eyes to. I would have added the high teacher turnover (in NYC 50% of the teachers leave before their fifth year) and the extremely high teacher turnover in Charter Schools who recruit many Teach For America teachers (TFA statistics show that 83% of the teachers leave after three years).

    The post should be send to the major newspapers to be published.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001527579457 Kristina Brooke Daniele

      Chaz,
      Thank you so much for commenting and adding the bit about the high turn over rate. When teachers develop solid relationships with their students those students are more likely to succeed, but when they have new teachers every year that relationship is weakened.

      And I will send this article as many places that I can1 Please do the same!

  • lorri

    Great piece, Kristina. Lots to think about. Many of us agree we need huge changes in the way we educate children, but there are so many red flags that come up when one looks at the billionaire reformers and their agenda.

    In the first place, why aren’t we looking at countries that have successful school systems? Wouldn’t it make sense to see what others are doing well and utilize what we can? Why also, are we ignoring the voices of well-respected educational researchers who have been calling for reforms for many years?

    The factory model of throwing children who have nothing more in common than being born the same year into a room, giving them 45 minutes of information and then ringing a bell to move them to the next step on the assembly line may have worked when people could actually sustain themselves by working in a factory, but those days are gone. Why don’t I hear this conversation in the public arena? Instead I hear, keep them in the same model, but for longer periods of time??? Even worse, obedience schools like KIPP believe that beating children into submission of the system will work. Strange, to the say the least.

    And while we’re on the subject of KIPP, their relationship to the testing mania is highly suspect. Their greatest cheerleader, Jay Mathews of the Washington Post, just so happens to be the spokesperson for the Post-owned, Kaplan educational co. You know, the test preparation people? And let’s not get into the Walton family, owners of Walmart and their millions in donations to KIPP. Walmart is watched by human-rights groups around the world for their intimidation of workers, strong arming of manufacturers and refusal to provide employees with fair wages and access to health care. They are strongly anti-union and coincidentally support KIPP schools which block efforts for their teachers to unionize. And people trust them with their children? Chilling.

    In the second place, if reform really was the desire, wouldn’t we include the voices of those who have the most direct concern, namely parents and teachers? More and more, we hear parents and teachers complaining they’re being shut out of the discussions. In DC, when parents began complaining about Michelle Rhee’s bizarre actions, she decided to create a “parent academy” to re-educate parents in what they really need. What unbelievable hubris.

    Parents have been calling for smaller classes for a very long time. http://www.classsizematters.org/
    Research has shown over and over again that smaller classes benefit children, yet the likes of Bill Gates insists we should in fact, make the classes bigger? This is particularly harmful to at-risk children. We both know what it’s like to give a writing assignment to our classes and try and walk around, giving individual attention to our students. They are so desperate for attention, they don’t want us t0 leave. “Miss! I’ve been calling you! I need help!” They know they need assistance and want the opportunity for someone to sit with them and help, but there isn’t enough time. Do the math; 45 minutes divided by 34 students. 1.3 minutes per child. So, let’s throw more children into the room?

    Finally, why do so many in the United States think that rich equals smart? It’s bizarre and naive. Yes, there are some smart rich people, but there are some truly brilliant people who have chosen to direct their energies towards the pursuit of something other than acquiring wealth. Why do we discount these voices? Because they don’t have big bank accounts? Is pursuing knowledge and altruism really considered less than pursuing wealth? This is just plain sad.

    Bill Gates’ business practices have been ruthless. Remember when he basically blocked the plan to provide low-income children with computers? Just look at his business practices which include stealing from other companies, and a ruthless desire to annihilate competition and maintain a monopoly in the industry. In a sane society, these actions would be considered sociopathic, but in the United States we applaud them.

    When will people wake up and look beyond the propaganda they’re being fed?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001527579457 Kristina Brooke Daniele

      Lorri, THANK YOU! The willingness of people to fall for the propaganda is one of my biggest issue with what is going on today. Although, I am not surprised. Those in power have done a great job of making people feel helpless. Helplessness is probably one of the strongest components of gaining control because when people feel that they cannot do anything, they will grab on to anything that promises to help…

  • Cheryl

    Terrific post. There are too many people, including most teachers out here in the sunny suburbs where I teach, who are unaware of many of these factors that are sinking public ed. Our unions need to help do a better job of educating ALL teachers and parents in this country about what’s really going on.