Playing the blame game

Whenever a debate around the public education system in America flares up, the first groups to be demonized are the teachers and educators.

Whenever a debate around the public education system in America flares up, the first groups to be demonized are the teachers and educators.

I’ve had good teachers, great teachers and very very awful teachers. There are some classes I’ve had to fight through in order to get a passing grade. I’ve heard horror stories from straight-A students who were stuck with a monstrosity of a teacher and given the first F of their entire scholastic career. Public school is not only a struggle socially, but academically as well.

One of the recent changes to public education that was intended to solve some of the problems was the Bush-administered “No Child Left Behind” program. The program required that states establish standards in math and reading. Then, certain grade levels would be tested, and those that had more students who were proficient got more money.

There are several issues with this plan. First off, there are no nationally set standards. This allows states to make requirements at high or low as they could. This means that a state that has low performing students could set their standards lower in order to prevent government funding. Therefore, students who rank high in one state could be underachieving in another.

NCLB also sets certain curriculum standards. This means that essentially, teachers are forced to “teach to the test.” In order for a school to receive funding, they need to pass tests, and in order to pass tests, children need to be taught only the curriculum and skills on which those tests are based. So, the system essentially saps all the creativity out of learning, as teachers who do not produce high-scoring students run the risk of getting fired, because they will cause the school’s average test scores to go down.

One of the popular solutions to eliminating bad teachers is the establishment of a “merit pay” system. Merit pay would theoretically allow teachers who were producing better students to get paid more than those who were not performing well. Unfortunately, this system does not take into account the continuum of student achievement. A teacher who helped an F student become a C student would still not receive as much money as a teacher who was in charge of, say, an AP class that was compiled of high-achieving A students.

Merit pay and plans like NCLB raise the question of whether or not we can quantify what a good education means. Is it students who score high on tests? Is it students who work well in groups? Is it students with job skills? We simply don’t know what it means to be well educated.

We all know our education system is broken. There have been countless documentaries made on the subject, there are international comparisons between our students and those in other countries and every president proclaims to know the solution to the problem. Yet, in the last 10 years, I’ve yet to see any major changes in the public school system. As a product of this system, I find it shocking to hear that a majority of 8th graders have failed to be proficient in reading, and even less are proficient in math.

Many will argue that with teachers’ unions, there is a little risk of a teacher getting fired. In the documentary “Waiting for Superman,” filmmaker Davis Guggenheim points out the horrifying reality that teacher unions have created. In New York, teachers who have been written up for anything from lateness to sexual harassment of students are placed in “rubber rooms.” These rooms are literally rooms filled with these teachers who are waiting for their hearings. They sit there, day in and day out, collecting wages and benefits.

Every documentary on education seems to follow the same storyline; they reveal all of the problems with the education system. They are all the same broken record, pointing out the issues and proposing no solutions. It’s like an angsty emo song repeated over and over and over. We know our system is broken, just tell us how we can change.

There are bad teachers currently teaching in our schools. There are also amazing teachers in our schools. By grouping them all together, you take away from the achievements of those who are trying their best to help children learn. It’s incredibly unfair to assume that every teacher is just out to get paid, and that they could care less about educating students.

Regardless of the effects of teachers’ unions, we need to realize that many other core aspects of the system are broken, and should instead attempt to analyze and solve the problems instead of scapegoating teachers. Focusing on one problem ignores the larger issue, and instead further politicizes the issue.

Statistics recently compiled by the University of Leeds and the University of Leicester show that a parent’s academic effort with their children is more important than the school’s academic effort.

Instead of arguing about teachers, we should focus on trying to find ways to help our children learn. Perhaps, instead of watching news programs that scapegoat teachers, and getting all fired up about teachers’ unions, parents should instead use that time to sit down and read to their child. ?