Thursday, May 17, 2012

Stop Blaming Teachers and Start Blaming Pediatricians?

Can a teacher make a child stay home?
Or is that one on parents???
SCHOOL CRISIS? YOU SAY WE HAVE a "school crisis" in America? You say you believe a majority of public school teachers could be replaced with bags of cement and no one would notice the difference in effort level?

You say you believe Michelle Rhee when she says nothing matters in education except making sure every child has an excellent teacher every year, while she earns fat speakers fees to spout opinion?

You say you find yourself nodding in agreement when billionaire Michael Bloomberg says the real problem is that teachers are stupid and gives advice on fixing public education, although he never went to public schools?

You say you believe Arne Duncan when he promises to save U. S. education by instituting national curriculum standards and you think he's the best Secretary of Education since Bill Bennett went gambling in Las Vegas?

Well, according to a study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, it seems public school teachers are having trouble educating children who don't come to school! What next? Do researchers discover that people who don't go to the gym are in worse shape than those who do?"

Any teacher in America, with, say, four years experience could have told you this. But here's what researchers now know:  Roughly 15% of American school children are chronically absent. That is, they miss one day, or more, out of every ten. If that doesn't sound like much, it's 18 school days per year (and you can try it at work and see if the boss thinks he's at fault, or if the problem is you). Put it another way:  a kid who misses that often stays home for one entire school year by the time they finish 10th grade.

No Child Left Behind? Maybe if a child get's left behind we should quit blaming teachers and go snooping around doctors ' offices.

NOW THE PHD'S AT JOHNS HOPKINS tell us policy makers have been looking at absenteeism in the wrong way. Again, the sarcastic former teacher and current crabby blogger that I am, mumbles, "The typical policy expert, when it comes to education, probably couldn't tell the difference between a pile of dog doo and a steak dinner."

Robert Balfanz, research professor at Johns Hopkins School of Education, feels the need to explain, however: "We don't see the problem clearly because in most places we don't measure it." (He's wrong, of course, because ordinary teachers see it every day.) At any rate, he notes that according to state and federal laws schools must track average daily attendance for all, which masks the problem of pupils who miss most often. Even more stunning--or stunningly obvious--statistical analysis shows that student attendance may be as effective in predicting student academic progress as test scores, the very heart and soul of No Child Left Behind! Yep! You guessed it. Get to the gym and you have a chance to get in shape. Get to school and you might get a good education.

Who knew!!!

Unfortunately, only six states and a handful of urban districts track chronic absenteeism; and none have figured out what to do about the problem. Well, I have an idea--no stupider than the ideas our leading reformers come up with every day. I say, we quit bashing teachers and start vilifying pediatricians!

According to researchers at Johns Hopkins, Oregon has the worst problem, with 23% of students missing once or more every ten days. But I've been looking at this problem on my own; and it's ironic, actually. Rhee promised she was going to save the Washington, D. C. schools when she was chancellor; but the average kid in her district missed more than 20 days a year. Duncan is Secretary of Education because he "saved" Chicago schools. Or so he likes us all to think. The average kid in his old district, which Arne fixed, you should all remember, missed 26 days in 2010. As for the billlionaire, Michael Bloomberg? In one recent year, 140,000 New York City public school students missed more than a month of classes.

Meanwhile, I doubt you could find ten real teachers in the entire country who'd be surprised to hear what Maria Groark, executive director of the Get Schooled Foundation, which funded the study, has to say:  "There are so many efforts at school reform, but what people overlook is that none of them work if the kids don't show up."

I've been saying this since I started writing this blog and since I started banging away at a book about education. I know there are bad teachers out there and we have to do more to get them out of all our classrooms. But you have to be blind, deaf, dumb or maybe a right-wing, union-bashing, Fox News-loving troglodyte to think that all or even most problems in U. S. education come down to teachers. Let's hear a little more truth about the "home crisis" in America, which has nothing to do with the men and women working hard at the front of almost every classroom in the land. If the experts and the researchers just tried a little real teaching, themselves, they might trip over a few very harsh and very hard to miss realities. In New York City, where Mayor Bloomberg has had three terms to make good his promise to fix the schools a special task force is hard at work this very day. Among other tactics, they are using automated wake-up calls from famous athletes and celebrities to contact 30,000 at risk kids every morning and try to get them to out of bed and into class.

I find it hard to see how we can blame teachers for any of this.

1 comment:

  1. Shocking, eye-opening stats on absenteeism. Perhaps our public schools could motivate kids to come to school more if they expended serious time and energy on things that really matter, like high-stakes multiple-choice tests. What kid doesn't like tests designed to defund the school and enrich private corporations?