Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Time Runs A Incredibly Stupid Story

Gag! Another article blames teachers for all problems in the schools.

If you teach for a living you probably know Time magazine ran a stupid story this week. “Rotten Apples” it’s called. It’s the tragic tale of how tenure is ruining kids lives and how bad teachers plague the land.

I won’t be the only educator to notice the terrible timing, with this issue landing in mailboxes a day after the awful school shooting in Marysville, Washington. And you have to wonder. Do the people cited in this story, who claim they want to fix the problems in our nation’s schools, really believe tenure is the big issue? They say tenure means “employment for life.” Maybe Time could highlight some of the tenured teachers who have died in recent years trying to shield children from catastrophic harm.

I won’t be the first to note that not a single teacher is asked to comment in the story, either. 

Who does get their say? Who are the real “heroes” fighting for the kids? “Silicon business types and billionaires,” people like David Welch and Bill Gates. Gates is working on a plan to change the way history is taught in our schools, because he’s sure there’s a better way, and we have to listen to him because...he’s Bill Gates! Welch is a “Silicon Valley muckety-muck who lives in one of the fanciest ZIP codes in America,” according to TimeNaturally, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is mentioned. He agrees. Tenure is a curse. And Arne knows everything about education, because he went to Harvard and never got around to teaching. Remember? He’s the guy who “fixed” the Chicago Public Schools. Of course, the city still has gang problems and hundreds of school-age children have been shot there in recent years. 

Ignoring such unimportant issues, Time focuses on tenure. The judge’s ruling (which would strike down California tenure law if upheld), rested on complex “value added measurements” (VAM) which showed a bad teacher could “set a student’s educational progress back by 9.54 months.” A second study, again based on complex VAM, and supposedly controlling “for factors like race and poverty rates” found that replacing bad teachers “could increase students’ lifetime earnings by $250,000 per classroom.”

Strangely enough, reporters and editors failed to notice that they blew up the foundation of their story before the last paragraph could sputter to a sorry end. In April the American Statistical Association questioned whether such methodology “adequately measures a teacher’s total value to a student’s education.” The following month the American Educational Research Association took an even stronger stand, saying there was “a ‘surprisingly weak’ correlation between teachers’ VAM scores and their actual skills.”

Leaving complexities aside, let’s imagine we wanted to increase the lifetime earnings of students. Why not start by raising the minimum wage? Next, convince Silicon Valley tech firms, like Apple, run by billionaires like Welch, and the the folks who run Walmart to stop outsourcing millions of jobs to China. Yep. The Waltons appear in the Time story. They’ve tossed around piles of money in an effort to support charter schools. You know, because they care about children. They care so much they pay those children’s parents, who work as cashiers in their stores, a princely sum. Oh yes: $8.48 per hour. 

Michelle Rhee also rears her sour puss. If you don’t know Rhee, teachers, you should. She’s the most obnoxious of all obnoxious school reformers. (As reformers go, Rhee is the rare exception in that she actually taught for three years.) Time once did an idiotic story on her, too. Rhee promised, as chancellor of the Washington, D. C. schools, to sweep out all the bad teachers and cure the problems in education—sweep!—just like that!

Like so many school fixers, Rhee told every reporter who would listen (and write up a glowing story about Michelle Rhee) that using test scores to rate teachers was the key. During her time at the D. C. helm she fired hundreds of veteran educators when scores didn’t measure up. Then she gave bonuses to teachers and principals in cases were scores surged. Unfortunately, as USA Today later discovered, most D. C. educators who posted “improved” results did it mainly by plying erasers to alter student answer sheets.

Time did get at least one story line right when noting that an “outright mutiny” might be brewing among teachers. But no one at the magazine had the good sense to wonder why. Teachers are itching for a fight, I suspect, not because they care only about protecting their jobs. Not at all. They want to do their jobs right. They don’t want to fill out more forms. They don’t want to spend more valuable instruction time charting data. They don’t want to give more and more standardized tests. They want to get back to helping kids. They don’t fear being “exposed” as a result of VAM. They don’t believe VAM is valid to begin.

Let’s imagine that tenure could be eliminated next week. The 10-15% of children who are chronically absent wouldn’t suddenly rise from their beds and start coming to class in regular fashion. The four-year-old girl in Delaware who recently brought hundreds of packets of heroin to nursery school would still be headed for kindergarten next year. And that poor child’s real problem would still be her screwed up mom. If we ended tenure immediately we’d still be the advanced nation with the most school shootings by far, the lowest percentage of children enrolled in early education, the highest percentage (save for Romania) of boys and girls living in poverty, and the highest incidence of teen pregnancy too.

If tenure ended next week, people like Welch and Gates still wouldn’t know what my wife knew, because she taught—that if a third grade student has a prostitute and a drunk for a mother, the kid wont really care if his teacher has tenure. 

They wouldn’t know what I knew, because I taught—that a seventh grade girl might struggle in history class, not because Im tenured but because when she goes home her father is sexually abusing her every night.

Even Time admits that tenure laws developed a century ago, when a teacher “could be fired for holding unorthodox views or attending the wrong church, or for no reason at all if the local party boss wanted to pass on the job to someone else.” Those same dangers remain today. We still have politicians who are scumbags, who might love to get rid of a few good non-tenured teachers just to open up slots for their friends. We still know there are billionaires out there who want to push their particular religious or political agendas in the schools, and we know they might be inclined to throw their money around and make it clear to administrators and school board members they wanted an individual teacher who opposed their positions gone. Tenure still protects good teachers from all kinds of harm.

In fact, getting rid of tenure is just the latest panacea in a long, illustrious parade of panaceas offered up by those who insist they know how to fix the schools, who say they care about saving every child, and who insist they know how to do it, even though theyve never done it at all. They have the great plans

As for you teachers, tenure or not, the leave it to you  to do all the real, hard work of saving every child.

It might be nice if all these idiots stopped offering so much advice, rolled up their sleeves, and tried to help. Bill Gates, David Welch, Arne Duncan, and Haley Sweetland Edwards, who wrote this Time cover story, we humbly invite you, no we dare you, to step into the failing school of your choice and see what its really like to teach.

Something tells me none of you could last.

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