When Teachers Fail: Who Should Be Held Responsible?

Hunting season has begun and educators are the targets.

Governors, state legislatures, and the United States Department of Education want to hold educators responsible for low school performance. But are they the only ones? Unfortunately, there is enough guilt to go around.

Let's start with politicians who underfund education and therefore show that they do not value it even as they say they do. We are told that America spends more money on education than other countries. And while this is true, America spends less of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on education than many industrialized countries.

Current funding formulas used to fund schools is another major cause. Using property tax assessments to fund schools deprives areas with low taxable property of the funds needed to operate their schools. This causes low-income areas like Detroit and Newark to have less money to spend than Princeton, New Jersey or Bloomfield Hills, Michigan where median income is greater and property taxes are high.

President Obama's Race to the Top rewards successful schools and states. Shouldn't money be given to schools that need to improve?

Schools of Education need to fill seats and they accept students who have low SAT scores and may not be accepted in business or medical schools. Teacher education programs need a complete overhaul led by educational practitioners who understand what is taking place in America's classrooms. For many of those who prepare K-12 educators, the last time they were in a classroom was the day they graduated from high school. Some have never been in an American school. In many colleges, student teaching takes place in the last year of preparation so the individual being prepared has no expectation of what confronts them in the classroom until the end of their college career.

Shortages exist in certain educational fields, such as special education. The Obama administration has put a major effort into the hiring of S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering or Math) teachers, but is having difficulty in attracting enough warm bodies to fill classrooms. They may be looking for highly qualified but not highly effective teachers. Highly qualified teachers know what to teach; highly effective teachers know how to teach it. We have experienced teachers who knew the material but lacked the ability to teach it effectively.

Some individuals enter the classroom because they see it as an opportunity to get a job and plan to leave as soon as another opportunity opens up. There exists a misunderstanding of what it takes to teach and for many, the preparation they receive at Schools of Education fails to adequately prepare them.

Politicians are trapped by simplistic views that educational outcomes are linear. Measurable outcomes of a student cannot and should not be used to make evaluative decisions about the behavior of a teacher because the student may not be able to learn because of out-of-school factors or may choose not to learn. For example, should teachers be held accountable for habitually truant students?

Why are educators being held to a higher standard than surgeons? Do we expect lawyers to win every case, police to end all crime? Do we expect coaches to win every game? No Child Left Behind and the Obama version, Race For The Top, envisions that by December 31, 2014, all students will be reading at grade level.

The governors of Wisconsin, Florida, New Jersey, and Ohio have determined that educators and public education make highly visible, easy targets. They are attempting to balance their budgets on the backs of public servants. But not all "public servants," only those who are "not essential." Educators did not cause this problem. But it is easier to target educators rather than the financial, insurance and banking industries that did.

Education, in most states, is a major component in the makeup of state and local budgets. Many states spend close to 50% of their budget on schools. But politicians tell their constituents that education is expensive. Ignorance is far more expensive. Estimates of the percentage of prisoners who are school dropouts range as high as 82 percent. Prisons cost taxpayers more than $37 billion a year. Some states are spending more money on prisons than education. Over the course of the last twenty years, the amount of money spent on prisons was increased by 570% while that spent on elementary and secondary education was increased by only 33%.

Education affects parents, businesses, and law enforcement. But as importantly, it affects our future and our global competitiveness. It was not long ago that the president, business people and state governors were decrying the fact that our schools were not "globally competitive." States need to spend money on education and job programs in order to attract economic development. But since children don't vote, they are easy targets.

Is it possible that the attack on education and the vilification of educators is a gender issue? Police, fire, sanitation and prison guards are not being subjected to the size of the cuts being made in education. Could it be that since the majority of educators are female they are less likely to complain when jobs and salaries are reduced?

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