Friday, March 18, 2011

Don't Blame the Teachers! Blame the Parents!



Don't Blame Teachers For Family Failings
Thomas Cangelosi
September 19, 2010
The latest flavor of the month in educational reform ties teacher evaluations to student performance on annual standardized tests. This, like most of the educational reforms over the past three decades, is just another political red herring distracting us from a more fundamental and more effective reform we'd rather ignore: family reform.
During 30 years as a Connecticut high school teacher, I participated in a number of school reforms, all of them based on "the latest numbers" and "the latest literature"; all of them developed by research experts, most of whom no longer teach students.
I learned the wisdom of teaching reading with phonics and without phonics; of guided discovery, Socratic method and team teaching; of student-centered classrooms and student learning styles; of "rooms without walls" and group learning; of homogenous tracking and heterogeneous tracking; of career outreach and community service; of teaching the gifted and No Child Left Behind. Though all of these ideas were well-intentioned and marginally effective in helping students learn, it's clear that not only are some contradictory to others, but none changed the 30-year flat-line in student learning.
Now, some are advocating using business model incentives in the schools; namely, holding teachers accountable for student performance. Just as business managers are held accountable for employee productivity, teachers will be responsible for student learning. If the manager/teacher fails to produce measurable results, he can be demoted, reprogrammed or terminated.
But this neat analogy fails to mention that managers can fire unproductive employees. Students, on the other hand, cannot be fired. Further, although employees understand the huge stake they have in their performance; students know their scores on most standardized tests affects neither their grade nor their promotion.
Finally, while the business model aims to maximize productivity and motivate adult employees who have freely chosen a career, public schools mandate that relatively immature children and adolescents learn material in which they may or may not have an interest. Holding teachers accountable for student performance not only misplaces responsibility but won't significantly improve student learning. Teachers may lead students to educational waters, but they cannot make them drink.
Perhaps one benefit of school reforms is that more stringent requirements, preparation, monitoring and mentoring have made today's teachers better prepared to teach than any time in history. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the children teachers face in the classroom. Although the overwhelming majority of teachers already deliver sound lessons to their students, far too many students are unready or unwilling to learn.
On the other hand, teachers universally agree that students who do their assignments learn. Students with a strong work ethic learn. Motivated students learn. The decline in education may say more about the character of our children than the quality of our teachers. What we need is not another school reform but a family reform.
What has been the most significant change in American culture in the last 30 years? The family. As it became more extended, more decentralized and less insulated; many parents, perhaps overcompensating for their strict upbringing, adopted more laissez-faire and lenient parenting styles. Whether or not a child likes his teacher has become more important to some parents than the responsibilities and self-discipline of the child. All too often, self-esteem trumps real character.
When a child isn't taught by his parents to make school his top priority, it isn't. When parents don't monitor their children's homework, it often isn't done; when grades and progress reports aren't discussed in the home, they aren't effective in the school. And, when children aren't held accountable for their academic performance by their parents, there is only so much a teacher can do.
Educational reform may have improved teachers over the decades, but if we want significant improvement in student performance, parents need to show the necessary resolve for instilling in their children the work ethic, responsibility and motivation essential to a lifetime of learning. Real educational reform starts in the home.
Thomas Cangelosi of Avon is a retired English teacher. He taught at the Gilbert School in Winsted.
Don’t be so quick to blame the teacher when Johnny can’t read
Ken H. Fortenberry
06 August 2010
We live in what I call a Blame Society in which too many people fail to take responsibility for their own actions and blame others when things don’t go according to plan.
Billy doesn’t make the football team and the coach is a stupid jerk.
Sally doesn’t make the cheerleading squad and someone had an “in” with the selection committee.
I am particularly annoyed these days that our public teachers have become the favorite whipping boys for politicians and parents when little Johnny gets into trouble at school, sweet little Sue fails a math test or one school doesn’t meet some contrived standard for teaching.
We insist that teachers spend countless hours in stupid bureaucracy, make them “teach tests,” and demand that they make sure that no child is left behind – even when some children NEED and DESERVE to be left behind.
Instead of holding the child or the parents accountable, we blame the teachers.
When I was a kid I may have complained about a few of my
teachers, but I never once considered blaming them when I flunked a test.
Sure, some teachers were better than others in my opinion, but isn’t that the way it is with everything in life? We don’t have cookie-cutters (yet) for people, and we can’t expect every teacher to be a clone of another.
Teaching is a tough job these days, made even tougher by parents who play the Blame Game instead of insisting that their children be held responsible for what they learn or don’t learn in a classroom and that they be respectful of others?
There’s not that much “wrong” with public education these days that a little common sense – and responsibility – can’t cure.
In Defense of Teachers
What charter schools really tell us about education reform
by Raina Kelley
May 28, 2010
Are teachers really different in charter schools?
I think it’s fair to say that most people know we’re in the midst of an educational emergency. Just this week, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told CNN, “There isn’t one urban school district in the country—Chicago, L.A., New York, D.C., Philly, Baltimore—there’s not one urban system yet where the dropout rate is low enough and the graduation rate is high enough.” And for those people who work in the school system, no issue has come to represent the struggle to save public education more than the fight over charter schools. For the sake of clarity, let me just note that a charter school is one which uses public funds to run a school that is managed privately, thus giving them the freedom to experiment as well as hire nonunion teachers. Charters such as the Harlem Children’s Zone HCZ in New York have longer school days (and a longer school year) with kids often required to come in Saturdays to work with tutors. The most successful charter schools (and they are not all the same in either quality or mission) have produced stunning results. At the Harlem Success Academy, 100 percent of third graders passed their state math exam and 95 percent passed the state English exam.
I am thrilled by these test results and I am very glad that the educational needs of poor urban students are finally being addressed in a serious way. But lately I’ve grown increasingly cynical about the assertions of charter-school advocates that the most pressing problem facing our public education system is the plethora of lazy, incompetent teachers who cannot be fired under any circumstances. As Steve Brill wrote for The New York Times Magazine last week: “Indeed, the core of the reformers’ argument, and the essence of the Obama approach to the Race to the Top, is that a slew of research over the last decade has discovered that what makes the most difference is the quality of the teachers and the principals who supervise them.” Maybe it’s because I was a teacher’s pet growing up, or because of my undying love for school supplies, but a lot of this sounds to me more like a full court press to break the admittedly powerful teachers’ unions than simply an effort to improve public schooling.
Full disclosure: my husband is a public-school teacher in a middle school in one of Brooklyn’s toughest neighborhoods. But we try not to discuss education reform for the sake of our marriage. Personally, I’m a little confused about the all-out push for charter schools by billionaires such as Bill Gates and Bruce Kovner. On the one hand, I support charters for their ability to prove there are solutions to some of the huge and seemingly intractable issues facing our country’s education system. I’m very grateful that schools like HCZ have proven that the achievement gap between urban students and their suburban counterparts can be closed. But I do not support using their existence to demonize teachers. For the vast majority of public-school teachers, so much of their job is out of their control that asking them to be held accountable for their students’ performance is tantamount to blaming car salesmen for Toyota’s accelerator problems. Poverty is still a huge barrier to learning, for instance. Just a quick look at some of the other differences between charters and their public-school brethren should be enough to prove that the path to an improved educational system is not all about firing teachers.
1. Charter schools, by their nature, have students whose parents are motivated and involved in their education. On the off chance that charter-school parents are not motivated to help their children succeed, they are often given support and help by the charter school itself. Indeed, New York Magazine revealed that parents of kids at the Harlem Success Academies “must sign the network’s ‘contract,’ a promise to get children to class on time and in blue-and-orange uniform, guarantee homework, and attend all family events.” The same cannot be said of public schools, which are required to take any child who resides in their district and do not have the resources or mandate to teach parents as well. But rather than push to raise the cap on charter schools, why not copy and fund some of their parental-support programs for existing public schools?
2. Charter schools often receive the same amount of public funding per student as public schools, and also benefit from their ability to raise and use charitable donations. Public schools receive their budgets from their local departments of education and have no ability to receive more. In fact, they’re prey to budget and service cuts and layoffs—New York City expects to lay off 4,400 public school teachers this year but no charters will be affected.
3. Charter schools have many more resources than the public schools they’re trying to replace. Surely, classroom teachers would have more opportunity to teach and teach well if they had enough books and study materials for all their kids. Donors Choose, a charitable organization where teachers submit proposals for funding by ordinary folks like you and me, estimates that the average public school teacher spends more than $500 of his or her own money on supplies for their students, or more than $1.3 billion dollars nationally. As Charles Best, founder of Donors Choose and a teaching veteran, told me, “We were all spending our own money on basic stuff—copy paper and pencils. We had a tough time innovating and none of our ideas would go past the planning stage. Now, at any one time, there are 15,000 to 30,000 live classroom requests on our site. This is a testament to the character and spirit of teachers.”
4. Charter schools are not required to accept special-needs children or children with learning disabilities. Diane Ravitch, author of “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” wrote in The Wall Street Journal that “The students who are hardest to educate are left to regular public schools, which makes comparisons between the two sectors unfair. The higher graduation rate posted by charters often reflects the fact that they are able to “counsel out” the lowest performing students … This is not a model for public education, which must educate all children.”
5. When discussing charter schools, advocates often mention the difficulty in firing public-school teachers. In that same Times Magazine article, Brill notes that “Once they’ve been teaching for three years and judged satisfactory in a process that invariably judges all but a few of them satisfactory, they are ensured lifetime tenure.” But teachers are not judged by themselves, but by their principals and other administrative staff. So isn’t there a way for school systems to strengthen their professional development programs or put forth proposals for more effective teacher observation, mentoring systems or remedial teacher training, if necessary?
It is simply not true that teacher quality is the sole difference between charter schools and public ones. As I’ve written in the past about the Harlem Children’s Zone, but which also applies to many other charter schools, “what the HCZ does is first recognize that the amelioration of poverty does not begin and end with an excellent education, but also requires a full belly, parental education, safety, advocacy, and the expectation that every student will succeed.” So until charter-school advocates can show me how teachers and teachers alone can be held responsible for all the learning that charter schools provide, I just can’t believe that holding only teachers accountable—and not the school systems they work for—is the fair or even the best way to improve public education.

Don't blame teachers when it's parents who are failing
Too many children start school without even the most basic social skills. Never mind the classroom, let's look at their family life
Mary Bousted, The Observer
5 April 2009
"A very disruptive six-year-old kicked my legs and clawed at my hand," said one teacher. "I broke up a fight and was kicked between my legs and butted," said another. Many people have heard stories like this. But the situation is more worrying still and it involves parents.
In this country, we do not have a particularly positive record on good childhood. A report by Unicef, published last year, that described Britain as a "picture of neglect" is now infamous. We finished in the bottom third of 21 industrialised countries in five out of six categories - material well-being; health and safety; educational well-being; relationships; behaviour and risks; and subjective well-being - ending up overall last, after the United States. The Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Finland topped the league table of child happiness.
We have, as a nation, to do more and to do better in our duty of care to our children. The government has declared that "every child matters". My union, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, fully supports government efforts to improve the quality of children's lives. We recognise that it has put its money where its mouth is - moving beyond pious sentiments and hand-wringing - to providing real support for vulnerable children and families.
Every child, irrespective of the circumstances into which they are born, has the right to achieve their potential, irrespective of their parents' wealth and class. And we recognise that, as a nation, we are a long way from achieving this goal.
But with rights come responsibilities and my fear is that we are in danger of neglecting the latter. Let me give some examples. When the mum of 14-year-old Emma tells the head of year that Emma is pregnant, who does she hold responsible? She might blame the senior leadership team for the weakness of the school's PSHE (personal, social and health education) policy, or perhaps the PSHE teacher, or possibly Emma's tutor. She might, in other words, do anything she can to lay the blame for her child's pregnancy at someone else's door.
Or how about 16-year-old Jack whose parents come into school highly distressed because they have discovered he is a regular cannabis user. Their distress causes them to hit out. Jack has been led astray by his school friends. More should have been done to educate him about the dangers of drug abuse. They threaten to go to the local press to tell their story.
You might think these are extreme examples, but teacher members of ATL are reporting that such scenarios are becoming more and more common. Teachers are becoming increasingly concerned that they are being held responsible for aspects of children and young people's lives which are completely beyond their control.
We will be talking about children's behaviour in more detail this week at ATL's annual conference. We know far too many children are behaving badly at school, even to the point of being violent to staff. This is horrifying enough, but it is hard to be surprised since many children are just mirroring the behaviour of their parents.
My members tell me that parents often also come into school and threaten staff and some staff have been attacked by a pupil's parents. One father encouraged his child to start a fight in the playground before school started. A parent provided a raw egg for a pupil to smash over a teacher's head. A primary teacher reported that a parent swore and shouted at him.
It is clear to me that we need to rebalance the equation. We need to have a serious and sensible debate about the roles and responsibilities of parents and the support that they can reasonably expect of schools and teachers. Only last week, Estyn, the Welsh Ofsted, published a report which shows that over the past five years the proportion of five- to seven-year-olds achieving good levels of reading and writing skills has stopped rising, in both English and Welsh.
One of the key reasons for the standstill, the inspectors concluded, is that children are coming to school with poor skills in speaking and listening. The inspectors exhort schools to do more to improve their pupils' oral skills, but do not question why it is that pupils are starting school unable to converse and to listen effectively.
Just what is happening in the homes of these children? Why are they coming to school developmentally delayed? Children learn how to take turns in a conversation, how to ask questions, how to react to what others say, how to follow instructions, how to tell jokes through doing all these things. They will not learn how to behave as social beings if they are stuck in front of the TV for hours every day. They need their parents to show an interest in them and to spend time with them, helping them to play with their peers and to learn the rules of social behaviour.
Too many children start school without the social and verbal skills to be able to take part in lessons and to behave well. Too many are starting school unable to hold a knife and fork, unused to eating at a table, unable to use the lavatory properly. These children will not be living in absolute poverty. The majority will be living in homes with televisions, computers and PlayStations. What too many of them do not have are adults who are prepared to give their time and energy doing that difficult, but most essential of jobs: raising their children properly.
I've been accused of wanting to ban television in children's bedrooms, when for many parents a television in every room is the marker that they have made it and that they have provided well for their children. It comes to something, I think, when the mark of good parenting is the provision of a television which, in too many cases, becomes a substitute for parenting - a constant pacifier which suppresses interaction in the family.
We are in danger of becoming a nation of families living separate lives under one roof. The bedroom, once a place to sleep, has become the living space for the young. Spending hours in front of computer screens, on social networking sites or immersed in computer games, children and young people spend little time with their parents and their siblings. Parents are unable to monitor just what their children are watching. Teachers report that many pupils are exhausted at the start of the school day, tired out from viewing unsuitable programmes or sitting in front of the computer screen until late into the night or the early hours of the morning.
Schools cannot right the wrongs of society and teachers cannot become substitute parents. Both parties need to work together. Parents must be helped and given confidence to take back control. They are responsible for setting boundaries for their children's behaviour and sticking to those boundaries when the going gets tough. They are responsible for setting a good example to their children and for devoting that most precious of resources - time - so that children feel known and valued as individuals and as part of the family.
Schools do not exist in a vacuum. If they are to succeed, then more parents have to put more effort into their parenting and into creating the conditions in which their children come to school ready and willing to learn.
• Mary Bousted is general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers
Don't Blame the Teachers
NEA President Reg Weaver speaks his mind
February 19, 2007
Appearing at a Monday staff development program in Menomonee Falls, NEA President Reg Weaver said it is time to stop blaming educators for problems facing education. “Folks, you have the most important job in the world,” Weaver says.
“I am sick and tired of people putting you down, pretending you have the resources you need and then blaming you for problems,” he said.
“It is no longer acceptable for people not to give you the resources to do your job and then blame you when the job is not done.”
Citing the federal “No Child Left Behind” law, Weaver said he agrees with the law’s goals of raising student achievement and closing the achievement gaps.
“But the way that law is crafted makes it nearly impossible for you to accomplish what you have to do,” he said.
And then, instead of holding policymakers accountable for a bad law, he said, people blame the educators.
Weaver said we have to have high expectations not only for kids but also for policymakers. It is not a valid excuse for them to say we can’t afford to adequately fund public education, Weaver said.
“When this country decides something is important, we find the money,” he said.
Weaver encouraged the Menomonee Falls teachers and education support professionals to keep fighting for strong public education.
“We need you to stand up and speak out on behalf of your profession,” he said.
“I’ll be doggone if I’m going to let people talk bad about you,” he said, adding that such finger-pointing is not only unfair, “it negatively impacts what we’re trying to do for these kids.”
“Folks, you have the most important job in the world ... but if you don’t believe it it doesn’t matter.”
Weaver said we know the real answers to addressing our educational challenges, and they are not an underfunded “one size fits all” law that relies almost exclusively on standardized tests to measure a child’s success. The solutions involve smaller class sizes, qualified and certified teachers, safe and orderly schools, and parental involvement.
Weaver said schools need to focus on a new set of the three Rs: respect, responsibility and results.
He said it is time to “step out of the box and do things differently.” Administrators need to let teachers act creatively, and teachers need to let students do the same, he said.
He urged teachers to model proper behavior for students and to put extra effort into communicating with kids inside and outside the classroom.
“Kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” he said.
He told the story of how, when he was teaching in Illinois, he would go into the lunch room and clean up student messes. Students, he said, would say, “Hey, Mr. Weaver, that’s not your job; that’s the custodian’s job.” And he would ask the students, “Really, and who made the mess?” They admitted they did, so Weaver told them they – not the custodian – should clean it up. By modeling the behavior, he said, students got the message and soon they were cleaning up after themselves.
“You are the ones who make it possible for the kids to be what they can be,” Weaver said in his concluding remarks. “Thank you for who you are, and thank you for what you do.”

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