Posted tagged ‘Tenure’

The Solution to Texas Textbooks

March 15, 2010

To watch my fellow liberals rub their hands and shake their heads in frustration over reports of the Texas Board of Education’s new social studies curriculum could almost be amusing if it wasn’t so sad.   It isn’t that I don’t understand how terrible it is to see people like Cesar Chavez and Thomas Jefferson written out of Texas history books in favor of Focus on the Family and the National Rifle Association.   The problem is that I heard hardly a whimper when education reformers were pushing reform agendas that push reading and math instruction to the exclusion of all else.   Face it, if your child is in an American school in 5 years, she probably won’t be learning conservative Texas style history.   She probably won’t be learning any history at all.

Equally ironic is that there is one defense for a school board that omits the separation of church and state and Ann Hutchinson from American history for political reasons.   That defense is a teacher with a knowledge and passion for history that doesn’t mind spending time to bring in resources to teach students the other side.   A teacher who can bring in outside resources and explain to students why things like the first amendment are such an important part of what this country is about is a godsend to any school that values open minded intelligent students who make up their own minds.

Unfortunately, a parent who might be a bit to the right of your average tea party member could become very upset if such a teacher were to not give Ronald Reagan his proper beatification.  Ordinarily, this isn’t a problem if that knowledgeable and passionate teacher has tenure.  Tenure protects teachers from crackpots in the community and even on the school board by requiring just cause before termination.   It lets them talk about controversial things like evolution and Thomas Jefferson.  That’s why maybe the current assault on tenure is a bit shortsighted.  Tenure isn’t employment for life, but it does allow teachers to teach.

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Why Teacher Accountability Flounders

November 30, 2009

“If you catch a man a fish you can sell it to him. If you teach a man to fish you lose a wonderful business opportunity.” -Groucho Marx.

There was a blog post that I saw on twitter today from the ironically named Charter School Insights blog.   The post was entitled Michelangelo with a fillet knife and in it, the author makes a very compelling case why people who gut fish should be paid different rates based on their abilities.   Unfortunately, his post falls apart when he attempts to make an analogy between gutting fish and teaching children.

The problem with accountability is that in a school system like Chicago which is controlled by the mayor, the mayor is really not accountable for the schools.   Voters elect candidates based on a whole host of variables and the quality schools tends to be a very small part of any big city mayoral election.   Underneath our mayor is the Chief Executive Officer.  Despite a record of failure, our CEO went to Washington to run the Department of Education.  No accountability there.  Then you have the people who write the curriculum, the administrators, the area officers–nope, no accountability there.  In fact, the only people expected to be accountable are the classroom teachers.

Can you imagine the public outrage  if Obama gave his speech on Afghanistan this week and announced that the problem wasn’t our strategy, but the lazy and incompetent soldiers on the ground?  If only the grunts are accountable, you don’t have accountability.  What you have is a great place to pass the buck.

One example of the lack of accountability is the math curriculum mess in the city of Chicago.   The city’s teachers are required to use an ineffective curriculum that is based on the idea of not teaching to mastery, but of cycling through different topics.   That means that at any time if you were to ask a 4th grader if she knew what three times 12 was, she could tell you, “That’s multiplication.  I’m familiar with that”, but probably couldn’t tell you the correct answer.   Why do we have this curriculum?  The main reason is because the person who developed it at one of our local universities had a high ranking position in the city’s math department.  He then retired and sold this program to every school in the city.  Can you smell the accountability yet?

From teachers of young students who are left to potty train their students to teachers of older students breaking up gang fights, there is a large part of a teacher’s day that is not measurable by any standardized test.   If we really intend to make a move for accountability, let’s start with Washington where they continue to completely bungle health care.   Let’s look at childhood poverty.   Finland is supposed to have the best school system in the world.   Here’s a chart showing childhood poverty by country and tell me that it makes no difference in a child’s education:

Now, lest anybody think that I am making up excuses for teachers and arguing that teachers shouldn’t be held accountable because of all the difficulties they face in educating our nation’s youth, I must say I am not.   When we signed up to be teachers, we signed up for this.  From our first day of student teaching, we knew what we were getting into.   It is the job of a school’s administration to get rid of bad teachers.   I am simply saying that it’s real easy to scape goat teachers and demand accountability from them, but if we really want to make an improvement in our schools, we need to be better than that.