Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Education of Michelle Rhee

This is an excellent documentary on the well intentioned (but misguided) approach of "reformers" like Rhee.

I have always been of the opinion that teaching to the test was not necessarily the way to go. Targeting teachers... and treating them like they are the problem is also the wrong approach.

In my view, the problem of poor educational outcomes in urban schools starts at home. If students have an unstable home life, lack support, are from families that don't value education, have parents who are not involved, are from single parent families, live in violent communities, have behavioral problems, and take their cues from entertainers and rap culture (that teaches them that school is a joke or something that isn't "cool"), then learning isn't going to be a high priority. That isn't the fault of the teacher. There are too many variables (mostly outside of the classroom) impacting low test scores that the teacher has little or no control over. Yet the current trend is to punish teachers because students are not ready to learn when they come to school, if you can get them to school in the first place.

Even Dr Steve Perry, principal of Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford CT, admitted on CNN's 'Black In America' series that in his school (and others) Black parents are not very involved in supporting the education of their children. This was a profound and important admission. It knocked down a wall of denial that has been there for years. The problem was always there... but I never saw anyone from within so-called "Black America" actually admit it. Other research backs up the fact that the problems with education have more to do with culture than with teachers. Although I think it is important to have good teachers with vision, with new ideas and who believe in students. Some of the teachers who have been around are set in their ways. It's true that some of those folks have to go... but overall, there are a lot of great teachers in public schools across the country. Many could easily take other jobs earning more money...but those who are dedicated stick around. They are the ones who go above and beyond for students. If you have not seen the documentary "American Teacher", narrated by Matt Damon, I highly recommend it. It shows the experiences that good people face within the profession. It left me disgusted.

The Michelle Rhee approach makes a thankless, stressful job even worse. Good teachers don't want to stick around organizations that see them as the problem, don't give them the support they need, etc. It chases good people away. The really good young teachers end up going to the suburbs...where they are appreciated, better paid, and where there are fewer behavioral problems. It's either that or they end up leaving the profession altogether. It tells talented college graduates that teaching is not the way to go... because you will be targeted as the enemy right away and you won't be supported. That, in the long run, makes the problem worse. It means the the best possible people won't be in the classroom in urban public schools in the years and decades to come.

The suicide of L.A. teacher Rigoberto Ruelas Jr. highlights the stupidity & recklessness of rating teachers primarily based on student test scores. These ratings don't take into account certain factors that may be unique to particular schools, school districts, particular communities or States. Teachers should be rated on a combination of factors, one of which could perhaps be test scores. But test scores shouldn't be the primary factor in retaining teachers. Teachers should be reviewed on the job by a panel of experienced educators (from other schools). They should also be rated by their peers, students and parents. A more comprehensive approach to rating is more work... is harder to do, but it would give administrators a better idea of who should or shouldn't be retained.

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