THE IMPORTANCE OF PUBLIC EDUCATION
Jan Resseger has helped define the importance of public education…something which has been taken for granted for so long that the reasons for its importance seem to have been forgotten.
We all benefit from public education; An educated workforce and educated voters make for a better society. But we seem to have given up fixing public education in favor of tearing it down.
How can we learn to value what we take for granted?
Public schools are institutions we have taken for granted for so long that it’s hard to imagine they could disappear. In Cleveland’s saddest neighborhoods, I am jarred every time I drive by an empty lot where I used to see a school that has now been torn down. I still remember the names of each of the elementary schools in my small Montana town. Schools are the institutional anchors by which I define neighborhoods. But when people attack public education, as lots of people do these days, I struggle to know how to put into words my defense of this core civic institution.
EXPERTS NOT INVITED TO PARTICIPATE
And now we come to the gist of today’s topic. Americans want great public schools but we’re not willing to work for them…or pay for them. We want perfection and if we don’t get it we need to blame someone. When it comes to public schools, we scapegoat teachers. We don’t blame parents who ignore their children’s education as long as nothing goes wrong. We don’t blame elected officials for not solving the problems of poverty, urban blight, and economic failures (or if we do, we don’t connect them to schools).
In this article we learn what we already knew: that teachers are rarely included in decisions about public school policy. Teachers are the experts at education, but Americans distrust “experts.” Anti-intellectualism runs deep in this country…many people seem downright proud of their ignorance. Others don’t seem to realize who the experts are…
Reformster Andy Smarick has a low irony quotient as well. In a recent article on the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s blog Flypaper, Smarick quotes Founding Father, John Dickinson. ““Experience must be our only guide. Reason may mislead us.” He goes on to say that education reformers need to park the ideology and pay attention to experience. He is concerned that ideology is driving too many reforms and that these reforms are failing because they have not been rooted in experience. Who does he recommend that reformers turn to for such experience? Why non-other than older reformsters like Checker Finn and Bruno Manno, who discovered some of the problems that attend to relying on market forces to control school quality.
What Smarick misses is that the Dickinson quote might suggest that if reformers wanted to get things right, they could have tried asking veteran teachers and career educators rather than non-educators of like mind. Smarick says listen to the voice of experience, but those teachers? Well, no, never mind; let’s just keep talking to each other.
TEACHERS ARE QUITTING…
Why are teachers leaving the classroom? The answers have been obvious for over a decade.
There is a reason the airline safety videos instruct parents to affix their own oxygen masks before they help their children. A teacher’s oxygen mask is composed of adequate time to plan, read, grade, think and reflect; enough money to live decently; and the respect a well-educated professional deserves.
Instead, bureaucrats put “children first,” as if the teachers have nothing to do with their success, and then hold teachers accountable for everything, whether within their scope of influence or not.
Give teachers the oxygen they need and everyone will breathe easier.
…AND THEY ARE BEING DRIVEN OUT
Overworked, underpaid, under appreciated, ignored: teachers who are treated like hourly, fast-food workers will quickly find teaching too emotionally draining to stay…and so they leave.
She’s Not Given Time to Adjust to the Newest Teaching Styles…
She’s Swimming in Work at Home and At School
She leaves her house at 7am most mornings. She teaches until 3pm and stays at school to do paperwork, cleaning and preparing for the next day until 5:30-6pm. She usually does a few hours of grading and lesson plan preparation each evening…
She’s Struggling to Learn Each New Program Introduced
This year she has had multiple new programs to learn: a new gradebook program, a new online lesson planning program, and a new reading series…
She Does Not Feel Valued
All of the above would not feel so deflating if she felt valued. If the extra time she invested felt appreciated by her administration. Instead, the push is to do more, do it faster, improve the student’s grades and, more importantly, their standardized test scores…
Her Family (and husband) Misses Her…
Paperwork, Paperwork, Paperwork
My friend is required to keep a binder for, well, just about everything…
WORKING FOR FREE
Hopefully you have heard about the Chester Upland school district in Pennsylvania…they’ve been struggling to stay open under the onslaught of pro-charter school, pro-privatization laws coming from the state legislature. Money for the Chester Upland public schools has been systematically diverted to charters…and now there’s none left to keep the schools open.
The teachers are working for free…
Michele Paulick, President of the Chester Upland Educational Association, stated that if the teachers failed to show up, they would risk termination because they would be seen to have “terminated their contract with the District.” So in effect these teachers are forced to work without pay, even though many, such as Mr. Shelton, have indicated they would voluntarily do so anyway:
Shelton…said he and his colleagues are willing to sacrifice because the students rely on the schools. “Some of our children, this is all they have as far as safety, their next nourishing meal, people who are concerned for them,” he said. “We are dedicated to these children.”
Teachers and support staff are working pro bono.
…These teachers and school employees haven’t been paid throughout the summer so it’s very, very difficult for them to meet a family budget without a paycheck in September. The Republican Party has eagerly embraced teacher-bashing as part of their 2016 agenda. So the next time you hear a Republican blame teachers for the state of public education, you should ask them to describe the last time they were forced to come to work without expecting to be paid.
The answer, I suspect, is “never.”
Despite the pressure to work for free, the Chester Upland teachers and staff claim they would do it anyway. Here’s someone who doesn’t think they should.
Until we raise teacher pay, it’ll be hard to raise the status of teaching, despite the fact that we put our faith in the education system to cure society of every conceivable ill, from institutional racism to income inequality and lack of economic mobility. Teachers’ pay exposes what we think teachers are really worth. There’s no way to break down that mode of thinking if teachers agree to work for nothing.
If you were one of those teachers would you come to school even though you haven’t been paid? Or would you stay home?
If you want to help Chester Upland’s teachers read this: If You Want To Help Chester Uplands…
TEACHERS NEED TO SPEAK OUT
It’s time for teachers to stand up for themselves…a task which is getting harder and harder to do as more and more rights and privileges are taken away by state legislatures. Do you stand up for your profession and your students at the risk of getting fired? Or do you keep quiet, do your job as best you can even though you know that there are things happening which are not good for students?
Do not apologize for the fact that education is expensive. Do not apologize for the fact that you deserve a better salary. Do not apologize for the benefits you still have left.
Do not apologize for the fact that, although school might only be in session from 8 AM to 3 PM, your workday begins and ends much earlier and much later. Do not apologize for the fact that you have summers off, because by God you’re not paid for that time and even you, dear Teacher, work a second job to make ends meet.
Do not apologize for the fact that we, the taxpayers, have to find the political courage to force this question: do we want lower taxes or better schools?…
reserve an ounce or two of the passion you normally spend on the poetry of cellular mitosis or the Louisiana Purchase or the quadratic equation and remind the people of your community that YOUR CLASSROOM IS NOT ON THE AUCTION BLOCK. Your job is not to be done by the lowest bidder. TEACHING IS NOT A CHARITY, it’s a profession, and we’ll soon be damned if we don’t start treating it as such.
FROM AN EXPERT
A few months ago I posted some comments about ISTEP+ and teaching in Indiana by an anonymous Indiana third grade teacher. The article was read by hundreds…and passed on via Facebook and Twitter to hundreds more. Here are some further comments by the same teacher…
It’s just so disheartening to see what’s happening from the position of ‘teacher’. As resilient and adaptive as children are, it’s impossible for even them to shrug off all the craziness, stress, pressure, and a constantly changing schedule that has to morph itself around the constant testing regimen. [How much of our time is spent in testing and test prep?]…4-5 weeks of echool with nothing but tests to account for what’s now required? Additionally, they’ve done nothing but add requirements that have no direct benefit to children, yet they’ve taken nothing off what teachers must do…with the expectation of even better results [from the students]. I can’t think of a more contradicting formula that undermines itself…as least at ground level. The disconnect between legislators and children is astounding. I fear that by the time the proverbial pendulum swings, we’ll have come so far and done so much damage to the profession, that it will take decades to fix. I sincerely hope I am wrong about that.
The narrow pursuit of test results has sidelined education issues of enduring importance such as poverty, equity in school funding, school segregation, health and physical education, science, the arts, access to early childhood education, class size, and curriculum development. We have witnessed the erosion of teachers’ professional autonomy, a narrowing of curriculum, and classrooms saturated with “test score-raising” instructional practices that betray our understandings of child development and our commitment to educating for artistry and critical thinking. And so now we are faced with “a crisis of pedagogy”–teaching in a system that no longer resembles the democratic ideals or tolerates the critical thinking and critical decision-making that we hope to impart on the students we teach.
Click here to sign the petition.
For over a decade…“reformers” have proclaimed that the solution to the purported crisis in education lies in more high stakes testing, more surveillance, more number crunching, more school closings, more charter schools, and more cutbacks in school resources and academic and extra-curricular opportunities for students, particularly students of color. As our public schools become skeletons of what they once were, they are forced to spend their last dollars on the data systems, test guides, and tests meant to help implement the “reforms” but that do little more than line the coffers of corporations, like Pearson, Inc. and Microsoft, Inc.