Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Blame the Teachers

When students who attend poorly resourced schools with overcrowded classrooms underachieve academically it is teachers who are blamed. When American school children fare poorly on international comparisons in math, science, and reading teachers are faulted even though these comparisons are often unfair. When it is found that, on average, girls are outperforming boys on various measures of academic achievement the “blame” is placed on female teachers who are insufficiently considerate of boys’ needs. When Massachusetts introduced its new teacher test several years ago the prospective teachers who failed that test were labeled “idiots” by a leading Massachusetts politician even though the content of the test had been kept secret and the test did not align with state curricular frameworks. High stakes tests and prescriptive curricula are often justified on the basis of claims that teachers are too easily taken in by educational fads. Given this trend, it isn’t much of a leap to imagine that, when high stakes testing and prescriptive reading and math programs fail to remedy the achievement gap teachers – not publishers, politicians, or policy makers – will be blamed. A recent article USA Today referenced in the NCTE InBox offers a glimpse of the kind of criticism teachers can expect in the not-too-distant future.

The USA Today article (“Study gives teachers barely passing grade in classroom,” (March 29, 2007) summarizes a study published in Science Magazine which concludes that US elementary teachers spend “too much time on basic reading and math skills and not enough on problem-solving, reasoning, science and social studies.” I agree. Many teachers are spending far too much time on the reading and math skills that are the focus of state tests to the exclusion of higher order problem-solving, science and social studies. I’ll go even further. Many teachers focus on basic reading and math skills to the exclusion of higher levels of reading and math. Some students spend far more time sounding out words than they do reading authentic texts. Many beginning readers may not even read texts in school at all. But it is difficult to fault teachers who are forced to follow prescriptive, teach-to-the-test curricula. If, in the context of No Child Left Behind, problem solving, science, and social studies (not to mention art, music, and even recess) are being pushed out of the school day, let’s put the blame where it belongs. The real culprits are politicians and policy makers who have taken curricular decision-making out of the hands of teachers and placed it in the hands of test developers and textbook publishers. I’m not above blaming individual teachers when students fail to learn. I was certainly dissatisfied with some of my children’s elementary teachers. But individual teachers can only be held accountable when they have some control over their work and, regrettably, many teachers in schools today have relatively little control over their work or students’ learning.

1 comment:

Mary Lee said...

Interesting article here

that suggests that one of the primary roles of NCLB was/is to destroy public education and replace it with a privitized for-profit system. Scary.