Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Who is responsible when children fail in school

The (un)comic strip Mallard Fillmore is continuing its attack on teachers for a second straight week. Yesterday the National Public Radio show, On Point, featured educational reform (as if schools haven’t suffered from enough reform). There is also a blog on Slate.com that has been featuring stories of educational reform. Yesterday, Barack Obama outlined his vision of educational reform. Perhaps the reform story that has gotten the most attention lately is the effort of Washington, DC School Superintendent Michelle Rhee’s to push for merit pay for Washington teachers. I’m not opposed to merit pay in principle. I work at an institution where pay increases are largely based on merit. The problem with merit pay for teachers is how to determine which teachers are meritorious.

The most common approach rewards (or punishes) teachers based on student test scores. This approach ignores the complexities of student learning. It is difficult to claim, for example, that gains made by a particular fourth grade student are attributable only to the efforts of her fourth grade teacher. Learning does not follow a neat trajectory even in the best of circumstances. More worrisome is the assumption that the fourth grade teacher should be held solely responsible for students who don’t do so well as if previous teachers no longer influence student learning. Or that class size, curriculum, classroom resources, and school learning climate don’t matter. Or that, in the case of schools districts like Washington, DC which serve large numbers of poor children, that the conditions of poverty don’t affect student achievement.

When students fail in school it isn’t just the teacher’s fault. Many students fail despite the best efforts of teachers. Nor can the blame be placed solely on students themselves or their parents. When students in poor urban schools like Washington fail it is everyone’s responsibility. It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes a nation to allow her to fail.

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Theresa said...

It is very interesting the way people can so easily blame teachers for students failing. I teach in a wealthy suburban district where almost all students succeed. I know that I am a great teacher, and I give 100% to my students. However, I can only take part of the credit. Behavior tends not to be an issue in my district. Parents are supportive, resources are not lacking, and we have a safe community. On the reverse side, a friend of mine teaches in an inner city where the failure rate is higher. My friend and I put the same amount of work into our classrooms and both value our jobs. Should I make more money than her? Being in a suburb, I already do. Because my students have higher success rates, does that make me a better teacher? Absolutely not.

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I think the responsible of that are not only the professors but also the student and most of time parents because education begins at home.

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I am feeling that I am being set up to fail my students by being required to cover content in a book rather than focus on the learning needs of my students.

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I think there are so many persons that can be called as responsible. Parents because they must be pending of how is their child in school...the teacher because didn't offer a report to the parents when still existed a solution... and the child because had to be responsible and think was his future, not anyone else.

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