You know how people are all outraged about “ObamaCare”? Well, it’s one of those things that—to me, a non-medical person—sounds really good. Who doesn’t like the idea of everyone getting to have health insurance, even with pre-existing conditions? Apparently, it only sounds good, though, because my insurance friend talks about it with a very negative tone, as does my one doctor-friend. I have another friend whose rates went through the roof because of it. The people it has a direct impact on don’t seem to be very happy about it.
So perhaps it’s something that sounds good in theory, but the reality of it comes with significant unintended consequences.
If you can get your brain firmly around that notion…something that sounds good but has negative consequences…then you can perhaps begin to understand what’s happening in the world of education these days. There are a bunch of policies/mandates/laws that have been implemented that sound great…but they’re not: not when you talk to the people who understand the inner workings of education. I am hoping that enough voters and enough candidates running for office are doing some research on some of these “ObamaCare” type issues.
After 22 years of teaching and a few years of paying very close attention to the politics of this nation’s education system, I can speak to some of the issues you may have heard about and address some of the unintended consequences. Am I an “expert”? No. Are there other teachers who may disagree with me? Probably. However, that doesn’t diminish the fact that there are some unintended consequences, and here they are:
1) Teacher “tenure”: first off, tenure does not mean that teachers have a job for life. It means that we get due process…that there is a PROCESS through which an administrative team needs to go through in order to fire us. For teachers, this is crucial; it’s an absolute-must-have. We’re dealing with people’s children. By nature of that alone, people (often parents) are hypersensitive. And they should be. Despite that, a teacher has to feel safe in speaking up against parents or administration because often what we know (or believe) to be in the best interests’ of our students is contrary to what the parents or the district may want. I’m not going to go into detail, because even with due process, I often fear for my job, but I can say this as a fact: I have had to speak up, vocally and forcefully, in order to make sure my students’ needs are met.
Do we need to get rid of “bad teachers”? Yes. But who defines that? I have a very dear friend who was convinced that one of her son’s teachers was “bad.” She even had a very inappropriate name for this teacher. However, I worked with this man, and I know that he wasn’t “bad.” Did students sometimes really dislike him? Yep. But his kids learned. I know that for a fact. Getting rid of “bad” teachers, though, really comes down to having an administrator who A) agrees that said teacher is “bad”; and B) will go through the necessary steps (document everything) to get the teacher on an improvement plan of some sort—and eventually possibly out of a job.
Getting rid of job protections may make it easier to get rid of “bad” teachers (once you define what that is), but it will also make strong teachers a bit weaker. For me, job protections allow me to speak up on behalf of children and other teachers and myself. Why would we take away the safety that a teacher may feel in advocating for her students? Do some “bad” teachers get more protections then they may “deserve”? Maybe…I don’t know. However, I do know that most good teachers are concerned for their students most of the time. I don’t think we should diminish their ability to advocate for their students.
The threat against tenure is coming. It’s already very much alive in other states (and even in Arizona to some extent):http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/08/09/a-strange-definition-of-a-bad-teacher/
2) Teacher pay based on performance: it sounds great to say, “Let’s pay the good teachers more!” That idea comes with significant unintended consequences, though. Going by test scores is risky at best—especially since socio-economic status is the biggest determinant of a student’s success. I have very solid advanced placement test scores, so it would be easy for me to say, “Yeah! Let’s pay teachers more if they have good test scores!” However, you can’t compare my test scores to, say, a high school in another area, where students may be more concerned about food and shelter than they are about an AP test. It’s also too much pressure to put on students. How long do you think it will take for students to figure out that their scores determine their teacher’s pay? Once they do, they will feel pressure that they shouldn’t have to feel. Or maybe they’ll have the opposite idea: “I don’t like Mr. XYZ, so I am going to make sure I bomb the test.” Why would we do that to our kids?
Don’t get me wrong…I would love to get paid more for being a good teacher (and I am assuming here that I AM a good teacher), but there really isn’t a way to do it that doesn’t harm kids and that doesn’t interfere with collaboration. How willing do you suppose a teacher is going to be to share his material if he knows he’s directly competing against the teacher to whom he may be giving help? As it is now, teachers at my school literally open their filing cabinets to each other. A teacher needs help with Othello? Here’s my filing cabinet, take whatever you want out of it.
3) Common Core: As of right now, the standards only apply to English Language Arts and Math. The teachers of those subjects are the ones who should be part of this debate. But we’re not. I can’t speak about math, because I don’t teach it; nor can I speak to what the standards may look like for the little ones, but I can speak to high school level, English. There are significant problems with the actual standards. I think that there will be huge, negative consequences in 10 to 20 years of the standards. Could I be wrong? Maybe. I don’t think that I am, though. And I am talking about the standards themselves, not the manufactured controversy surrounding them. However, the ties to Race to the Top should also cause some serious concern. RttT and CC are a package deal; they’re a box of macaroni and cheese. It’s hard to separate the powered cheese from the macaroni. I’ve done it, though: I’ve looked at the standards in isolation, and they’re still a problem. A big problem. It’s one of those ObamaCare type of ideas: It sounds great. Who doesn’t want “higher” standards for all students? The devil is in the details, though, just as it is for ObamaCare. In case you’re missing this little irony…I am relatively safe in voicing my concerns because of #1 from above.
All three of these issues are like that: They sound great in theory, but the reality is that they probably will not be good for students. Not in the long run. And isn’t that what real education should be about: the long run?