Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Fixing the American Education System is Easy as Pie….Or Is It?

In his Op-Ed column for The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof pushes the envelope by suggesting that “good teachers” are the most important factor the advancement and followed sustenance of the American education system. Basing his opinion on a million-person study following students from fourth grade to adulthood, Kristof touts the vitality of “strong” teachers, denounces teacher unions for championing all teachers (“regardless of quality”) and criticizes Republican nominees for nearly ignoring the topic of education during the pending campaign season. Kristof haphazardly mentions “obvious” solutions to better the education system – higher pay for teachers, teacher evaluations based on student performance and getting rid of “bad” teachers. Easy, right?

While Kristof appropriately emphasizes the importance of the education issue, his “simple” solutions are those of an education outsider – dismissing weak teachers and praising/paying more for good ones. But who are the weak ones? And who qualify as the “strong”? Should we base the value of a teacher on her students’ scores, her principal or the parents?

Perhaps before I became an educator, I, too, would agree with Kristof, but the education system is not corrected so concisely. In Baltimore City, the teacher turn over rate is already high. Keeping teachers employed in city schools is a near feat. Some teachers work relentlessly to make significant gains with their students, even if their test scores do not represent it. In my 5th grade classroom, the average reading level is third grade. While my students are learning to become better readers, their test scores do not represent their improvement; instead, their test scores show they are failing. My students cannot succeed on a state test that is on a fifth-grade reading level when they have grown a year to become fourth grade readers. Although the “good teacher/bad teacher” argument seems like the end-all-be-all, judging the value of a teacher, especially based on test scores, is nearly impossible. Based on my experience in Baltimore, perhaps a finger should be pointed at administrators (especially principals) who allow teachers to provide subpar services and parents who never visit the school or take part in their child’s education. It takes a village to raise a child, and until every actor is doing his or her part, the education system will still be in gridlock. 

Read the Op-Ed article here.    

1 comment:

Chloe said...


I am equally frustrated by this simple solution commonly touted as the be-all end-all of education reform. Though I agree with its intentions, I do not see effective teacher evaluation (or principal evaluation) taking place in our current system. In my school alone, there are too many people who deflect responsibility. Teachers rightly complain that they cannot meet their full potential as educators because their administration denies them the time, support, and material resources they need to run effective classrooms. Administrators rightly complain that they are stretched too thin across far too many tasks (from observations to budget meetings to parent conferences to paperwork to planning PD to meeting and greeting students in the hall to answering 3940821305981 emails, and on and on) that they effectively provide the support that teachers seek. (The good principals know how to delegate, but many lack this key skill.) North Avenue complains that effective reform is slowed by union bargaining, and by ineffective implementation on the school level. Up and down the line, all parties complain that red tape ties their hands.

How, in this mess of he-should, she-must, it’s-not-my-fault, is anyone to truly take charge of determining what quality teaching looks like, how it ought to be achieved, and who in their building best embodies its tenets?

In this village you speak of, we gossip about our neighbors. We complain that they don’t do their part, and this somehow releases us from responsibility. What will it take for the blame-game to make room for Kristof’s simple solution to work?

(I have no idea.)