Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Love this

Consider two scenarios:

If you live a sedentary life, gorge yourself on high-fat foods, and puff two packs every day; your doctor will likely lecture you about your lifestyle and assign you some homework – diet, exercise, and no more tobacco. If you ignore the lecture and neglect your homework, next time you visit your doctor chances are you won’t score well on tests of blood pressure, body fat index, or lung capacity.

No halfway intelligent person, giving the situation a moment of thought, would blame your doctor for your ill health. Your doctor merely has the skills, means, and job to make your ill health visible.

Now consider a 16 year-old kid from an inner city where crime is a given, fathers are an endangered species, and cocaine is a food group. Born into poverty, this kid never saw a book until first grade. His elementary school years were marred by spotty attendance because of chronic illness – lung infections from the mold and rodent excrement in his housing project. When he did attend he struggled to concentrate, having had no breakfast and often no dinner the night before. Now he skips school more often than not, and when he does attend it's only to peddle drugs for his gang, or get high himself; like he did the day of the standardized test. Having missed most instruction and being too lit to read the test, he failed.

The teacher didn’t create the poverty this kid was born into, nor run off the kid’s father, nor encourage the kid to join a gang or use drugs. The teacher didn’t chase the kid away from school four days a week. It took 16 years of neglect and misfortune to create the mess who walked into that teacher's classroom. Out of 16 years, the teacher's cumulative influence totaled maybe 24 hours.

What halfway intelligent person, giving the situation a moment of thought, would blame the teacher for that kid's test score?

Apparently quite a few, since people nationwide cling to the notion that thousands of teachers – all college educated, licensed, and having years of experience – suddenly need to be fired. Count U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan among the “fire the teachers” zealots. When a Rhode Island school board fired the entire staff of Central Falls High School, Duncan praised the move. “Education officials are showing courage and doing the right thing for kids” Duncan said. Others might say that school board showed political posturing; rallying their anti-teacher support base for the next election.

Placing blame for the achievement gap on social conditions, rather than on teachers, is a slap in the face of political correctness. The mere suggestion that factors outside the school setting influence achievement only brings more blaming, shaming, and even name-calling from anti-teacher factions.

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