Wednesday, February 18, 2015

When Teachers Cannot Be Blamed

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Sometimes, I have to admire what has happened in education.  I admire the intentionality of the school reform movement: the careful political planning, the patience over decades and presidential administrations, and the planted sound bites.  This was all executed so well, and a part of me admires it.  Congratulations to the school reform movement.

What pains me is that I chose to be a teacher.  I chose the profession of education.  I wanted to make a difference in the lives of human beings.  I wanted to help them realize who they were, to help them make a positive impact on the world around us.  When I'm asked "what do you teach?" I answer: "I teach students.  I use algebra to do it."  This is my livelihood, my career.

This pains me because because the school reform movement, in its brilliantly executed plan, needed to demonize teachers and the entire profession of teaching to achieve its success.  The carefully planted sound bites of "accountability" and "bad teachers" and "blame the unions" and "we all know public schools suck" and "teacher evaluation" are now accepted as fact and necessity and are no longer debated.  Not even by us teachers!!!  We have taken the brunt of the "accountability" movement.

Then I read an article about charter school takeovers.  There are districts all over the United States that allow charter school companies to take over "failing schools" (whatever that means) and attempt to "turn them around" because "the students deserve better".  See the success of the sounds bites?  Bravo reform movement.  I was at our local school board meeting where we accepted a grant from Teach For America to fill in teaching vacancies in our schools.  It was a meeting with many public speakers (including me) speaking about the district's role in recruiting and retaining teachers.  So, districts celebrate when they can have charter school takeovers, and celebrate when they can have Teach For America fill vacancies.

And I see something interesting when taking these two things together.  There is a glaring issue in these two cases: schools are "failing" and there are teaching vacancies.  Clearly these are problems no doubt.  However, with these two cases, where is the "accountability"?   In these cases, who is being held accountable?  Who is being blamed or demonized because after years of efforts, schools are still failing?  Who is being held responsible because no matter what you offer for teaching at certain schools, we either cannot recruit or retain a teacher for classrooms?  NOBODY!  No one is held responsible.

Not only is there no accountability for these problems, the superintendents and school boards that welcome charter takeovers and TFA to "fix" the problems are CELEBRATED!  They are rewarded!  They are lauded!  They are praised for their partnership efforts!  For what?  Finding an outside solution for problems squarely and solely in their realm of responsibility!  It is their job to ensure that schools are not failing!  It is their job to ensure all classrooms have qualified teachers!  And when they can't do their job, they are celebrated.  They aren't blamed, they aren't demonized.  They are rewarded.

So, it pains me that we can finally articulate big picture issues in education that cannot be blamed on teachers.  And what happens?  Partnerships, promotions, celebration, claims of "visionary leadership" for those responsible for the problems in the first place.  So, congratulations school reform movement.  Not only have you demonized my profession any way you can, you find ways to reward those who should be held accountable for serious issues in education.  When teachers can't be blamed for something, you reward those responsible. Brilliantly played.  Bravo.  


  1. Fantastic is the most proper word to portray this blog.

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