Public School Administrators Are Scared. Period.

I just finished watching “Your Bottom Line” on CNN, hosted by Christine Romans.  The topic of the day was “Fixing the Education System.”  To say that the problems facing the public education system in America are complex and far-reaching would be an understatement, at best.  I was therefore appalled at the simplistic, finger-pointing responses uttered by some of her guests on the show.

As a former educator in a major public school system, (I have experience as a high school history teacher AND as an administrator), I have seen first-hand the myriad issues that impact education in general, and what happens within the walls of a classroom in particular.  I know that teacher quality (both in terms of certification and pedagogy) has a tremendous impact on the educational progress of students.  But I would be LYING if I didn’t also note that what happens in the homes and communities of our students is AT LEAST as important as ANYTHING going on in classrooms!  In fact, I would argue that that what happens in these homes and communities impact the preparation of our students for receiving an education in the first place.  But I digress.

Steve Perry, CNN Education Correspondent, stated point-blank: “Unions are bad for education.”  How simplistic can an intelligent man get?  How short-sighted can a hard-working, dedicated educator be?  He lost me right there.  If anyone actually believes that public education (and teachers in particular) would be better off without unions, then consider why unions came to exist in the first place.  (For a helpful start: research “The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.”  Sorry, that’s just the educator in me).  If he had said that unions are a necessary evil, and that the interests of the unions sometimes counter what’s in the best interests of children, then I would have understood him completely, and would have agreed!  Increasing tenure qualification for teachers, paying higher salaries based on merit rather than time on the job, and getting rid of the “last in, first out” policy are all valid arguments.  But they are only part of the big picture, and touting them as the be-all, and-all solutions to fixing our public school systems is…well, let me put it point-blank: ridiculous.

Let’s not even get started on the fraudulent notion that standardized testing can accurately and fairly demonstrate the effectiveness of teachers.  (There’s not enough room here to talk about unequal access to resources and information, schools cheating on the tests to make themselves look good and protect staff jobs, students passing classes but failing the standardized tests corresponding to those classes, etc.)

So why would someone like Steve Perry, a clearly intelligent man who’s passionate about children and education, say something as mind-numbingly simplistic as “unions are bad for education?”  Because in my experience, administrators are, as a rule, SCARED of facing ALL of the issues impacting our children!  Administrators would rather fight the battles they feel they can control and win, i.e.: demonizing the teachers they employ, rather than face the far more daunting challenge of HOLDING PARENTS AND THEIR COMMUNITIES RESPONSIBLE for student preparation, student dedication and work ethic, discipline, educational morale and fundamental principles like respect for elders, ALL of which have at least an equally important impact on student achievement than test scores.

These administrators are scared because they know, that in the environment of “No Child Left Behind,” test scores are easier to manipulate and become an easier “win” than changing the attitudes of our students’ first teachers: their parents.  Administrators know that if they claim parent accountability as an issue, then they stand to have the fingers pointed at them when they can’t do anything about it!  They then face the prospect of being tagged the ineffective elements of education.  And why jeopardize their six-figure salaries by taking on a battle they feel they can’t win, when they can much more easily blame teacher unions and “the bottom five percent” of teachers?  (And somebody, PLEASE tell me an industry that doesn’t have a “bottom five percent” of its labor force, or that couldn’t operate more efficiently by increasing the productivity of said group)?

As a parent, if either of my daughters are not doing well in school, I SEE THAT AS MY RESPONSIBILITY!!  The first thing I think is: what must I do as their father to ensure their success in school?  And I believe that that is my responsibility at every level of their educational experience.  Their teachers are my PARTNERS in this, nothing more or less, and if I ask a teacher to care about my childrens’ education more than I do, then I KNOW I’m doing something wrong.

I’d like to point out that the host, Christine Romans, did a great job of moderating such a tough, complicated discussion.  However, a conversation about fixing the public school system that doesn’t fully address parent and community accountability, and that doesn’t feature someone espousing that idea is at best incomplete.

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