Et tu, Bruni?
Now you're piling on the ed reform bandwagon?
Your op-ed piece about tenure just made me want to put my head down on my desk and give up. Seriously. I give up on all you pundits, cognoscenti, and commentators of all stripes. Why? Because you Just. Don't. Get. It.
For the record, this particular piece had you coming to the startling conclusion that teacher tenure is the root of, if not all, at least a big chunk of our education system's problems. Walp! Glad you were able to take time away from your usual fare about nutrition and the Clintons to fix that problem! Oh, sure, you threw a few caveats in at the end about how there needs to be more "discussion" about tenure (which is code for, "listening to experts like you tell us in the field how things should be," by the way, and yes, we've figured that out), but the overall message is that tenure leads to bad teaching and thus needs to be radically changed, if not eliminated altogether. And yes, that is an oversimplification of what you said, but your column was a gross oversimplification of the whole issue, so turnabout is fair play, don't you think???
Okay, so let me see if I can explain this to you in terms you can understand. Not that you will understand, mind you, just that you can understand. Here is why I give absolutely no credence to anything your column said:
Your source, as with most sources in articles about ed reform, has as close to no real experience as you can get and still be considered an educator. Oh, sure, he taught for two whole years!!! Wow!!! Except he was a Teach for America pseudo-teacher, who then ran back to grad school to become a principal, a position he held for SIX whole years before having all the answers to every problem with the public education system. Oh, and he led a CHARTER school, which has about as much relationship to a real, honest-to-Buddha, general population public school as a chicken has to cheese, all of which leads us back to your stunningly insightful article about tenure.
So here is a question: Why - WHY - do you pundits and commentators insist on talking to people who have NO idea what it takes to do this job for ten, fifteen, twenty years? Why do you run to listen to people who have spent more time outside the classroom telling everyone they know how to 'fix' education than they did in the classroom being, you know, educators?
If you want to get teachers on board with change, any kind of change, in education, you need to start by listening to people who know what the job is like - in short, you need to start with teachers. I can't speak for all of them, but I can speak for one of them (me), and this is what I have to say:
I don't listen to anyone whose job is described with appositive phrases that include the words, "Teach for America," "consultant," "reform advocate," "educational think tank," "worked with Michelle Rhee," or "the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation."
I don't listen to anyone who spent less than five years in the classroom - and that's boots-on-the-ground, 25-kids-each-period, five-plus-periods-a-day years, too, not in some kind of oversight position that included a quiet office and a personal coffee maker.
I don't listen to anyone who doesn't adequately express his or her understanding that education is a complex, challenging endeavor that involves a LOT of moving parts, and that any individual teacher's efforts are only ONE factor of MANY that can help or hinder a student's success. It's a critical factor, yes, but it's not the sole determining factor. And a sentence of lip service to the effect that, yeah, there's lots of other things that matter, too, BUT we really need to look at those teachers because they aren't cutting it? That doesn't cut it with me.
So if I'm not going to listen to the charter school/ed reform/Arne Duncan groupies, then, who am I going to listen to? Here are some thoughts:
I will listen when your source is a teacher first, and a fill-in-the-blank (policy wonk, think tank chair, etc.) second. And by that I mean your source spends more of his or her working hours in front of kids in a classroom than s/he does in front of a slideshow in a conference room.
I will listen when your source has taught a class where 11 out of her 22 students have IEPs (which is illegal, BTW), all of which require 'preferential seating' at the front of the room for all eleven of those students, in a room that fits six desks in the front row.
I will listen when your source has assigned major writing assignments to 120 students, all of which need to be read carefully, assessed according to the Common Core State Standards, returned in a timely manner, and then re-read and re-graded for those students who want to revise their work - and has done so multiple times in one academic year, for multiple years.
I will listen when your source knows what it's like to sit across the table from a parent whose child is failing every core subject and have that parent turn down all offers of extra assistance because "after school help runs so late," "the bus doesn't drop him off at the house," and "it gets so dark outside," and then turn around and castigate the school staff for their lack of effort on her kid's behalf.
I will listen when your source has kept 32 wired 8th graders (okay, that's redundant) or cynical juniors (also redundant) in one place, for three hours at a stretch, for several days in a row to complete mandatory standardized testing, and maintained a quiet and productive atmosphere for every test - and then taught effective lessons for the remainder of each day as well.
I will listen when your source knows what it's like to be pulled into a faculty meeting and told the equivalent of, "Because of the new state laws/NCLB requirements/CCSS adoption/Supreme Court decisions/district writing initiative, you have to rewrite all your curriculum, including measurable goals and objectives, with detailed plans for both remediation and extension, and submit it to Central Office by the end of the academic year."
I will listen when I know that your source knows what it's like to have twenty minutes for lunch, treat coffee as a necessity for existence, go for hours without being able to use the restroom, have the quality of his day determined by whether or not the photocopier's functioning, consider fifteen minutes of uninterrupted correcting as "quality time," pick up lost pencils on the floor without even realizing it, and run a field trip that includes successful resolution of an Epi-Pen emergency or a lost kiddo incident.
So how about this - next time you get the urge to write a here's-how-to-fix-education op-ed piece, why don't you try talking to some teachers? By that I mean "teachers", not spokespersons, not the President of the AFT (no offense, Randi), not someone who weaseled their way into the classroom through a backdoor alt-certification gimmick like Teach for America and then ran off when the two years were over (oh, I'm sorry, are my biases showing?). Tell you what, get five or six teachers in the room - some elementary, some secondary; a few inner-city teachers, a couple from the 'burbs, maybe one or two from the Grosse Pointes of the country; some couple-years-in rookies and some hoary old vets - and ask us about whatever's on your mind. Chances are you're going to find that every issue you raise, from Common Core to school uniforms to tenure, generates heated discussion that raises points your experts didn't think were important or never even considered in their infinite wisdom. I bet you'll find that not only are there no easy solutions to any of these problems, there's no one solution that's right for all these schools and all those students, either, and that determining what works for one district doesn't mean you've found the answer for all districts.
Now that is something I'd listen to.