Schools are broken. We have to fix them. What can we possibly do?
Well, the fundamental job of schools is performed by teachers. So teachers must be the problem. Let’s fix the teachers.
Let’s start by eliminating tenure. Too many bad teachers remain in classrooms because of ironclad tenure laws. If we eliminate tenure, then we’ll eliminate all of the bad teachers. And if we eliminate all bad teachers, every student will learn at a higher level.
We can also get more bang for our buck if we get rid of silly ideas like tying teacher pay to additional college degrees. Do teachers with advanced degrees really translate into improved student learning?
Finally, teachers should be evaluated using student test results and rewarded for their students’ success. If this were the case, the only teachers left in classrooms would be the hardworking, results-oriented ones.
The solutions for fixing broken schools, you see, are rather simple.
Except in the real world.
Pardon me for asking, but why do so many education-reform ideas focus on eliminating the supposed glut of “bad teachers”? Quite frankly, I have grown weary of this oversimplified perspective.
CT News Junkie columnist Terry D. Cowgill recently echoed this overworked concept in an otherwise levelheaded op-ed: “There is no question that bad teachers make for bad schools. And the bad teachers not only drag down the profession but they lower morale. Ask any great teacher how much she hates sharing space in the profession with someone who simply sleepwalks through his entire day.”
With all due respect to Mr. Cowgill, himself a former teacher, I’ve never concerned myself with “sharing space” with a colleague who “sleepwalks” through the day because: 1) I have never encountered, in 23 years of teaching, such a blatantly irresponsible colleague who lasted more than a year or two as a teacher; and 2) I’m too busy teaching my own students to worry about the performance of other teachers. That’s a job for administrators.
Do bad teachers exist? Of course they do. And they need, first, to be counseled and, if necessary, jettisoned. But it seems to me that “bad teachers” have become the scapegoat for “our broken schools.” And for that matter, just what is a “broken school,” anyway?
Perhaps Governor Dannel P. Malloy was referring to such schools in a 2012 report outlining his education reform plan: “After decades as a national leader in education, Connecticut has more recently lost its edge. Our students’ overall performance has stagnated, and our achievement gap — the worst in the nation — has persisted.”
Malloy offered no specific data to back this assertion, but he nonetheless proposed a sweeping plan to “revitalize our schools” and “restore public education in Connecticut to a position of excellence.”
Perhaps Malloy was referring primarily to the achievement gap in Connecticut schools since his plan pinpoints the “lowest-performing schools” and “districts with the greatest need.”
These must be the so-called “broken schools” in Connecticut.
But then again, if you trust statistics, most Connecticut schools are not all that broken.
“Connecticut students remain on par or are outpacing many of their peers globally in areas of math, science, and reading, according to a new assessment conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development,” reported the Hartford Courant.
In fact, “only four education systems worldwide did better than Connecticut students in reading.”
In addition, “Connecticut’s high school seniors scored the highest in reading among 13 states and also narrowed the state’s achievement gap between black and white students, according to a test known as ‘the nation’s report card’.”
What’s more, “It’s the first time in recent history … that we’ve seen a statistically significant gap closure” between black and white students, according to state Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor.
Serious concerns still persist: “Our achievement gaps remain too large, even when we are performing at high levels in terms of aggregate performance,” said Pryor.
Nevertheless, how “broken” are the schools if Connecticut students have shown such performance gains? Are we trying to fix a “problem” that largely doesn’t exist?
Well, maybe. But still, we should eradicate all of those bad teachers by eliminating tenure, discouraging advanced education for teachers, and implementing teacher evaluations based on student test results.
How else, after all, are we going to fix our broken schools?
Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who also teaches courses in journalism and media literacy at Haddam-Killingworth High School.