teacher and students reading on floor in library

Attacks on Education

Are you noticing the increased attacks on the teaching profession?  The media and many politicians seem to think that most teachers are lazy and incompetent.  The articles and reports are everywhere.   I agree that there are many teachers “rocking their way to retirement”, but the reality is that a great number, maybe the majority of our teachers do an impressive job and work very diligently to do their best. Unfortunately for many it has become such a thankless job that on days one wonders why any of us ever taught in the first place.

The blame game augments the “Politics of Education”.  There is a rush to fix education with numerous theories, plans, tougher licensing, more evaluations, tougher entrance standards, mandatory curriculum guides, and more.   For the politicians to place the blame on descending cultural values, lack of support for individual and district standards of conduct, slack courtrooms, decay of morality, and diminishing family units, would be political suicide.

Iowa and our nation is on a push for a core curriculum.  Standardizing instruction in further areas of study with curriculums designed by committees will supposedly cure the achievement failures.  The creativity of instructors to design curriculums for the desired objectives is no longer valued.  To take the creativity away from teachers and dictate the processes instead of telling them the goals and letting them dream, design, and deliver their own creation removes a key elements of enthusiastic instruction.  An example of why the state-designed curriculum is wrong is the success story of the Harlem Village Academies.  In the heart of a city where one would have predicted that this 12 year old school would fail miserably, it has instead, raised the bar and demonstrated that letting teachers design their instruction based on goals is a key to success.  Another key to success in this school is contain the contract the students agree to in discipline, rules, dress codes (uniforms only), and commitment.  As one student observed and stated, it sounds tough at first, but the results of conduct, commitment and appearance standards are fulfilling because of accomplishment.

The movement toward state and national core curriculums is shaping legislation and the funding policies of public agencies. Basically, it drives
the state’s control of education which makes teachers dance like puppets rather than giving them professional freedom for individual curriculum decision making.

Other problems stem from inconsistencies within school districts. Millions of dollars are spent every year trying the latest reading or math
programs, which replace the ones implemented within the last year or two and which also costs millions of dollars.  There are school systems that seem to change literacy or math programs more often than they change their lunch menu.  How effective can a reading program be when a program like SRA is used one year and the next year a school changes to a program like Soar with Reading.  It’s no wonder teachers don’t typically speak up for themselves; they are too busy trying to incorporate all the different programs, initiatives, methods, philosophies, and curriculum into a school day without losing their minds!  Let’s consider the job of “Curriculum Director”.  I have often wondered if many of the new changes actually occur to justify the need for such a position in a district.  Fixing what isn’t proven or disproven may occur to create an illusion position busyness.

Headlines about global comparisons, and how we should be “as good as they are”, surface frequently. We hear rave reviews about the Finnish education
system.   Our major newspaper in Des Moines was apparently giddy over their system.  Yet the difference in mathematics ranking of Finland as number one and the United States as twenty-nine, may be in the two nation’s dramatic demographic differences.  Before we shut down our schools and send all of our children to Finland, let’s see how the two really measure up.  Finland has a grand total of 540,000 students.  The U.S. has more students identified as Intellectually Challenged (573,000) than the overall number of students in Finland.  The US has more students in special education programs (6.1 million) than the entire population of Finland (5.4 million).  The U.S. has over 81 million students!  The students in Finland are also a more
homogeneous group.  In Finland, 90% of the population actually speaks Finnish. In the U.S. only 70% of the population speaks what is supposed to be
our language, English, and it appears that is on fast the decline.  If these percentages are used to break down student population, then approximately
486,000 of the 540,000 students in Finland speak the native language.  In the U.S. 57 million of the 81.5 million speak the native language.  Even a
conservative estimate would indicate that over 20 million students don’t speak English.

Trying to compare our education system with any other is like trying to compare teaching a crowded multi-cultural classroom with a private coach.
There is no other industrialized country that can compare to the size, ethnic diversity, or social-economic diversity of our student population.  The US
is a melting pot with over 337 languages spoken or signed.  This includes over 20 different languages are spoken by at least 250,000 people for each

Let’s examine what I believe to be the primary reason that teachers have become the fall guy of education.  Education is a centerpiece of politics
because it is a topic that is important to everyone, so it benefits them to keep it an issue for increased funding.  Why do you think that all
political parties use education as a staple in their campaigns?  You probably can’t even recall the last politician who didn’t campaign on fixing
education and more specifically holding teachers accountable.  When in office, they then spend money “for the children” and that alone
justifies irresponsible spending. What is the Federal involvement in education record?  The March 2011 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report identified overlap and fragmentation among 82 distinct teacher quality programs and 47 separate job training initiatives, representing a taxpayer investment of roughly $22 billion. Education committee chairman Kline, U.S. House of Representatives, has explained that there are more than forty duplicative and unnecessary K-12 education programs.  In addition, the Department of Education has actually failed its annual audits on multiple occasions.  There are estimates that hundreds of millions of dollars have never been accounted for in the past decade. How can we take serious a Department of Education that thinks no child will be left behind, yet they can’t even keep track of money or programs?

The politics of education can be dangerous if you are not informed.  However, the evidence is clear that teachers have little or no
voice in the overall functioning of education. Billions of dollars are wasted each year on programs and initiatives that don’t have any real impact on
teaching and learning.  The attacks keep coming toward the faulty teachers, while we spend little time analyzing the quality of the colleges and universities that are purportedly training them.  Who is holding them responsible for the quality of their instruction?

All the while teachers continue to endure the attacks while often spending money out of their own pockets to make sure the students have a
creative, relevant, and engaging learning environment. Imagine, the billions of dollars wasted and yet teachers personally spend hundreds of dollars to make
learning come alive for their students. The irony is that while teachers are considered the problem with education, it is the teachers who actually make the
most impact. We know that relationships are the biggest motivators of youth and adults and those positive relationships with teachers can be life-changers and many times the life-savers.  Iowa’s teachers aren’t the problem with education. Teachers are the very reason that education
succeeds at all.