Opinion: Educators rarely asked to give their opinion

(Editor’s note: The following is the second in a three-part series on the topic of teacher bashing.

This second installment will address former President George Bush’s “national education summit,” in 1989.

The last installment will be an examination of what is happening in Wisconsin and Minnesota relative to teaching.)

Last week I discussed “A Nation at Risk,” the Reagan-era propaganda (so called by the New York Times) that became the basis for much of the criticism of public education. “A Nation at Risk” prompted President George H.W. Bush to convene an “Education Summit” in 1989 that did not include a single educator. The only attendees at the Bush summit were state governors, none of whom were specialists in educational policy.  The current crop of government reformers include President George W. Bush, President Obama, Gov. Jeb Bush, Gov. Mitt Romney, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Bill Gates, all of whom have one thing in common: They did not attend a public school.

I find it disturbing that those making educational policy and determining budgets rarely consult with actual practitioners about how schools function and what affects student achievement. For example, Arne Duncan and Bill Gates recently suggested increasing class sizes to help cut school costs, an ironic suggestion, given the private schools they attended had average class sizes of 19 and 16 respectively.

According to a 2009 report from the Educational Testing Service, class size (smaller being better) is one of 16 factors affecting student achievement, and only two — curriculum rigor and teacher preparation — are under the control of teachers, yet teachers are the only ones held “accountable” under No Child Left Behind (NCLB). It would be refreshing if those dictating the terms of American education practiced “reciprocal accountability,” a principle that states if teachers are to be held responsible for increasing student achievement, they must be supplied with all of the resources needed to do so. Under-funded mandates such as NCLB violate this principle: The law demands every student be “proficient” in reading and math by 2014 without providing a fraction of the resources required to even approach that utopian goal.

Further, true reciprocal responsibility would demand the other factors affecting school achievement also be addressed and all parties responsible for student achievement be held “accountable.” Some of the other factors eroding school achievement include low birth weight, environmental toxins such as lead and mercury, hunger, malnutrition, excessive television viewing, inadequate reading in the home, and transience. Teachers deal with the effects of these problems every day and do whatever they can to compensate for them, but to hold teachers accountable for them is unfair to the point of absurdity. — Dr. Stephen Schroeder-Davis, Elk River (Dr. Stephen Schroeder-Davis, a curriculum specialist and distance learning support staff member for the Elk River Area School District, is writing this series at the request of the Star News. It is written on behalf of himself and not on behalf of the school district.)


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