Opinion: Underlying issues need addressing

(Editor’s note: The following is the last in a three-part series on the topic of teacher bashing.
This final installment is an examination of what is happening in Wisconsin and Minnesota relative to teaching.)
The impetus for this series was a conversation I had with a senior official in Wisconsin who told me Gov. Walker’s proposal to reduce teacher bargaining rights, ban strikes, and replace tenure with an “evaluation-based approach” was a test case which, if successful, would go national. Based on recent headlines, it would appear my source was correct. I would like to examine one of the most frequently mentioned education “reforms” — eliminating tenure and tying teacher retention to student test scores — to once again illustrate how misguided, simplistic remedies are being offered to address complex issues.
There are several problems with and reasons for tenure. When misused, tenure can protect under-performing teachers, but it also protects teachers from being fired for their race, sexual orientation or political affiliation. It’s perhaps the second worst means of maintaining job security, the worst being its proposed replacement: Using student test scores as a supposedly “performance evaluation-based approach” to teacher retention.
Standardized tests have already been shown to narrow the curriculum, jeopardizing music, the arts, physical education and a host of electives that become “unimportant” because they are not tested. In addition, standardized tests often measure students’ memorization and test preparation rather than the 21st century skills they need, such as critical thinking, innovation, collaboration and perseverance.
Further, non-instructional factors explain most of the variance in test scores when schools or districts are compared, poverty being the single biggest correlate with low academic achievement. None of the proposed reforms targeting teachers will have a serious impact until the government addresses the fundamental problem, which is the scandalous condition in which many of our children live and come to school. The chart below indicates what an American classroom with 30 students would look like if it represented our 49 million school-aged children, illustrating the scope and nature of some of the foundational and powerful nonacademic factors affecting children’s ability to learn. Comparisons to our schools and other nations’ schools, American schools of the past, and one American school to another are not valid unless the comparisons include consideration of all student risk factors. Otherwise, we are punishing teachers because we can’t punish poverty. The fact is no other teaching cohort in history has been asked to provide a comprehensive education for all students in such an inclusive setting.
If government officials are serious about improving education, I would suggest they start by addressing children’s welfare. Let’s see what teachers can do when students come to school with energy and focus because their basic needs have been met. — 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.)

America’s class of 30
•12 in poverty
•10 ELL
•5 with diagnosed disability
•8 targets of abuse
•6 moved four times before grade 3

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