Tag Archives: politics

Bad Teachers

The NY Post fumes about another “bad teacher” story, carefully designed to outrage all good taxpaying citizens as to the nefarious slugs collecting our hard-won taxpayer dollars.

I’m a process freak. When I read the Post story, my eyes went straight to the section that many others ] probably glossed over:

Accused in 2001 of making lewd comments and ogling eighth-grade girls’ butts at IS 347 in Queens, Rosenfeld was slapped with a week off without pay after the DOE failed to produce enough witnesses at a hearing.

But instead of returning Rosenfeld to the classroom, the DOE kept him in one of its notorious “rubber rooms,” where teachers in misconduct cases sat idle or napped.

or

That let rubber-room granddaddy Roland Pierre make a mockery of the system. He finally retired at age 76 last year — 14 years after he was yanked from PS 138 in Brooklyn and never taught again. Criminal charges in 1997 that he molested a sixth-grade girl were dropped.

So….we don’t actually know if either of these guys are, in fact, oglers and molesters. We don’t know this because, perhaps, incompetent bureaucrats and law enforcement personnel (government workers, all) failed to make the case (just as the DA found insufficient evidence on Mark Berendt in 1994–and yes, Berendt, too, gets to retire with full benefits). Or, perhaps, we don’t know this because these guys aren’t actually guilty.

What we do know, according to the story, is the process for getting rid of bad teachers, as well as the process for putting sex offenders in jail, was followed. But the journalists who write “bad teacher” stories don’t agree with the outcome of that process. Journalists who write “bad teacher” stories have to mention the process, but they never blame the process. They blame the unions for doing the job they’re legally required to do, the teachers for not quitting or allowing themselves to be fired. But not the process. These stories always punch up the volume on the potential sex offender or near-abusive teachers, but it’s rare to see a “bad teacher” story that focuses on the effort to get rid of a teacher who just isn’t very good.

Eduformers, on the other hand, do blame the process. They don’t like it one bit. Eduformers often push the “bad teacher” sex offender stories, not because they think all teachers are sex offenders, but because, as they repeat ad nauseum, “we need to make it easier to fire bad teachers”. Gen up outrage to make it easier to fire sex offending teachers and hopefully the net will widen to pull in the other teachers the principal wants to fire as well.

But while eduformers do blame the process, they rarely talk about changing it. They want it gone. They point to the the process of firing teachers, which they clearly think is absurd, and call for a more executive approach, one that allows principals full discretion to fire “bad teachers”.

In fact, the process itself isn’t that ridiculous. In most districts, principals can visit classes any time they like. If they find a teacher asleep or reading the newspaper, they can write it up and put it in the teacher’s personnel file, where it can be used in the next evaluation. If students turn in absurd assignments that show the teacher is phoning it in, or record the teacher showing them movies daily, that, too, can be included in the evaluation. An aggressive principal can get a bad teacher fired—if, in fact, the teacher is a bad teacher.

But that’s not enough for eduformers. They don’t want a process, they want a system with executive control—one in which the principal is more powerful than the much-hated unions, one in which the principal gets to form his or her team and dump the naysayers. Dream on. I get the allure. It’s just not going to happen. Unions or no, teachers and principals are still paid with government money, and principals will never be able to have unilateral control as long as they’re spending taxpayer dollars. Because, just as there are really bad teachers, there are spectacularly awful principals1, and the job carries authority to do real damage with real money. Eduformers either can’t or won’t understand the futility of their dreams.

I know that eduformers don’t understand math, despite their protestations about math teacher competence, because bad teachers are a non-issue when it comes to their contributions to educational costs. Imagine, for a moment, that 10,000 horrible teachers sit idle in New York City, teachers so awful that they are all banished to the rubber room and are collecting $100K/year. They would be taking up 5% of the city’s operations budget for education. In fact, there are fewer than a thousand horrible teachers sitting idle, and the money spent is a fraction of 1% of the budget. So spare me the sturm und drang. When it comes to waste in education, bad teachers are a rounding error.

If principals wanted to make firing bad teachers a priority, they would. The fact that they don’t speaks volumes not about the difficulty of firing bad teachers, but rather the low priority it is for principals.

So. Should it be easier to fire spectacularly incompetent teachers? Sure. Is that what eduformers are interested in? No.

What eduformers say they want is improved educational outcomes, and that improving teacher quality is essential. If that’s really what they want, then no problem, as far as I’m concerned: eduformers, you’re wrong. Give it up. Bad teachers aren’t causing the problems you’re worried about, and they really aren’t that much of a problem to begin with.

What many progressives accuse eduformers of actually wanting is something quite different. Eduformers and their corporate funders are, say progressives, actively seeking to undermine all elements of the traditional educational power structure—unions and education schools—in order to remove teacher job protections and make education much cheaper. They want to turn teaching into a job like any other private sector job, with zero protections and guarantees, no pensions, getting turned out with a few weeks pay when a new boss comes in, no seniority rights. These protections, once guaranteed to many private sector workers, are now a sinecure of government jobs and need to be destroyed. Once teachers are stripped of the protections they have, say the progressives, eduformers will shrug and find a new culprit—and probably push for government to get out of schooling altogether.

I find this accusation extremely convincing. Many eduformers are no doubt well-meaning romantic fools being used by their corporate funders, while other eduformers are explicitly working towards this goal, openly or not.

The thing is, I’m not sure I disagree with that goal. Why should teachers and government workers be protected when private sector workers are not? Why should taxpayer dollars go straight from teacher paychecks to union funds that get handed directly to progressive causes that many teachers don’t support? While we can’t get better results with our current goals, we could undoubtedly get the same results for less money—not that much less, unless pensions got axed. But less.

If that’s the goal, then why not go for it directly? We could revamp the teaching job in all sorts of ways, many of which would give tons more power to good teachers in way eduformers can’t even dream of, cut costs, and—alas—send all the best teachers to the richest schools permanently.

Of course, if that is the goal, no one will admit it directly. Far more respectable to proclaim dedication to poor and underprivileged children everywhere and just incidentally–in the best interests of these children—go after those evil wicked teachers who are ruining childrens’ lives and our country’s future.

Just when I get to that point in the Machiavellian universe the progressives see, I shrug. Naw. Eduformers really are nothing more than naive dreamers who think they understand what’s wrong with our schools.

Not that their motives really matter. As long as they’re blaming teachers, they’re going to fail.

I’m not a fan of unions, so I do find it a tad ironic that I’m counting on unions and their invincibility to stop eduformers from further destroying our schools. At least I’m paying for it to the tune of a thousand or so a year.

1Not my principal, however, who is a paragon of principals.


The Great Shift

A few years back, Charles Murray wrote Real Education, which he marketed as having four simple ideas:

  1. Ability varies
  2. Half of the children are below average
  3. Too many people are going to college
  4. America’s future depends on how we educate the academically gifted

Meanwhile, Mr. Teachbad describes The Great Shift:

It is my responsibility to always be engaging the child, rather than the child’s responsibility to learn how to shut….up, think, and do some thing he or she doesn’t love once in a while. This HUGE shift in responsibility away from students and families and onto teachers is a topic unto itself. It represents an enormous social capitulation and places an utterly unfair burden on teachers.

They’re both largely correct, although I quibble with them on the details. But they’re not just right, they’re correlated.

The American educational system refuses to acknowledge the basic truth behind Murray’s four ideas. I suspect that it would easily accept them if the import of Ideas #1 and #2 weren’t disproportionately allocated by race. Check out exclusively white or Asian high schools and you will find high schools that track ruthlessly, since they have no unsettling patterns in their bonehead classes. Schools whose bonehead classes have over-representation of underrepresented minorities get lawsuits and multi-generational court orders.

So while the educational system refuses to acknowledge reality, it can’t acknowledge reality anyway, because our legal system gets very cranky and starts talking about disparate impact. Our elites get even more upset because, hey, if we can’t move everyone up the ladder equally in our multi-racial, multi-cultural society, then there might be something wrong with the society, and racism is always their favorite culprit.

But regardless of the reason, here we are. If the system can’t accept that abilities vary, and that academic results are strongly linked to cognitive ability, then the system needs someone to blame. The kids can’t be blamed–and here, unlike Mr. Teachbad, I don’t think they should be. They’re not signing up to take trigonometry and poetry analysis and demanding excellent grades for no work. Not that it matters, though, since the system isn’t giving the kids a pass out of kindness but rather necessity. Blaming the kids leads to the obvious solution—take the kids out of the class and, if necessary, out of the school. Back to the disparate impact penalty box and the elites prating about racism and institutional legitimacy.

Government is supposed to protect kids from bad parents, so even if the parents are bad (again, not a major culprit), the public can’t be expected to pony up billions to run schools if the schools are going to shrug and say “wuddyagunna do? It’s the parents.”

That leaves teachers. Mr. Teachbad is correct. It’s extremely unfair. But we can’t resolve it without facing up to the core truths in Murray’s four ideas.


Not in front of the children?

I use the phrase Voldemort View (borrowed from an anonymous teacher) to describe the troubles that come along with suggesting that cognitive issues may be the source of the achievement gap. (To repeat myself: the average IQ of a racial group doesn’t say squat about the cognitive abilities of any one individual.)

But Ted Horrell, new principal of a Memphis Tennessee high school, didn’t discuss the cause of the achievement gap. In fact, he didn’t mention it at all. He was going through test scores by race and SES, using state reports, to explain why the school was starting a new advisory period. Naturally, a student goes home and complains about the race-based graphics, totally misrepresents Horrell’s presentation, the media jumps all over the story and ensures the misrepresentation gets played all over the country. (Day One and Day Two of the coverage). Horrell apologizes, but at least makes it clear that it was the students’ imagination, not his presentation, that started the problem.

Apparently, Horrell should have had race-based assemblies to discuss the results.

You could just dismiss this as just another example of the niggardly issue; if a certified member of an identity group takes offense, reality takes a back seat.

But education in America begins and ends with the achievement gap. Horrell took the slides from the state’s website. The media–the same media now playing up the insanity–routinely reports state scores broken down by race and income. I don’t recall them being rated R. No warning to leave the room, or an alert that some viewers might find the information offensive.

Now, apparently all someone has to do is call the paper or the TV station and complain.

So when Congress tries to renew No Child Left Behind and mandated reporting to close the achievement gap…..Hey. Not in front of the kiddies.


Who am I?

  • I’m currently a math teacher, in my third fourth fifth year of teaching. I am credentialed in other subjects as well. I’ve taught at 3 4 schools including the one I spent a year at as a student teacher.
  • I was, and am, a private tutor and test prep instructor in every major test except the MCAT. I worked for multiple companies and private clients simultaneously, tutoring in all academic subjects except science.
  • I have extensive experience working with Asian American high schoolers of all abilities, white students from fifth grade through high school of all abilities, Hispanic high schoolers of all abilities. I have experience working with African American high schoolers of all abilities, but the sample size is much smaller; there just aren’t a lot of African Americans in my area.
  • I’m a parent. I was a suburban parent of an originally under-achieving son long before I became a teacher and, as a teacher, I am extremely sensitive to the aggravations of the suburban parent.
  • I have two Master’s degrees, neither of which I found terribly difficult, and I do not do well in formal education.
  • Neither of my parents graduated from college, and I am the only college graduate of their four children. Only one of my uncles or aunts is a college graduate, and only 4 of my 21 cousins. My grandfather was a college graduate, and my son will be. Real. Soon. Now. has an Economics degree. (whoohoo!) We’ve all done quite well for ourselves, with or without college degrees. My attitude towards education is best described as utilitarian. I snicker when people speak of the joys of lifelong learning as a goal for the general population.
  • I’ve been registered as a Republican since 2000, although the first time I voted for a Republican presidential candidate was 2008. I’m not conservative–I say that not in disdain, merely to ensure understanding. I am not a fan of the left; I have disliked and in many cases despised it long before I registered as a Republican. The best way to describe my political outlook would be “Skeptic”.
  • My content knowledge is pretty extensive. To put it in measurable terms, here are the scores I would receive if I took the following college admissions tests:
    • AP English Lang/Lit or Lang/Comp: 5
    • AP US History, World History, European History, Government: 5
    • AP Calculus: 3 cold, 4 if I studied for a week, 5 if I ever went and actually learned calculus.
    • Subject Tests in English Lit, Math 2c, US History, World History: 800

    My IQ, for what it’s worth, is somewhere above 3SD, but my spatial and visual abilities are much weaker than the other tested IQ areas, which holds me back in really advanced math*. GRE scores 800 Q/780 V (and the V is much, much more impressive than the Q, really).

    I am, in short, pretty smart. No one knows better than I do that “smart” and $4 gets you a large latte at Peets. Smart is useful to me, but I don’t feel even slightly superior. I am one of the many under-achieving white folk of the world.

    Added 9/13/2013:
    Every so often some naysayer links in this post pointing to this bullet as evidence that I’m some sort of Mensa-obsessed IQ nut. Do these people not read the following paragraph? Good lord.

    I write about cognitive ability and its apparent lack of relevance in teaching outcomes. I also accept as given cognitive ability’s tremendous impact on educational, financial, and life outcomes. If I didn’t mention my intellect, the same people who snark at this post would be demanding I throw down on IQ. So I oblige them, and take away all their fun.

    But I’m also Exhibit A for those who point out that IQ isn’t everything, or I’d be accruing more assets than I can acquire teaching, blogging, eating great food, drinking good beer, and watching reruns of NCIS or Bones. I raised a kid, I didn’t work really hard, and I like what I do—and everything I’ve achieved in my life has been easier because I’m smart. I am, however, evidence that high IQs aren’t all running the world, saving the world, or making the world really rich. I’m absolutely fine with that.

  • For most of my working life I was self-employed or a contract worker. I liked it. Still do; I have several part-time jobs.
  • I like to argue about interesting topics. I find almost everything interesting.
  • I have to fight the urge to smack people who declare that reading is objectively superior to watching TV or movies.
  • “You were right” are words I get a lot. If only people delivered them more in the present tense, and took my advice first. Alas.

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