[Susan notes: Let's see if Jonathan Alter, a real windbag on education, responds to this fine, very specific, letter. Don't hold your breath.
Meanwhile, go forth and write your own letters. It is imperative that we fight.]
Submitted to to Jonathan Alter but not published
I watch your interviews on Countdown with Keith Olberman regularly, and I am usually quite pleased with your intelligent assessment of whatever it is Olberman has you on for, but for the life of me, I don't understand how someone who demonstrates such intelligence about so many subjects, can speak about public education with such extraordinary ignorance.
Let's start with teacher effectiveness. Education is a participation endeavor. I can spend three or four hours in a weight room every day, and let people marvel at my dedication that I go three, four, or even five times a week. But if I don't pick up the weights, I don't get any stronger. And students, if they don't actively participate in their learning (let me repeat, THEIR LEARNING), then there will be little success. Also, the Educational Testing Service, can, with over 80% accuracy, predict standardized test scores by looking at the following five factors: 1) attendance; 2) single-parent status; 3) free/reduced lunch status; 4) how much TV is watched; and 5) how much five year-olds and younger are read aloud to at home. And how many of these things do teachers have ANY impact on? NONE. If anyone wants to really solve the "achievement gap," then how about solving the income gap, the health insurance gap, the free-from-lead-in-their-environment gap, and the poverty gap.
Next, you are willing to blame unions for failures in public education. That is a disgrace. Teacher unions actually negotiated for me a duty-free lunch (that I regularly give up at my choice), time to plan, and a wage and benefit package from which I can live almost comfortably (good thing my wife works too). The teacherÃ¢€™s union (I personally belong to the Denver Classroom TeachersÃ¢€™ Association) does not exist to provide better education for students. It exists to provide me and my fellow teachers protection and services that allow us to better do our job.
It seems to me that so many people that have an opinion about education, base their opinions on clearly faulty assumptions like schools should be run like a business. Schools arenÃ¢€™t a business in several ways. They donÃ¢€™t operate to create a product or provide a service for profit. Students are not products to be produced. Public schools are the cornerstone of our democratic republic, and their first priority should be to provide students an opportunity to learn how to participate in our democratic republic. The other extraordinarily faulty assumption so many outside education make is that because they went to school, they are experts in education. From my perspective, and I am an expert in education through my experience and education, you are such a person with these faulty assumptions.
Ultimately, this is one professional educator who is SICK AND TIRED of shouldering the blame for all the identified ills in education. Teachers are not to blame. The NEA and AFT are not to blame (if anything the have capitulated far too much to the corporate/privatized/charter thinking that is polluting the current education reform efforts). The identified ills in public education grew out of "A Nation at Risk" which was nothing if not propaganda. It was poorly researched, drew faulty conclusions, and the buried Sandia Report detailed its faults. Public education in this country varies, mostly due to socioeconomic factors that educators have no control over. There are absolutely state of the art public education opportunities, and there are public schools that look more like those of a third-world nation, than those of the wealthiest nation on earth. But I will repeat: public education in this country varies, mostly due to socioeconomic factors that educators have no control over
Exactly what is a teacher in an inner-city school supposed to do when a student has a mouthful of rotting teeth that has that student in pain and/or sickness? Stick to the script? Prepare the student for the next mandated standardized test? Visit the home to find out why this studentÃ¢€™s parents havenÃ¢€™t provided better dental care for their child? And you think it is the teacherÃ¢€™s fault this student canÃ¢€™t succeed.
And you think that it is all to the teacherÃ¢€™s fault that a kid from the wealthy part of Cherry Creek in Denver shows up to school and does well? Apparently you do, but that explains exactly why your continued comments on education demonstrate so much ignorance.
You donÃ¢€™t have to be ignorant. Many of the fellows of The Education and the Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the Education Policy Research Unit at Arizona State University have written President Obama. I challenge you to go read those letters and educate yourself. I challenge you to go read Gerald Bracey, David Berliner, Sharon Nichols, Deborah Meier, Susan Ohanian, and Larry Cuban and educate yourself. Until you do, you arenÃ¢€™t part of the solution in education; you are just more of the problem.
Sean Michael Black, M.A., Ed. S.