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[Susan notes: The author is High School Teacher of the Year in Delran, New Jersey. I'm happy to see a teacher address the issue of the media promoting stereotypes.


Published in Burlington County (NJ) Times
http://www.phillyburbs.com/news/local/burlington_county_t imes_news/opinion/letters_to_editor/depersonalization-is- at-the-heart-of-education-reform/article_5ade7cf1-01af- 53dc-b7ed-f966f7868e6e.html

To the editor

For decades, newspapers have published letters from people who describe teachers as lazy, greedy and ineffective — and responses from teachers who defend their work ethic, their passion and their profession as a whole.

The problem, though, is one that's older and more deeply rooted than much of this banter addresses. It's one on which the current educational "reform" movement thrives: depersonalization.

To label all teachers as anything is ignorant at best, just as to label all members of any group of people based on commonly-accepted stereotypes is dangerous, derisive and wildly offensive. Are all lawyers corrupt? Are all Irish people drunks? Are all Muslims terrorists? You get the point. It's dangerous.

Yet this kind of depersonalization is the foundation of the "reform" movement. Students have no identity in the eyes of reformers. Instead, they're numbers in a database that are examined for the sole purpose of evaluating teachers, who are also nameless, faceless statistics.

In New Jersey, teachers will be evaluated using student growth percentiles, which track students̢۪ scores on flawed standardized tests to check for yearly "progress." Consider this: A student performs well on high-stakes tests for two straight years. Then, he experiences a death in the family, has problems at home, is plagued by a serious illness, or begins to abuse drugs or alcohol. Would his ability to focus, to try and to care about a meaningless multiple-choice test be affected? Probably. Would his test score that year go down? Probably.

Yet reformers, who have no interest in this student or knowledge of his struggles, would blindly, categorically and authoritatively blame the child's teacher, who obviously failed to do his or her job because the student didn't show adequate "growth" from the year before.

Reformers oversimplify the learning process and ignore the very basic fact that children and teachers are individuals. They stereotype students by categorizing them with others to whom they're "similar" based solely on single test scores. They insist that teachers' lessons address diverse learning styles, yet devalue diversity by forcing all students to pass the same flawed standardized test.

But most alarming is that reformers, who recognize that many people know little about public education but will leap to attack it, use empty jargon that sounds reasonable to promote their dangerous agenda.

In this culture, good teachers will flee the profession because their intellect, individuality, vision and judgment are devalued. They'll become dispensable -- and easily replaceable -- because the curriculum will be narrow, prescribed and designed by non-educators so that those who can follow a script can teach it. Public schools, a cornerstone of our society, will be replaced by for-profit charters that make rich corporations richer at taxpayers' expense.

Good teachers are invaluable, and the profound ways in which they influence their students are immeasurable. Calling teachers lazy, greedy and ineffective is no different than promoting any other stereotype that lumps all people with a commonality into one group, and evaluating teachers based on a testing system that strips any type of human characteristics away from our children promotes this same kind of injustice.

The author is an English teacher at Delran High School.

Delran High Scho

Ani McHugh

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