Orwell Award Announcement SusanOhanian.Org Home

Teacher wouldn't take fall

Susan Notes:

Is there any other media person who 'gets it'--and reports it-- the way John Young does?

By John Young

WACO, Texas ΓΆ€” This ranks with the '69 Mets, the U.S. hockey "miracle on ice," and North Carolina State's little guys decking Houston's Phi Slama Jama.

A Texas teacher has gone up against the "accountability" juggernaut and won.

Read that wire back to me while I pick my ears up off the floor.

A teacher wins out over testing. I repeat.

That's exactly what happened. At least the Texas Education Agency decided that if Sharon Touissaint's students at Kimball High School had low test scores, she alone wasn't to blame.

Kimball, chronically "low performing" under the state system, is one of seven Dallas schools in the state-mandated process of "reconstitution" with a state-assigned team supervising.

The blame for low test scores? The knee-jerk response is to blame teachers. But in this case the state acknowledges that the blame could be shared by the school for lack of discipline, by the principal for mandates that skew the teaching process, and by parents who can't be bothered or aren't there at all when children underachieve.

Well. Duh.

The Dallas Independent School District had come up with a handy-dandy "accountability" mechanism that, said state Education Commissioner Robert Scott, unfairly blamed Toussaint alone for unsatisfactory test scores.

The 30-year DISD math teacher, a department head when she was fired, now must get her job back or get a year's back salary.

The formula in question is Dallas ISD's Classroom Effectness Index. It's been in effect for several years in evaluating teachers but only recently in a "high stakes" way.

Toussaint was fired by the numbers, though she had strong job evaluations.

Here we are when math teachers are hard to find, and a highly regarded teacher takes the hit for problems shared by many.

"The irony is we get rid of these seasoned math teachers and fill the positions with brand-new teachers, many of them alternatively certified," said Aimee Bolender, Dallas chapter president of the American Federation of Teachers, which appealed Toussaint's firing.

Ah, the fruits of corporate-style decisions equating teachers with assembly-line workers.

Ah, the false comparisons. Behold schools that are "outstanding." They're the ones with the high SUV-to-junker ratio in the parking lot. Their teachers are "outstanding" as they tend to the sprouts in the green fields of White Flight Junction.

In the meantime, we have teachers who, based on "accountability," just aren't up to snuff. They are the ones who show up every day for work in neighborhoods where hubcap removal is the No. 1 harvest. As professionals they embrace the children of prison inmates, broken homes and grinding poverty.

Missing after all the "accountability" shakes down are teachers who have left the profession. They've seen the false comparisons, the gripping dramas, the top-down edicts, the pressure placed on their shoulders without support from other quarters. They decide they can earn a living a better way.

As Rice University's Linda McNeil writes in "Contradictions of School Reform," most teachers come into the profession with special gifts having been acknowledged and with hopes of "making a difference."

"Now," one of them told her, "I am just an employee."

For those who stay, maybe this ruling ΓΆ€” the teacher winning out over testing ΓΆ€” signals something that will give them courage.

"We're coming to grips with the fact that it isn't just the teacher. It's the administration and the parents who share responsibility for education," Bolender said.

It's also you and me as responsible parties ΓΆ€” our jobs as citizens being to support policies grounded in reality.

John Young writes for the Waco Tribune-Herald.

— John Young
Austin American-Statesman



This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of education issues vital to a democracy. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information click here. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.