Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Johnson Lost Cronkite, Teachers Have Lost Newsweek

I stopped subscribing to Newsweek many, many years ago, when I became conscious enough of liberal press bias to find a tremendous amount of it in that magazine. So when Newsweek publishes an article about how no other profession is as insulated from accountability as teaching, about how bad teacher education is, about how teachers unions make getting rid of bad teachers nigh impossible, and about how important it is to get rid of bad teachers, you know the evidence must be too overwhelming even for such a leftie mag to ignore.

After the Tet Offensive in '68, which Walter Cronkite described as an American loss, President Johnson said something akin to, "When I've lost Cronkite, I've lost the war." Teachers unions, colleges of education, and the rest of the teaching field might be thinking the same thing about Newsweek.


Ellen K said...

Eleanor Clift is one good reason to cancel a subscription. I have never seen a "journalist" that is so adamantly in the loop for the Obama talking points. She will defend him and his causes to the death. But in general I have to echo the question of Mark Levin. In this day and age of internet communication, what is the function of a weekly news magazine? Isn't it some type of tree killing dinosaur?

Mrs. C said...

I had seen the article but I had never thought of it that way, Darren! I don't think that bad teachers are the sum of the problem. I've read a few blogs written by inner-city teachers and wonder aloud why we bother wasting money on students who clearly don't want to be there, and students who wish they could learn but have a lot stacked against them... including those students who don't want to be there.

I also am not getting where a school's "poor test scores" mean anything. Seriously, help me out here, Darren, for I don't have a math background. Wouldn't it stand to reason that if you score schools percentage-wise from 1 (or .1 or whatever) to 100, that there would be the same number in the LOWER seven percent as the TOP seven percent? Would this ranking system teach you nothing except be a useful way to compare apples to apples?

If the whole ed. system improves or implodes, you'll still have the same sort of ranking system, am I right? No one would get praise for improvement or blame for stupidity, UNLESS they advanced/ regressed in relation to the OTHER schools, true?

And more philosophically, what if a given student refuses to get all apple-y with it? Why do we have to keep raising the stupid attendance age? I can only imagine that if I were a teacher, that that would mean MORE unmotivated students in my class pursuing their diplomas. Newsweek perhaps could have written an article about "why we must get rid of bad students" as well for some balance.

I won't presume to speak for you, though, so am interested in hearing your take on this.

Darren said...

You mean Eleanor Rodham Clift? :-)

As for bad teachers not being the total problem, that's clearly the case. However, that's something we *should* be able to fix, and that we don't brings suspicion and discredit upon our profession as a whole.

I don't understand your concern about ranking schools. Yes, you can compare schools to each other, and even if all were great, there would still be s spread from the highest to the lowest. I think that's a problem to worry about, though, when the lowest aren't as low as they are now! California gives schools numerical scores as well as a ranking, would that satisfy your concern?

momof4 said...

I certainly agree with the issue of bad teachers, but the article didn't even mention the issue of bad curriculum. Especially at the lower end of the SES spectrum, kids need explicit instruction and lots of good content across the disciplines, because they don't tend to get enrichment outside of school. Balanced literacy, fuzzy math, discovery learning etc. don't get the job done.

Mrs. C said...

LOL Darren, I'm hardly an op-ed writer for mainstream education...

I guess I'm just cynical about the whole ranking system in that comparing one "bad" or "good" school with another doesn't really tell us anything.

And yes, I agree that improvement overall and cutting the deadwood would be *awesome.* Not sure what to think about this idea of firing ALL the teachers in a given building and starting over that has been popping up in the news. I can't imagine any school that does that is going to get a bunch of fired-up job candidates after doing that...

PS Can't stand Clift, either, but I thought it was just me! :)

mazenko said...

Yes, but I found this article a little ridiculous in its extremes.

One concern is the article repeated the statement that the teachers in Central Falls, RI had an average salary of $78,000 per year. I'm sorry, but I seriously doubt that is true.

The original articles on this story did not reference an average salary, though someone posted that statistic on a blog entry with a link to the story. Since then, some news sources have picked it up and repeated it. That's suspicious.

I have checked the district website and associated sources, and the pay scale for this school is not available. While Newsweek might have verified it with an open records request, I doubt it.

It appears someone has added that detail to the story with the intent of making these teachers and this situation look worse than it is. And that reflects negatively on all schools.

This sort of detail reveal shoddy journalism to me.

Average of $78,000? In that district? No way.

Darren said...

That figure wasn't anywhere near the crux of Newsweek's argument in the article.

Anonymous said...

1. European schools are different from American Schools offering students 3 levels of education, shorter and varied daily hours, less classroom rotation, and smaller learning communities.

2. Why, when schools are pictured do they only show empty rooms? How about showing a real photo with a bunch of hormone effusing teens stuffed into a windowless box?

3. The military provides housing, food, psychological care, medical care, clothing, etc. for their special forces and I'm sure it amounts to more than $80,000 per soldier per year.

4. RI teachers earning 75K - does that include their benefits package?

5. A two year stint teaching? Just getting your feet wet. Michelle Rhee herself admits that her first year was a disaster and her second year she team taught. Like to see any of these theorists teach 100+ kids five days a week for almost 15 years, and then ask them if they were willing to take a cut in pay.

6. Dedication to students . . . How about dedication to my own family - my aging parents, my pre-teen girls,my little boy, and a stay-at-home wife. Are there any professions left which allow an individual to have a life outside of work?

7. Ask teachers to do more? How many of us have overworked our contract hours? I get to work usually an hour before my contract day and leave an hour to two hours after my contract day. Most days I work from 7am till 5:00, and that does not count travel to and from and some Saturday mornings or Sunday evenings.

8. The business model won't work in a compulsory system. Where's the incentives? Oh, yeah, that's why Chancellor Rhee is experimenting with paying students cash. (wonder how long that will last?)

9. So what, a few bad teachers work in schools, ever watch the "Office"?

10. Anybody who has taught for more than two years understands that academic ability, particularly in a lower performing inner city school, does not really matter? Much of your academic knowledge is sacrificed to the more practical application of classroom management. I've had to tone down my oratory (or spend much of my time constantly defining terms), keep the content very simple and direct to a few key points (though I can sometimes engage larger themes of history), and provide a varied, but heavy dose of repetition . . . all for 75% averages on test scores.

Those of us who work hard for our students and don't normally show it should begin to.


P.S. "Results of the New England Common Assessment Program showed that just 22 percent of the Rhode Island high school students tested were proficient in math . . ." and " Gov. Don Carcieri ordered a review of mathematics education Wednesday after roughly one in five of Rhode Island's 11th-grade students showed proficiency in the subject on a statewide test." Source: Boston.com 2008

mazenko said...

Of course it wasn't the crux - the crux was poor teaching. And we all know that is out there. Yet the focus was on teachers, even with passing nods to the idea that 99% of teachers receive satisfactory evaluations. And the emphasis on administration was seriously understated in the article. And then the praise of KIPP charter schools quickly glossed over the key to their success - contracts that the students must sign and expectations they must meet. The article emphasizes that the schools don't "cherry pick" their students - the take "all comers." Yet, the point is they do "cherry pick" they keep and they don't keep "all students." They show non-performers the door.

The article implies that the charter schools succeed because they are non-union. That is absolutely wrong. If the public schools could also require a contract and show non-performers the door, then the traditional schools could be as effective. But they can't. When the charter school kicks the kid out for not meeting his contract, where does he go? The public school without such measures.

Thus, I completely agree with getting rid of bad teachers. And I've endlessly cited schools with tenured union faculty that do that. So, the emphasis should be on higher expectations for administration - my initial point on your last post as well. And the addition of performance contracts for students as well as teachers. Then, we're getting somewhere.

So, while I concede the premise, the article was rather ridiculously disingenuous in the way in which it "cherry picked" its data.

allen (in Michigan) said...

I'd amend the post title to read "Johnson Lost Cronkite, the public education system has lost Newsweek".

Everything Newsweek is carping about is inherent to not just the public education system but to any socialized monopoly. The wonder isn't in what Newsweek is calling for but that Newsweek is calling for any substantive changes.

Thing is, Newsweek's actually a bit late coming to the game.

Democrats for Education Reform has been promoting these ideas for a few years and president Obama made some of his less appealing policy ideas, to the defenders of the educational status quo, known even before the election.

The factors are falling into place for a Soviet Union-style collapse of the public education system. I, for one, am getting pretty impatient for it to happen.

Anonymous said...

How about the union getting rid of sub-par teachers, much like the guilds of old. But then we might miss out on those valuable dues.

Chris said...

The majority of teachers range from good to excellent, however the percentage of teachers who need to be fired and are not is too high! 5-10% is likely an accurate percentage.