By Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller
1950s -- Johnny Can't Read
1957 -- Sputnik: We Are Behind the Soviets
1960s -- Crisis in the Classroom
1964 -- 12th out of 12 on Achievement Scores
1970S -- Back to the Basics
1980s -- A Nation at Risk
1990s -- Era of Education Reform (proposed by business and state governors): Test, test, test
2000s -- No Child Left Behind: More testing
2010s -- Race to the Top
American schools are in crisis. Wait a minute. Is that again, or still? Is this crisis a new one, or is it a continuing one?
For the last 60 years, legislators, pundits, and others have been giving the impression that our schools are in trouble. We are in the midst of a historical crisis of mass proportions, they tell us, have been telling us, and/or told us.
"You soft-job, summers-off, incompetent, lazy, unintelligent, overpaid teachers! What's the matter with you, anyhow? It's your fault."
Not true. Do not believe it.
It looks to us that the same complaints have been around for over 50 years. They haven't changed much, have they? "Other nations have higher test scores." Doom for sure. "Their students out-achieve ours." Utter peril.
The failure of the public schools was to blame for the Soviets beating us into space. Our society was doomed to decline. Oh, wait a minute. We almost forgot. The Soviet Union no longer exists and the United States keeps rolling right along. We have succeeded. They have not. How come?
Maybe our schools' overpaid, lazy, incompetent teachers who have a soft job did something right. Maybe most of them focused on something more important that raising test scores. Perhaps they concentrated on sparking imagination or teaching critical thinking, interpersonal skills, integrity, uniqueness, respect for diversity, and responsibility as well as achieving academically. Maybe they clearly believed, as professional educators, that they knew what they knew. They knew that quality education is now and always has been much more than studying for the test. Maybe they knew more than the legislators who have led reform after reform without being in a classroom for more than a 15-minute photo op or without investing the time to consult with the professionals who work in those classrooms day after day throughout the school year.
Look around. Where do foreign students want to go to college? Name a country that gives more patents for new ideas. Who has the most prosperity? Show us workers who produce more than ours. How many of our people are applying for citizenship in other countries? Who has the most successful companies? Yet we continue to hear that our school system has failed us. Blame it on public education. It’s the teachers' fault.
- It doesn't take a lottery to get into a public school. Teachers in public schools will and do take anyone. They accept any race, religion, or disability. They welcome any language, any emotional problem, and any economic background.
- The achievement gap was created way before teachers ever saw a child's face. It began with denying poor pregnant women adequate prenatal nutritional information. It continued with underfunding preschool programs.
- The root cause of low achievement is not bad teachers. It is poverty. You show us the size of a child's home and the neighborhood he is growing up in and we will accurately predict the test scores of the students in that neighborhood school building. We will do that before the test is even given.
- Single-parent families are on the increase. So are grandparents parenting their own grandchildren.
- Now we have the Internet, television, video games, cell phones, and two parents who work.
And still the teachers teach on.
For their efforts, teachers were given NCLB: school reform based on standardized testing. Hey, here’s a good idea, let’s make the scores public. Shame and blame is a good motivator. If schools would only try harder, the scores would go up. Few questioned the narrowing definition of a quality school. Mandates and sanctions, two fantastic tools of motivation, were used to up the scores. If you don’t make progress, your school could be closed or privatized. Hang on. Let’s go full-speed ahead with a program of fear, threats, and punishment without research to show that it works. Don't we use threats and punishment in our penal system? Hey, how’s that working out these days?
Millions of dollars were spent on testing and materials of preparation. Guess what? It didn't work. It turns out that humiliation and fear don't prove to be real effective motivators. Teachers could have told them that. Too bad no one asked them.
Who decided that higher test scores equal a better education, anyway? With so much time spent test prepping, something had to give. Something had to be eliminated. Physical education and the arts aren't needed, are they? No need to spend time cooperating, learning how to disagree politely, see it from another's point of view, or build character. Anger management, anti-bullying, emotional intelligence, and respecting different right answers aren't needed. Get in your seat and study for the test. We have to show we have a quality school.
Bring on merit pay. Carrots and sticks aren't working with the students, so let's use them on teachers. Let's close schools that don't make progress. Let's fire teachers if their scores are low. Show us the research that proves this works. There is no consistent pile of evidence that shows these strategies work. Ok, we'll go on intuition. We think they will work. More full speed ahead.
Guess what? Using incentives to raise test scores doesn’t work (National Research Council). None of the top-performing countries do that. But we do. Could it be time to stop and take a closer look? No, not yet.
Let's privatize schools, then. We are well on our way down that road already. Have you noticed the large salaries of for-profit managers and lower teacher salaries? We have. Have you seen the research that shows entrepreneurs are better at running schools than professional educators? Neither have we.
But we need competition. With the free marketplace we get competition. True. And competition is structured to produce winners and losers.
Most teachers we know are invested in every child winning as best he or she can. Return the sanity and the educational decisions to the hands of the educators before it is too late.
Today would be a good time.
Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller are the coauthors of The Teacher Talk Advantage: Five Voices of Effective Teaching. They are two of the world's foremost authorities on raising responsible, caring, confident children. They publish a free monthly e-zine for educators and another for parents. To sign up for the newsletters or learn more about the seminars they offer teachers and parents, visit their websites today: www.chickmoorman.com and www.thomashaller.com.