How to “fix” the education system

19 Oct

Most people have heard, and many have seen, the documentary entitled “Waiting for ‘Superman'”.  If you’re unfamiliar with the film, it basically chronicles the failures of American public schools by following several students through the system.

I have not yet seen the film, but I hope to do so.  As someone who has been part of the public education system, I find myself uneasy with the film criticizing my profession…a normal human response, I’m sure.  From what I’ve read and heard, it seems that the film proposes having tougher standards on teachers based on their students’ standardized test scores.

It is true that in many places there are horrible, incompetent teachers that should’ve been fired long ago.  I’ve worked with such people firsthand.  While high quality teachers are certainly important, there are many factors that influence student success.

The majority of the students I worked with at my previous workplace were classified as low socio-economic.  Many came from single parent homes, lived with grandmothers or aunts, had parents who were remarried (sometimes several times over), were involved in dealing (and often using) drugs, participated in gang activity, had no food at home, had to stay home sometimes to babysit younger siblings, etc.  Teachers were even assaulted by students a few times over the years I worked there.  Often the students enrolled, dropped out, moved, came back, left for Mexico for a month in the middle of the year, etc.  Some of their parents truly did not care, or didn’t have the time or capacity to care, about their children’s education.  Even the ones that did have good intentions for their kids still couldn’t overcome all the stress, health issues, geographic disruption, etc, that often goes along with being “low socio-economic”.  How can we expect kids to care about school when they have all of these things to deal with?  Even the ones that do care often struggle because they are coping with all of the above.  

Despite dealing with students with the above issues, who often act out in incredibly disruptive ways and who often have learning disabilities as well, the teachers I worked with at this previous school are some of the best, most passionate teachers I’ve ever had the pleasure of collaborating with.  This particular school goes to a lot of effort and trouble training their teachers to engage students of all different ability levels, reach students by playing to their particular type of intelligence (see “multiple intelligences”), differentiating instruction, and on and on and on.  Yet even with all this effort, many of the students still struggle.  And those teachers keep on smiling and pushing forward despite all the demands and pressure that they, too, must cope with on a daily basis.

Yes, we need to have high expectations of our teachers.  We MUST have high expectations.  Yet HOW is holding teachers’ feet to the fire for standardized test scores possibly going to compensate for all the above-mentioned baggage that many of our students come to school with? 

For a more well-written (and researched) response to the film, you may find the following article interesting.


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