Monday, January 31, 2011

Why do politicians keep bashing public school teachers? by Jo Chiparo

Bashing of teachers is the favorite subject for politicians these days. Their rhetoric follows the same theme: The country is falling behind in education because of bad teachers.

I have read statistics stating that Asian students are more advanced in math, science and reading than students in the USA. If this is true, we must be diligent in examining ways to raise these scores. However, it can be for several reasons other than bad teachers.

I would better respect politicians if they would be honest, and instead of saying teachers have crippled education, say they want to eliminate the way education is structured in the U.S. by placing all blame on teachers and replacing public education system with charter and private schools.

Would problems be solved in a fair and proper manner by doing away with all job security and rewarding with merit pay? And if teachers are going to be rewarded for their successes, how is this going to be determined?

Most teachers know that merit pay will not work. Favoritism and cheating would play in the scheme of the situation? Morale among teachers would plummet, and the country's best and brightest would choose careers in other fields.

As for the old adage that bad teachers can't be fired, it is false. It is more difficult and takes more time to fire a bad teacher who is on tenure, but it can be accomplished.

In no way am I upholding a bad teacher. When there is a problem with a teacher, it should be dealt with through proper channels in a fair and proper manner.

I take offense at the remark Gov. Mitch Daniels made in his State of State address when he said "class size is virtually meaningless" for a good teacher. It is true and I agree that a teacher with excellent discipline techniques can manage a classroom more efficiently than a teacher who doesn't display those special talents.

Picture being in a classroom with 32 kindergarten or first-grade children. No matter how efficient the teacher, that is far too many children dropping pencils, having to use bathroom facilities, talking, crying because of a stomach ache or suffering from ADDH. Add this situation to children who have a limited English vocabulary or who come from a troubled home and you have a chaotic atmosphere.

Another misnomer is when our students are compared to Asian students. The programs are structured differently; furthermore, the whole culture is different. It is comparing apples to oranges.

One of my best friends is of Chinese ancestry but was raised in Indonesia. Her goal was to come to America and study at Wayne State University to earn a master's degree in chemistry, which she did. (That is the goal of many foreign university students.)

She came from a disciplined family. Throughout her school years, her parents made her rise each morning at 4:30 to study two hours before breakfast. After school, she studied another two to three hours.

When she entered junior high school, students in her class were funneled into two directions -- an academic program or vocational program. The programs are known under the acronyms of SMA for those who can continue academic studies and SMK for those who study vocations preparing for work. She was chosen for the academic program.

Following high school, it is extremely difficult to be accepted to an undergraduate college in Asia. She said she met with several hundred other students in a large gymnasium. She was accepted, but only a couple hundred were allowed to enroll in college -- the cream of the crop you might say.

This is one of the reasons that students in Asia study so diligently. They know they have a small chance of being accepted to a university.

The education program in China is also different than the U.S. I have read they gear their education toward tests starting in primary and going on to university level. It is thought that this suppresses personal and professional development.

Much different, the United States concentrates on development of personality and practical skills. We emphasize individuality. Scholarships are awarded to students who not only have academic skills but who have taken part in social activities and have been active in community service.

Also in our educational structure, students with learning disabilities take tests -- such as the ISTEP in Indiana -- along with top students. These tests measure a teacher's and a school's success.

In the book "The Learning Gap," written by Harold Stevenson and James Stigler, they say, "We (Americans) pride ourselves in providing a popular education for all students and not just an education for a select few. It should be no surprise, therefore, that the more representative American samples obtain lower average scores."

Stevenson and Stigler write that differences in Asian and American education are "parental attitudes toward schooling, children toward learning and society toward education."

Another factor Stevenson and Stigler pointed out is that Asian elementary students have frequent breaks during the day for playing vigorously. American children often have only one recess during the entire school day. Also, Asian students have a longer school year and are not away from academics a long period at a time.

Before the education system of the U.S. is channeled to Charter and private schools, perhaps more research should go into these many differences.

Once again, no one should uphold bad teachers and the U.S. should continue to strive for better education, but teachers should not be scapegoats for all woes of education.

From statistics I have seen, Charter schools are not showing improvement over public schools. Some scores are better, some scores are worse and some are about the same.

If this whole purge against teachers is to lower pay and exclude seniority, perhaps politicians should be the first to take an initiative for a lower pay scale and term limits.

Jo is a staff reporter for the Greene County Daily World. She can be reached by e-mail at .

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