Every child is different.
The last 15 plus years of my career have been spent working with students who are "at-risk." Simply put, that means that they have trouble succeeding in their general education classrooms for a variety of reasons.
The most common area of failure in a general education classroom (at least where I have been working) is in the area of Reading and Language Arts (writing, spelling, etc). Why is that? What is it about Reading that makes it so difficult for some students?
Obviously that's a question that has stumped educators and researchers for decades. The "Reading Wars" which pitted "Whole Language" against phonics is proof enough of that. In my opinion, there is no "right" way...there is only the way that is best for each child and that's not the same for everyone.
Standards and Standardized Tests: One Size Fits All -- or Does it?
The "Reading Wars" is just a small example of one of the most pressing issues in the education system of the USA - the idea that there is one quick fix which will solve all the problems. I've been guilty of that myself, looking at poverty as the focus for all our public school ills. There's no one size fits all solution to teaching Reading, just as there's no one size fits all solution to general achievement in the public schools.
In her short, but powerful book, One Size Fits Few: The Folly of Educational Standards, Susan Ohanian maintains that standards are made to make education neat and tidy. The problem with that is that education is not neat and tidy...it's messy. Children don't conform to our rules and requirements. We can't shape minds and personalities, we can only guide them.
She wrote about her conversation with an editor of USA Today,
"...he knows his own child's reading and math scores; he even admitted that he's satisfied with those scores and is well-satisfied with his child's school. 'I know my daughter's teacher is excellent,' he said, adding, 'I know you're probably an excellent teacher, too, but we need high standards to raise up all those teachers out there who aren't excellent.'"She continued...
"This is the tactic made infamous by Joseph McCarthy. Point to the unnamed dastardly creatures who are bringing the country to the brink of disaster. In the old days we were going to make the country safe for democracy by instituting loyalty oaths. These days, we'll do it by testing kids and testing their teachers, too....Blame the Teachers
"The USA Today editor seemed to be operating on a mirage therory of education. This fellow sitting in the Virginia suburbs is telling me that poor kids in crumbling urban schools will have equal opportunitiy for a quality education if we insitute national tests and tell kids they can't graduate if they don't master quadratic equations."
The trend now is to blame "bad teachers" for all the problems. Newsweek had an entire issue dedicated to improving the schools by "getting rid" of bad teachers and generally blames bad teachers and the nasty teachers' unions for all the ills of the educational system.
There's no doubt that there are inadequate teachers in our schools...and there's no doubt that teacher's unions protect their members (which is what unions are supposed to do). However, in Indiana, at least, unions can only guarantee that teachers receive due process. It's the responsibility of the school leaders, the administrators and school board, to prove just cause that a teacher is incompetent. Believe it or not, teachers unions do not want bad teachers teaching. Tenure in Indiana means that a teacher has to have a hearing in which their inadequacies are proven...they get their day in court to defend themselves against the accusations of those who would fire them. A fair hearing...day in court...confronting the accusers...that's how we do things in the US.
How many bad teachers are there? The annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll of the public's attitudes toward public schools has consistently shown that parents of students in the public schools are satisfied with the education their children receive. A full 75% of parents gave their local schools an A or a B as a grade. The lower ratings for schools came from a distance - from people who did not have children in their local schools...and people who were rating the nation's schools as a whole.
How is it that local schools are good, but the "other schools" out there in some unknown place are not? Aren't all schools local?
It's clear that Americans are happy with their local schools and the teachers who staff them.
Here's the point...
- Not everyone learns the same way and at the same speed. There is not one best way of doing something in education. It's not like wiring a house or repairing a car. One size does not fit all.
- A few bad teachers don't have the power to ruin all the schools in the country. Most parents are happy and satisfied with the schools their children attend.
That won't happen.
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