There's a brutal op-ed over at the Bklyner this morning. It goes a bit beyond the usual "all teachers suck" theme I see in the NY editorial pages. This is because it targets the teachers of a single school. I mean, it's one thing to stereotype all of us. It's a little more hurtful when you target a small group:
The teachers at Ethan Allen don’t appear to care at all about our kids, or any of the other students they’re supposed to be educating. They only want to pass students along and wash their hands of them at the end of the year, even if this means that kids aren’t prepared for the next grade.
This begs the question of who exactly are "the other students they're supposed to be educating." That's an odd slip for a thinking editor to miss. If, in fact, they were supposed to be educating kids of non-parents, there'd be another issue, perhaps one of pod creatures. An alternate interpretation is that the writers refer to their kids only, and have decided that every other parent, without exception, shares their impressions. Either way there's a leap of faith I'm not making.
As for the primary issue of teachers not caring, the writers have not bothered to provide a shred of evidence. I also see that the writers claim to know exactly what the teachers want. I'm always impressed by clairvoyance (although if you don't believe in clairvoyance you might dismiss this argument as a strawman). The writers continue:
It’s also nearly impossible to meet with them or with administrators, which leaves us in the dark about how our children are doing academically and socially.
Note the word also, which suggests this is not part of why the teachers don't appear to care at all. Why is it nearly impossible to meet with teachers or administrators? Isn't that more likely a product of admin policy than teacher druthers? And given these writers' willingness to read working teachers minds, is it even true?
I don't work in a Renewal school, but I can imagine how I'd feel if I did. I'd feel as if I were expecting a piano to land on my head at pretty much any moment. I'd feel very insecure. I have friends who work in these places. They feel like they're walking on eggshells and treat ever so carefully. When anything good happens, they seem to be happy they suck a little less. Something the op-ed writer did not consider was the incredible pressure placed on them for students to pass.
When your job is on the line and your future is likely as not in the ATR, you're likely to succumb to the constant pressure placed on you. I don't know how many kids in this school were passed without merit, but I can certainly imagine how administrators would pressure teachers. I can imagine terrified teachers inflating grades as a means of survival. It's human nature, it's Campbell's Law, and it doesn't follow that frightened, pressured teachers don't care about these parents' kids. It's certainly not in children's best interests to have terrified teachers.
The writers' assertion that there are issues with the program itself is well-taken. The whole Renewal School thing is an offshoot of the No Child Left Behind/ Race to the Top nonsense that maintains the sole factor in education or lack thereof is the classroom teacher. When things don't work out we just close schools, shuffle kids around and wait for their issues to magically disappear.
But guess what? Things like poverty and lack of health care don't disappear when you close a school. Learning disabilities are not cured by firing teachers. Students who don't know English don't suddenly acquire it when you make all their teachers ATRs. Go figure. I mean, if you went by the editorials in the city papers, you'd have no idea.
It's unfortunate that people don't know that. It's unfortunate that this Renewal School program hasn't bothered to do things we know to work, like reducing class sizes. It's really unfortunate that any administration would so alienate public school parents that they needed to write pieces like these. It's predictable, though, that working teachers would be vilified and libeled with little thought as to why these things may be happening.
I'm not familiar with the school in question, but I'm familiar with schools in general. Even in a non-Renewal school I feel pressure to pass as many students as possible. This is not a huge issue for me. In fact, I actually want to pass as many students as possible. Of course, when students cut, when they don't pay attention, when I call homes ten times with no result, when I speak to the students every way I can imagine with no change in attitude or behavior, it's not always possible.
I don't know the teachers in this school but I know teachers. I cannot imagine an entire staff that doesn't care about children. For people who don't care about children, teaching is about the worst job there is. Some people like that go into admin to get away from the classroom, and guess what--they're the worst administrators there are.
It's very sad that we've managed to alienate parents to the point where they believe and need to write things like this.