Monday, March 15, 2010

Would we fire every doctor in the emergency room?

Dear President Obama,

"Every Central Falls teacher fired", was a headline in the news this week.
"The state’s tiniest, poorest city has become the center of a national battle over dramatic school reform. On the one side, federal and state education officials say they must take painful and dramatic steps to transform the nation’s lowest-performing schools."
But, as stated in my last post, the powers-that-be, in this case the Central Falls Board of Education, fail to recognize that the best predictor of low academic performance is poverty—not bad teachers.

Imagine an impoverished, inner city, hospital emergency room. Such an emergency room will see more violent crime trauma victims than an emergency room in a middle class suburb. Continuing with the metaphor... what if the the hospital board decided to fire all of the emergency staff at the inner city hospital because there were too many gunshot and stab-wound deaths as compared to the hospitals in the suburbs? Would anyone in their right mind consider this a good solution?

It is impossible to abstract student achievement from the social environment of the school and community. It is very difficult to inculcate students into an academic environment when the environment at home doesn't support that goal and that is the least of the problem. Teachers are dealing with students who may be carrying weapons, belong to gangs, come to school malnourished, are being abused, or live in homes where people are trading in narcotics or sex. We have students who have been shot, stabbed or raped, and who know more than one person who has been murdered, students who live in group homes, or worse, on the streets.

It is appalling that teachers should have to carry the brunt of these social problems. In similar circumstances we hail our police officers and firefighters as heroes. We praise hospital emergency room staff as courageous and saintly for the work they have chosen. Yet, teachers who are working to make positive differences in our at-risk youth, are metaphorically flogged and blamed for the educational outcomes of the people they are trying to help.

Teachers, who must often dedicate precious time nursing the psychic wounds of their students, may not be able to make measurable progress in "closing the achievement gap" or increasing standardized test scores, especially when compared to the school across the bay where every student lives in a home with maids and gardeners and who are handed a school-issued Macintosh laptop in the first week of school.

Please Mr. President Obama, in eradicating NCLB can you please try to change the tone of the debate. Let's stop victimizing the teachers.

Karen @ Math Me Thinks

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