Friday, July 01, 2011

Canards Ahoy

Matthew Yglesias wonders whether we're all home run hitters. Some say those who hit more home runs are more valuable, and should get more money, simple as that. Only it's not home runs he's focusing on--it's test scores.

For years I've listened to people making such comparisons. They'd fire you in the NFL if you didn't score touchdowns, or whatever guys in the NFL do, so why shouldn't they fire teachers? Oddly, though, the NFL never had to recruit via subway ads, or pay people to take courses, or run various 6-week courses showing you how to be a football player. For most of my career, in fact, the low-paying Board of Education was unable to find enough people to actually do the job. And it wasn't, despite popular sentiment, because the job was too easy.

Now, of course, things are different. The economy is in the crapper and our job looks so attractive that virtually every day hedge fund managers, horrified there is still a middle class, vilify us while reveling in how profitable their Walmart and McDonald's stocks are. Why can't teachers be compensated like people at McDonald's?

And why do kids fail tests? The tabloids, Michelle Rhee and Bill Gates proclaim it must be the teachers. After all, KIPP works miracles with these kids, getting incredible results with the half of them who don't drop out and return to public schools. But in public schools, when kids drop out, they don't return to KIPP! Therefore public schools are terrible.

Most importantly, teachers do much more than test prep. It's very frustrating to me because it's my job to teach newcomers English, and the test they're required to take, the NYS English Regents, does not measure that at all. I've actually been pretty good at making them pass it, but I'm 100% certain the skill of passing the Regents exam translates to absolutely zero of the skills they actually need. As for college readiness, kids who don't know English will certainly be taking remedial courses to catch up. I know because I've taught them, and in fact I could teach kids what they need rather than prepping them for a test that's largely impractical.

Learning a language can be a lot of fun, as conversation, discussion, and projects can be very stimulating. Test prep sucks. But I will do it if my kids need it. And while we all like money, that, in fact, is what motivates teachers. I can't necessarily make a kid who came from China two months ago write enough to pass the English Regents. That's not my fault, or my school's fault. There are a million variables that cause kids to fail tests. Teachers do what we can, but with real income having gone nowhere since 1983, with parents working round the clock just to keep up, with Democrats no different than Republicans and a disappearing middle class, you aren't going to see an amazing rise in test scores anytime soon.  Unless, of course, you dumb down the tests like New York did when Mayor4Life proclaimed himself a genius and bought himself an illegal third term as a reward.

Yes, we are a team. But teachers are just part of it. And until folks like Barack Obama and Andrew Cuomo start working with the team rather than trying to figure how to best dismantle that pesky middle class and appease billionaires, we won't see that uptick in test scores they publicly claim to care about, the one they use as a hammer against teachers, the last remaining vestige of vibrant unionism in this increasingly corporate entity we call the United States of America.

I do my part. I stand up for working people in many ways, as do thousands of my colleagues. What we really need, though, are millions more standing with us. Because until we pass that test, the ones Bill Gates publicly complains about will be as meaningless as the ones NY State makes my poor ESL students take.
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