Recent Readers’ Comments

• Recently, a reader correctly wrote “A concerted effort has been made to paint American public schools with a broad brush as ‘failing’”.

K-12 students are in school approximately 22% of the time they’re awake throughout the year. If we’re unsatisfied with our eighteen year olds’ relative preparedness for life, maybe we should challenge parents and the businesspeople, politicians and journalists who regularly denigrate teachers to take more responsibility for it.

The U.S. economy is always in flux. When unemployment is low and the economy is humming no one credits public school teachers. That understandably breeds cynicism. We have many of the best universities in the world. If public schools are failing, how is that possible? The truth of course is that public schools are not failing, the problem is the uneven mix of strong, mediocre, and weak schools too closely tied to family’s socio-economic status.

Some choice is helpful, but it’s not a panacea for improved schooling. Free-market proposals that hinge in part on school closures are counter-productive. Sad that this needs pointing out—schools are different than fast food restaurants. Historically marginalized students need more resources to help catch up to their wealthier peers.

• In reflecting on my critique of the five-paragraph essay, another reader wrote that teachers will “ . . . teach exactly what students need to pass high stakes. When districts and teachers are judged by the number of student who pass these tests, there’s little they can do except teach to the test.”

That’s conventional wisdom. We repeat it all the time. In fact, a lot of beginning teachers tell themselves, “I’ll get fired, if I don’t teach to the test.” If that’s true, where are all the articles about teachers getting called to task, put on leave, or fired for their students’ disappointing test scores?

No one minds teaching to challenging, relevant, thoughtfully designed tests that require genuine thinking versus rote learning. Those types of tests can even inspire one’s teaching. The problem is the poor quality of most standardized tests.

If teaching is a true profession, when stuck with poorly designed standardized tests, teachers should respectfully but forcefully resist by saying to their principals, “Sorry if this gets you in trouble with your superintendent, but we’re not teaching to this test because students could pass it and still not be prepared for subsequent classes, college, or the workforce. In the interest of our students (and not the superintendent and not local realtors), we’re using the national standards and our professional judgment to teach a more rigorous, relevant, and inspiring curriculum.”

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