Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Can You Teach Teaching? A Letter to John White & Bobby Jindal Fans

Can you teach teaching?

Yes you can. Ask my wife. She earned Bachelors degrees in Studio Art and Art History. Neither of these focussed on how to be an effective teacher. Therese decided she wanted to follow in the footsteps of many in her family and become an elementary school teacher. In California they decided that there was value in learning how to teach. So Therese enrolled in an intensive year long program set up for people who had already earned their Bachelor's degrees. She worked very hard to become a qualified teacher. To this day she relies on the pedagogical theories and resources she obtained in those classes. Since then, Therese went on to get her Masters degree, and Therese will tell you, those classes made her a much better teacher. So in fact there is value in teacher education programs.

Today the Louisiana state education board will fulfill the wishes of Governor Bobby Jindal and elect John White as the new superintendent of Louisiana schools. He will be the boss of 50,000 teachers. Thing is though, John White never took the time to learn how to teach, nor do his policies suggest that he sees a need for a formal education in how to teach. White joined Teach for America after getting a bachelor's degree in English, and subsequently taught English in New Jersey schools for three years. He then took various jobs leading Teach for America offices, and wound up implementing Michael Bloomberg's controversial education reforms for five years in New York. As that "reform" was imploding, White got out of town and came to New Orleans where he has been running the Recovery School District for the past few months.

So why is this young man doing so well in the upper echelons of Louisiana education circles? It's because Bobby Jindal and the pro-charter school movement share the same ideals as Bloomberg and other Republican education reform folks. Their idea is this:

Public education is broken and can't be fixed by throwing money at it. The main problem is principals can't fire lazy teachers because of an outdated tenure/union system. So you close failing schools (their term for schools with low standardized test scores) and let private companies start opening charter schools. You call principals CEOs and quadruple their salaries. You get rid of more expensive experienced teachers who are burned out anyway and hire younger enthusiastic teach for America workers because youth and enthusiasm trump experience and higher salaries. You get school workers to do more work for less money so profits go up. The parents win because now they can vote with their feet: if you don't like the school your child is at, put them in a school that you like. Through competition and open capitalism we all win. Hooray!

Instead, I value teachers with experience and in-depth training in the legitimate academic discipline of teacher education. I also think the teachers I know are some of the hardest working people you'll ever meet. I believe the current charter system in New Orleans works well for parents with resources but those who suffer the most are those with learning disabilities and parents without resources because all of the assets go to high performing schools and they won't take students who might hurt their test scores. I also value collective bargaining, and think the education problem can in fact be solved by throwing money at it. But I live in "charter everything" Louisiana, so I'm certainly a minority. But ask an experienced teacher, and I'll wager they support my observations.


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Anonymous said...

Not all charter school teachers are new and inexperienced teachers, nor are all principals quadrupled in salary for working at a charter school. Yes, I agree with you when you say there are some charter schools who are in it for profit, but that isn't the case for all. Some are producing very progressive results while the principals are paid less than the district's parallel salary. Please get your facts straight before you assume, generalize, and stomp on the goals of teachers who are in it to actually make a difference in students' lives.

Michael Homan said...

Well Anonymous, I've known thousands of public and private school teachers, and I've never met a single teacher who chose the profession based on salary. I think we'd agree that they choose the profession because they care about making a difference in children's lives. What I am against is the current legislative climate in which teachers are attacked and their expertise is dismissed. Hopefully Bobby Jindal will be the Republican VP candidate and he'll take Leslie Jacobs with him to Washington, and then we can start rebuilding quality neighborhood schools in New Orleans for everyone, not just a select chartered few who have the parents to navigate this complicated climate.