Reform: Bad Teachers vs. Other Problems

In response to a question from a teacher recently, President Obama said that some people just aren't cut out to teach. The President had asked the teacher if she had personally seen any teachers so bad that she would not want her children in that classroom. The teacher looked away and didn't respond. Here's a link to a news account.

I know that there are bad teachers; I'm a product of an urban public school system. I've had some terrible teachers. The problem is that the whole NCLB-type reform movement seems to blame most of the problems with public schools on the teachers. If only they were "highly qualified," then everything would be fine...

The problem with this view is twofold- Firstly, some teachers are good. My concern with merit pay is - who defines the good teachers. If the principal decides, some principals may favor the brown noses regardless of whether they can actually teach. Test scores pose other problems, especially single session high - stakes tests.

Secondly, there are other factors, intervening variables, at play here. One example is poverty. In some schools, the students show up hungry; cannot concentrate and have to negotiate halls full of drug dealers. They go home to a family more focused on feeding everybody than on reading to the kids or checking homework. Then we are shocked when many of these kids don't do well in school and a disproportionate amount of them end up in special education. What is more shocking really is that some of them do succeed. We should study those kids and their families to get a handle on what reforms should look like.

Don't misunderstand, I'm all for reforming our schools to make them better. Our kids deserve the best. But the reforms will have a better chance of success if they are reality based.