March 16, 2010

No, it's not all the fault of teachers and their unions

By: Sonny Bunch

I’d like to second something Rod says in response to this review of Diane Ravitch’s new book on the effects of No Child Left Behind:

I don’t want to defend lousy schools and bad teachers, and won’t do that. But the idea that even the best teachers and the most brilliantly run schools can educate kids who come from badly broken families and badly screwed up cultures is grossly unfair to teachers and educators.

I can’t disagree too much with that: People from broken homes and homes that don’t value education are likely to not care too much about their schooling, fail tests, not go on to college, etc. Tackling these root causes are incredibly tricky, however, because we’re recalcitrant to even discuss them. It’s unfair to say “certain cultures” don’t value education. Which cultures? Why are you painting with such a broad brush? Why are you tarnishing the hardworking few? Et cetera, ad nauseam.

Still, I don’t think it’s too much to ask for teachers to be able to impart basic literacy and mathematical understanding in their students. It’s unreasonable to think that even the greatest teacher could guide everyone to a 5 on a battery of Advanced Placement tests; it’s not unreasonable to think that every high school could get their students reading at a high school level and able to do basic calculus and geometry. And I don’t think it’s too much to weed out poorly performing teachers or those who are guilty of gross misconduct. There’s a balance to be struck, for sure, but that balance will be harder to achieve as long as unions are going to the mat and dragging out arbitration proceedings for years while students get the shaft.