Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Teachers warn of the end of public education

Posted By on Tue, Apr 9, 2013 at 12:24 PM

It seems like at least once a month, a long-time teacher's retirement or resignation a letter gets picked up by national media. The letters thank students, parents, and colleagues, but they typically end on a sobering note about the state of our public education system and the demise of the teaching profession.

The Washington Post recently printed a letter from Gerald Conti, a social studies teacher from the Westhill Central School District in neighboring Syracuse.

Data-driven education is only interested in conformity, standardization, and zombie-like adherence to testing standards, Conti writes. Creativity, academic freedom, and innovation are not rewarded, he writes.

Like many former teachers, Conti blames politicians who, he says, have traded education for state and federal funds. But he also blames the New York State United Teachers union for taking membership money and not mounting an effective campaign against politicians and politicians' underwriters in the private sector.

In fairness, Conti should be equally critical of the union for making it too cumbersome for administrators to fire incompetent and misbehaving teachers; it's served as the reformers’ messaging salvo.

Most education reform efforts are aimed at low-performing urban school districts. We seldom hear from suburban teachers who are quitting out of frustration with the profession. And we seldom read letters from teachers still in the classroom and singing the praises of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind or President Obama’s Race to the Top legislation.

Despite the money and political power directed at education reform, more teachers, including some local educators, are challenging group think on everything from teacher evaluations to standardized testing.

For example, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation spent roughly $50 million to come up with a teacher evaluation system, but the calculations used to develop the evaluation appear to be wrong.

A blog by Gary Rubenstein, a New York City math teacher, says the Gates Foundation’s numbers don’t add up. And he’s not the only teacher to draw the same conclusion. In other industries, people like Conti and Rubenstein would be praised as whistleblowers.

The closing line in Conti’s letter says, “I realize that I am not leaving my profession. In truth, it has left me. It no longer exists.”

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