‘Bad Teacher! How Blaming Teachers Distorts the Bigger Picture’
Bad Teacher! How Blaming Teachers Distorts the Bigger Picture
Published by Teachers College Press : 2012, New York: 104 pp.
Sometimes it seems as if teachers are blamed for almost everything that’s wrong in America. It’s amazing that teachers don’t pull the covers over their heads and simply stay home.
In this slim but pointed volume, Kevin Kumashiro pushes back at the attacks that teachers face as he attempts to reframe the context in which the relentless barrage of criticism occurs. As he writes, “Politicians and pundits today seem to be unable to talk about educational reform in terms other than competitions, such as being the best in the world of racing to the top, in which only some can win while all others must lose.”
How did we get here? As Kumashiro explains, in recent years the focus on metrics like test scores, reporting requirements, and teacher evaluations relying solely on student performance on standardized test scores, has distorted the conversation. In turn, these measurements often prevent teachers from actually teaching in their classrooms.
“Under current reforms, the more students struggle, the less their schools are allowed to teach, and the less they are made to look like flourishing school systems in this country and to other nations,” he writes. When hearing, or reading, about the crisis in education, most Americans don’t perceive the problems within a system, but instead drill down to what’s going on in their child’s individual school or classroom. Which, in turn, means the critical gaze falls on the individual classroom teacher.
Here’s how Kumashiro distills the perceptual problem. “The common sense about schools and teachers today does not call on Americans to see the bigger picture, to see a broader system of education. Rather, common sense narrows our vision to the level of the individual. Good teachers make for good schools, and since we hear repeatedly that our schools are bad, so too must be our teachers. At least, some of them.” Add into that the larger landscape of standards-and-testing that No Child Left Behind exemplifies, and no wonder we end up with an MBA-driven system promoting accountability and outcomes.
Nor does it help that the underlying drumbeat of personal responsibility, free-market reform and privatization (quick, if the public school is failing, let’s put in a private charter) makes the struggle even more challenging for public school teachers. Other culprits, in the author’s view, include the trend to certify teachers by alternative, fast-track methods, which undermine more traditional preparation methods.
Then there’s the money. Kumashiro discusses the influence of wealthy individuals who support private foundations and think tanks, many of which produce studies that further erode respect for public schools and the professionals who work in them.
You don’t have to agree with all his points or arguments to admit that this is not a great time to be a teacher. There’s no simple solution, either. Kumashiro’s ultimate recommendation is that real reform requires “that we need to build a broader movement for educational reform.” Good luck. #