Monday, January 31, 2011

Duncan calls for more Black male teachers through TEACH campaign

Amina posts on Arne Duncan's recent show of flare in the TEACH campaign:
Hats off to Secretary Duncan! We do need more Black male teachers. They’re 2% of the total teacher population. The goal is to recruit 80,000 new African American male teachers by 2015. The initiative is part of the TEACH campaign to recruit new teachers in the wake of a retiring workforce.

And Black Male Teachers Are Important Because?
Yet, this all begs the question: Why is this initiative important? “Teachers should look like the people they serve” Duncan proclaims. But why? What forces at work in our schools--in society, make it critical to have that representation? But that’s a kind of Pandora’s Box for an administration careful to avoid conversations about persistent and institutionalized racism and inequity in our schools.

A Teacher Campaign with Flare
Check out the TEACH campaign website. It’s textually sparse. As if reading too much might scare off a potential teacher. It’s a light and wistful discussion on teaching—little thoughtful analysis. However, what the TEACH campaign may lack in critical analysis, it makes up for in flare. It’s heavy on 45 second long testimonials—they’ve even got Oprah doing a testimonial. Yesterday, Spike Lee appeared at the last TEACH event touting the new initiative. It’s all very attractive. Just check out the Department of Education's complete media advisory.

Reality Check
Yet, talking about the reality of teaching in an underserved school again leads to the touchy subject of the Obama Administration’s approach to these schools. In the case of turnaround schools; where teachers are most in need, there’s the threat of mass teacher firings and frequent principal changes. There’s increasing pressure placed on those teachers to “show results”. How quickly the conversation shifts from, be a leader, be a role model, change a life to let’s get those test scores up, NOW!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

President Obama’s SOTU Missed the Mark on Education

Following last night's State of the Union Addressed, which highlighted education reform's role in ensuring economic competitiveness, Amina comments on the Obama Administration's vision for the future:
The tone was not urgent, nor the solutions thoughtful. President Obama’s State of the Union address missed the mark on education.  More racing, more pay for performance, more personal responsibility. Even less attention to the sad reality of public education for students of color in low income communities.

The reports are in, the studies are clear: education is in crisis. Only 47% of black males graduate from high school! The Latino high school graduation rate in Obama’s own state of Illinois hovers at a lowly 55%!  Yet, the problem didn’t translate in the administration’s solutions.

Parents Matter…Or do they?
Obama opened his discussion of education with a familiar refrain on personal responsibility. He preached, “[R]esponsibility begins not in our classroom, but in our homes and communities… Only parents can make sure the TV is turned off and homework gets done.” True words, but substantively hollow.  Are parents valuable or aren’t they? Obama’s rhetoric says yes, but his policies say no. His own Blueprint for Reform largely ignores parental engagement in schools. There is little indication the administration is willing to offer the respect, support and resources to empower parents to be full partners in their child’s education.

Show Teachers the Money!
He continues to try and show good teachers the money. “In South Korea, teachers are known as nation builders. Here in America, it’s time we treated the people who educate our children with the same level of respect. We want to reward good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones. ” Overlaying bonus checks on a fundamentally flawed system for developing and supporting teachers hardly sounds respectful. Too often a good teacher is primarily defined by student test score performance. Moreover, the scheme has shown its flaws most recently in Washington DC’s IMPACT Performance Assessment. “Highly effective” teachers could accept their bonuses, but find themselves more vulnerable to layoffs. 40% of the eligible teachers declined the money. Is this what President Obama envisions?

Fire teachers, fire principals, close traditional schools, open charters, change standards; it’s an alphabet soup of policies that doesn’t get to the complex heart of the problem and lacks the extraordinary vision, resources, and effort needed for real change.  We can do better.