One of my greatest frustrations as a classroom teacher are critics who regularly hurl stones at the public school system without offering any productive solutions to the "educational crises" that they seem to find around every turn. Conservative radio show hosts and policy organizations seem committed only to tearing down a system of education that continues to serve our nation well and is respected by many of our international competitors.
Consider these thoughts, written and recently published in a Rhode Island newspaper by retired teacher Tom Shuford—a school choice advocate who has argued that diversity actually hurts communities:
At no charge, I can tell Rhode Island a lot more about how to “adequately educate” its youngsters than any $135,000 150-page report prepared by Florida consultants. Inadequate education has origins in four deep structural factors:
1) Anti-academic bias in colleges of education: Teachers College at Columbia University, the nation’s premier pedagogical institution, traces its origins to the Kitchen Garden Association, which was incorporated in 1880 to train girls for domestic service. In 1887 the institution began to train teachers. It was renamed Teachers College in 1889. Today’s college-of-education apple has not fallen far from that training-service-for-cooks-and-house-maids tree.
2) Limited academic talent of too many educators: Picture a bell-shaped curve of scores on the Graduate Record Examination, which is a kind of SAT for prospective graduate students. Mean GRE scores of all the education majors —- with the exception of secondary education (in the middle) — are bunched on the far left side of the bell curve.
3) Political power of the education establishment: An Illinois study found that in any given year a tenured teacher’s chances of being fired for poor job performance were about 1 in 47,000.
4) Powerlessness of parents/families: Politicians secure the political support of teacher-training institutions, educators of limited ability and their unions by making sure that parents/families — unless they have means or are willing to make extraordinary sacrifices — have no options.
This is the perfect structure for “inadequately educating” children, enfeebling families and weakening neighborhoods and communities.
While Shuford begins by claiming to be able to "tell Rhode Island how to adequately educate its youngsters," his piece includes absolutely no positive suggestions for improvement of public schools. Instead, his writing quickly devolves into an unproductive rant mirroring the half-truths pushed by critics for decades.
My favorite Shuford-ism: #4: Parents are powerless because politicians are making shady deals with teacher unions. Quick question, Mr. Shuford: Who elected the politicians? And who has the power to vote them out of office if they are as dissatisfied as you are? Could it be that you are the one feeling powerless because the majority of America understands the importance of public education, believes in their local school, and is willing to support the continuing improvement of a system that has put our country into an enviable position amongst our peers?
People like Shuford do great harm to our communities. Rather than serving as critical friends seeking to drive positive change, they introduce almost insurmountable negativity to conversations about teaching and learning in America. As a result, educators everywhere are forced into proverbial upper rooms, hiding from screaming mobs spitting venom, almost ashamed of the work they do each day and yet consistently working towards improvement.
When will we take a stand against this kind of reprehensible bias in conversations about education?