Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Bad, bad teacher

The problem with education, according to most of the education-reform articles I'm reading, is the following:

1) bad teachers
2) strong unions who protect those bad teachers

The solution most often proposed seems to be charter schools that don't need to answer to the teachers union. Megan McArdle (via 11d) wants to be able to fire all the teachers. (Rhode Island, evidently, is a big fan of hers.)

Am I missing something? In my entire experience in the Madison public school system, we have yet to run into a bad teacher. Most of the time, we have amazing rock-star teachers. The kind of teachers who change your life. Is Madison an anomaly? Is the rest of the country dealing with bad teachers?

Seriously, I can't talk about our teachers without getting rather emotional. They go above-and-beyond their job description on a daily basis. Last weekend, one of our amazing teachers spent her entire Saturday taking our school's spelling bee champion to the district competition because our school winner couldn't get there on her own. Almost all of our teachers do this stuff ALL THE TIME.

Our school serves a low income population, (67% of students qualify for free/reduced lunch) so perhaps we attract a more dedicated professional. (Although conventional wisdom in the media often spouts that poor schools like ours get dumped with the so-called bad-teachers.)

I don't see the bad-teacher problem. Am I missing something?

My favorite school-board blogger, Ed Hughes had a great post about teachers today. And the NYTimes had a scary article about how we measure a good teacher.

I'm worried that the conservative education "reform" movement (and I include our President in that group) is creating a problem that doesn't exist in order to promote the solution they'd like to see: the privatization of education.

Am I living in a bubble? Is Madison that far from the norm? Do you all really have bad teachers? (And if you do, may I recommend that you move to Madison - our teachers are pretty damn amazing.)


Rachel said...

We talked about this in our School Social Work class tonight. (After answering the question by one student, "what's happening in Wisconsin?" UGH!) My prof used to be a union rep and, while he said he loved it, he also said he agreed that there is an issue with being able to fire bad teachers. You've heard of the famous "rubber rooms" in NYC? He taught in Chicago and he claims they had them there as well. I know Michelle Rhee faced that problem in DC. Perhaps it's a greater issue in bigger cities? I don't think poverty has much to do with it, as both those cities, particularly DC, have very poor populations in their public schools. We talked about a study which said that if we fired the bottom 10% of teachers and replaced them with just average teachers, we'd move from 24th in the world in education to 1st or 2nd. (I'll try to find a link.)

I think there are definitely more good teachers than bad. But for the union not to immediately jump on a system which uses "rubber rooms" to house and pay at full scale teachers who they wouldn't allow in a classroom seems insane to me.

Kristen said...

I agree that it would be very hard to fire a bad teacher in the current teachers union structure. That should be reformed. But I just haven't really run into any bad teachers. Maybe the larger cities have all of them? ; )

MK Chang said...

I taught public high school for 8 years. 7 of those years were in a "ghetto" school and 1 year was at a "preppy" school. I'm not a fan of those labels but that is how most people in my community identify them. From my personal teaching experience, there are good and bad teachers everywhere--no matter where you live and what type of school or "label" your school receives.

But the good teachers always FAR outweigh the bad ones. I can count on one hand the "bad" teachers I've come across during my public school teaching years... but the good ones? There are too many of them to keep count.