Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Teachers Offer the Wealthy an Escape from Poverty

The following is from Anthony Cody’s excellent critique of the education portion of Obama’s state of the union speech. In a nutshell, if a teacher really did increase the lifetime income of a classroom by $250,000, so what? Spread out over the 40 years of each student’s career, that would amount to only $250 per person per year, enough for a nice date, Sunday afternoon beers or some practical work clothes, but nowhere near enough to bring poor kids into the middle class. And if he really wanted us to not teach to the test, he wouldn’t tie our evaluations and salaries to students’ test scores.

Last night in President Obama's State of the Union address, he repeated a familiar refrain about the importance of teachers. 

A great teacher can offer an escape from poverty to the child who dreams beyond his circumstance.
But it seems that it is those in power who are actually using teachers to escape from the realities of poverty these days. 

President Obama offered as evidence a citation from a recent Harvard report:
We know a good teacher can increase the lifetime income of a classroom by over $250,000.

He went on to say,
Teachers matter. So instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, let's offer schools a deal. Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones. In return, grant schools flexibility: To teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren't helping kids learn.
There are several problems with this. As others have pointed out, if you take a classroom of 25 students, and spread $250,000 over their 40 years of earnings, this amount comes to a grand total of $250 a year per student. This is unlikely to represent an escape from poverty. (see more thorough responses to the Chetty report here, and here.)

The second problem is a glaring contradiction, a logical flaw so huge it has been overlooked by almost every journalist apparently too polite to challenge the administration on it. If you do not wish teachers to teach to the test, if you want them to be passionate and creative, then how can you insist that their performance be measured by the use of test scores?

Let us be crystal clear. The Obama administration has made the use of test scores to evaluate principals and teachers a pre-condition for federal aid. Both Race to the Top and the NCLB waivers require that states develop evaluation processes that incorporate this data.
To see the rest of this article, please click here.

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