There’s a lot wrong with Paul Farhi’s list of “myths” about public education but this stands out:
Reformers who attack unions for school problems should mind their logic: Some school systems show better results than others, yet most have teachers’ unions. If unions are universally problematic, why are some students succeeding while others languish?
Really? Let’s examine this on terms that I assume Farhi would endorse: poverty has a negative impact on education. Some school systems have more poverty than others. So even if unions are universally problematic (which they’re not, local unions vary tremendously) then unionized school systems with low poverty will show better results than unionized school districts with high poverty. Is this so hard to understand?
5. More effective teachers are the answer.
Former D.C. Schools chief Michelle Rhee and other big-city superintendents called for more effective teachers in a reform “manifesto” published in The Washington Post last fall. Well, sure. Who doesn’t want more effective teachers? While we’re at it, let’s get more effective superintendents, curriculum specialists and principals, too.
Let’s be realistic: Teachers aren’t miracle workers. There’s only so much they can do to address problems that troubled students bring to class every day, including neglect, abuse, and unaddressed medical and mental health issues. The obvious and subtle ways that poverty inhibits a child’s ability to learn — from hearing, visual and dental problems to higher asthma rates to diminished verbal interaction in the home — have been well-documented.
So let’s seek to improve the state of families. Attacking schools and teachers makes everyone feel like a reformer, but the problems begin long before a child steps through the schoolhouse door.
This is just confusing. Does Farhi believe that more effective teachers, superintendents, curriculum specialists and principals are mutually exclusively goals? If we give children health insurance so their dental and asthma problems are addressed, does that mean we can’t hire better curriculum specialists? If everyone wants more effective teachers, and wanting more effective teachers is synonymous with “attacking schools and teachers,” doesn’t that mean that everyone is a teacher-basher, by definition?