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Education Opinion

Don’t Blame Teachers for Failing Schools

By Walt Gardner — February 24, 2017 1 min read
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When schools are labeled “persistently failing,” teachers are automatically assumed to be the cause (“The Struggles at Two Boston High Schools: Will Axing Teachers Fix the Problems?” New Boston Post, Feb. 16). If I had not taught for 28 years in the Los Angeles Unified School District, I would probably make the same mistake.

Yet there are so many factors beyond the control of teachers that account for dismal school outcomes. In almost all cases, these failing schools are populated by students from disadvantaged backgrounds. As a result, they bring huge deficits in socialization, motivation and intellectual development to class through no fault of their own.

Teachers are not miracle workers. They want to teach their subject. But too often they are forced to perform triage. If the best teachers from the best schools were assigned to these substandard schools, I doubt they would be able to replicate the success they had at their former schools.

When schools are labeled “persistently failing,” teachers in some states are forced by law to reapply for their jobs. The rationale is that by bringing in new teachers the school will turn around. I say it is a fantasy. But as unions continue to lose their influence, I foresee more and more states adopting the process.

I wish critics would take the time to read Thank You, Teacher (New World Library, 2016) edited by Holly and Bruce Holbert. It’s a compilation of tributes to teachers from students whose lives were changed. As the Holberts write in the dust cover, " ... in the face of teachers being blamed for a variety of social and economic woes, teachers themselves can easily wonder whether they are making a difference in students’ lives.” I say they are.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.