When a school is persistently failing, the assumption is that teachers are to blame. That’s why the New York City system is forcing teachers at two high schools to reapply for their jobs next spring (“Too little, too late: the city gets radical with (some) failed schools,” New York Post, Oct. 23).
If I hadn’t taught for 28 years in the Los Angeles Unified School District, I would have shared this widespread view and supported the decision. But the truth is that the performance of these schools is largely due to factors beyond the control of teachers. That’s not an excuse; it’s an explanation.
I maintain that if the best teachers at the best schools were reassigned to terrible schools, they would be able to do very little to improve outcomes. I say that because almost all of the failing schools are in the inner cities and rural areas of the country. Students there come from low socioeconomic backgrounds. They bring to class huge deficits in socialization, motivation and intellectual development through no fault of their own.
Teachers are not miracle workers. They cannot overcome these factors by themselves. Yes, there will always be a few exceptions. But these so-called “high-flying” schools are few and far between. They almost always are charter schools. What is overlooked, however, is that charter schools are the beneficiaries of selection bias. Parents deliberately choose them and agree to abide by the rules and regulations that charter schools alone are legally able to establish.
I’m not saying that ineffective teachers don’t exist in failing schools. Of course, they do. But requiring all teachers to reapply is a different story than identifying bad teachers.
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.