To the Editor:
In his essay dealing with productivity, accountability, and renewal, Alan D. Bersin speaks of the need for a paradigm shift in education (“Leading the Way,” April 20, 2005.) I agree, but not with his advice on paradigms.
The proper path to renewal is actually a return to an old paradigm, the one that defines the productivity of the educational enterprise in terms of the quality and quantity of opportunitiesprovided to learners. Contrary to Mr. Bersin’s assertions, achievement is the product of learners; opportunity is the product of educators.
There is indeed a great need for increased accountability in public education. But we will accomplish nothing if we are not clear about who is accountable for what. Educators can and should improve the opportunities for learning. We cannot and should not assume responsibility for achievement, a product over which we exercise little control.
Should the paradigm assumed by Mr. Bersin, and unfortunately nearly everyone else in the past 40 years, prevail, there will be two outcomes. The society in general, and educators in particular, will continue to spend vast amounts of time, money, and energy as achievement fails to increase. In the process, we will continue to foster learners, and ultimately citizens, who see no responsibility for their outcomes and who, by virtue of that, become nonproductive adherents to the victim mentality that has plagued so many for so long.
The paradigm that has real potential for increasing achievement holds educators strongly accountable for excellent opportunities and students for excellent achievement.
Beyond the provision of opportunity, our other responsibility, as a total culture, not exclusively as the public education subset of the culture, is first to make the paradigm clear to everyone, and then to assist individuals in developing the abilities and motivation needed to seize the opportunities provided.
There are many fertile grounds for accomplishing that second responsibility, but the primary one is universal access to nurturing homes that value individual responsibility and the work ethic.
Assistant Superintendent (Retired)
Collier County Public Schools
To the Editor:
In his Commentary, Alan D. Bersin urges educators to accept competition in order to improve schools. I believe he misses the point.
I teach 8th grade in the inner city. Neither I nor any of my colleagues are afraid of competition. All we ask is that it occur on a level playing field. If my inner-city students in Philadelphia are expected to compete against students from the affluent suburbs, we need a little handicapping, as occurs in horse racing. Thoroughbreds carrying a lighter load get a little extra weight to make the race fair.
My students start out behind. They don’t arrive reading-ready, as the students in the affluent suburbs do. Instead of getting more money per child to help address the discrepancy, we receive as much as $10,000 less per child. Instead of having smaller classes, we have as many as 33 students in a class, and some teachers even have to teach two different grade levels in one room. Does the responsibility for this rest with the teacher, the politicians, or the families involved?
Privatization firms such as Edison Schools Inc. receive as much as $855 more per student than our publicly managed schools. Is this fair competition? Charter schools, as evidenced by your recent article “Del. Charter Schools Get Solid Card,” (March 30, 2005), get to select their students. Is this fair competition?
Politicians who stack the deck are the first to shout how we need competition to improve. Forgive me for shouting back, but I’ll play only if the rules are fair.
Mr. Bersin goes on to say how unfair it is that new teachers get placed in the most difficult situations, being forced to work in the assignments no one wants. To this I say: Mr. Bersin, we all want to teach. Your job as a superintendent is to provide the environment we can teach in.
In Philadelphia, a boy grabs a girl’s breasts and makes rude comments. He is transferred to another classroom. If such an incident occurred in a wealthy suburb, I’m sure the punishment would be more severe. In Philadelphia, during a fire drill, a boy picks up dog excrement and places it in another child’s face. He is suspended, but not removed from the school district. If it happened in the suburbs, stronger action would be taken.
Administrators and politicians show disrespect for inner-city children by not enforcing the same rules of conduct that educators in the suburbs would. Somehow Mr. Bersin feels this is the fault of a teachers’ union.