Opinion
Education Opinion

Remembering Teachers the Way We Want

By Walt Gardner — January 16, 2015 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

I’m used to hearing nothing but bad things about public-school teachers in this country. But even I was taken aback by the conclusion that Joseph Epstein drew in a recent essay (“That’s a Nickel,” The Weekly Standard, Jan. 19). In a discussion at the National Endowment for the Humanities about the importance of their secondary education, one woman from Germany sang the praises of the gymnasium she attended, while the other, an American, did the same about the time she spent at the lycée in France. In contrast, Epstein, who attended a public high school in Chicago, remembered only how terrible his teachers were. The reason was quite apparent: “They represented the rich fruits of tenure in a public-school system.”

I’m not an apologist for bad teachers, whether in public, private or religious schools. They have no place in the classroom because they deprive their students of the education they deserve. But like so many other critics, Epstein provides only one side of the story. Let me explain.

First, since Epstein relies on anecdotal evidence, I’ll begin with my own. There are outstanding public-school teachers in this country. I attended a public high school in suburban N.Y. in the 1950s and received a first-rate education. In fact, I learned far more Spanish there than I did at the University of Pennsylvania. I’m completely bilingual, as a result. How come?

Second, tenure has very little to do with poor instruction, despite Epstein’s assertion. All the teachers I had possessed tenure. In fact, the empirical evidence is clear on this point: The states with the strongest tenure laws and strongest teachers’ unions post the highest scores on NAEP ( e.g. Massachusetts and Minnesota). Conversely, the states with the weakest tenure laws and weakest teachers’ unions post the lowest scores on NAEP (e.g. Arkansas and Mississippi). Epstein omits these inconvenient facts. The teachers in Germany and France that he cites as paradigms also have strong tenure laws. The benefits of teachers’ unions to the public are ignored as well by too many authors (“Public Unions vs. the Public,” The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 16).

Finally, generalizing about all public-school teachers is as unconvincing as generalizing about all private-school or religious-school teachers. I had classmates at Penn who graduated from prestigious New England prep schools and from renowned religious schools who ranged in ability as dramatically as those from public schools. Epstein must have learned far more from his public-school teachers in Chicago than he admits or he wouldn’t be writing for The Weekly Standard.

I’m perfectly willing to engage in a debate with anyone about the shortcomings of public education in this country, including the ineffectiveness of teachers. But I think it’s only fair to enter the debate with an open mind.

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.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Data Webinar
Using Integrated Analytics To Uncover Student Needs
Overwhelmed by data? Learn how an integrated approach to data analytics can help.

Content provided by Instructure
Classroom Technology Webinar How Pandemic Tech Is (and Is Not) Transforming K-12 Schools
The COVID-19 pandemic—and the resulting rise in virtual learning and big investments in digital learning tools— helped educators propel their technology skills to the next level. Teachers have become more adept at using learning management
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Data Webinar
How Can Data-Driven Instructional Programming Promote Equity and Student Achievement?
By now, you’ve started the new school year and begun gathering new academic data on your learners from interim, summative, and perhaps even social and emotional learning (SEL) assessment sources. These data points help you
Content provided by ACT

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Students Argue Civics Education Is a Constitutional Right, Continue Court Fight
Students nationwide need to know how to participate in the political process and exercise their constitutional rights, their lawyers argue.
4 min read
High school teacher Natalie O'Brien, center, hands out papers during a civics class called "We the People," at North Smithfield High School in North Smithfield, R.I., on March 8, 2017. Students in Rhode Island are asking a federal appeals court to affirm that all public school students have a constitutional right to a civics education because they feel they aren't taught how to meaningfully participate in a democratic and civil society.
High school teacher Natalie O'Brien, center, hands out papers during a civics class called "We the People," at North Smithfield High School in North Smithfield, R.I., on March 8, 2017. Students in Rhode Island are asking a federal appeals court to affirm that all public school students have a constitutional right to a civics education because they feel they aren't taught how to meaningfully participate in a democratic and civil society.
Steven Senne/AP
Education Senators Put YouTube, TikTok, Snapchat on the Defensive on Kids' Online Safety
Senators questioned executives from YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat about what they’re doing to ensure young users’ safety on their platforms.
5 min read
The Youtube, left, and Snapchat apps on a mobile device in New York, on Aug. 9, 2017. The leaders of a Senate panel have called executives from YouTube, TikTok and Snapchat to face questions on what the companies are doing to ensure young users’ safety. The hearing Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021, comes as the panel bears down on hugely popular social media platforms and their impact on children.
The Youtube, left, and Snapchat apps on a mobile device in New York, on Aug. 9, 2017. The leaders of a Senate panel have called executives from YouTube, TikTok and Snapchat to face questions on what the companies are doing to ensure young users’ safety. The hearing Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021, comes as the panel bears down on hugely popular social media platforms and their impact on children.
Richard Drew/AP
Education Briefly Stated: October 27, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Vulnerable Students Left Behind as Schooling Disruptions Continue
The effects of unpredictable stretches at home can mirror those of chronic absenteeism and lead to long-term harm to learning.
4 min read
Students board a school bus on New York's Upper West Side on Sept. 13, 2021. Even as most students return to learning in the classroom this school year, disruptions to in-person learning, from missing one day because of a late school bus to an entire two weeks at home due to quarantine, remain inevitable as families and educators navigate the ongoing pandemic.
Students board a school bus on New York's Upper West Side on Sept. 13, 2021. Even as most students return to learning in the classroom this school year, disruptions to in-person learning, from missing one day because of a late school bus to an entire two weeks at home due to quarantine, remain inevitable as families and educators navigate the ongoing pandemic.
Richard Drew/AP