Who Stands for Our Children?

Who Stands for Our Children?

First priority – the children

As a Montessori teacher, my first priority is my students. I stand for them and that is why I have chosen to devote my life to the training of teachers. I believe that many American teachers, Montessori or other, believe the same. Yet the structured organization of teachers in America has a different agenda.

In a June 11, 2011 article in The Atlantic Magazine, former legal prosecutor and later Superintendant of New York City Schools for eight years, Joel Klein, pleads the cause for educational reform in an article called The Failure of American Schools. It is an excellent article.

He reminds us that “Nearly three decades after A Nation at Risk, the groundbreaking report by the National Commission on Excellence in Education, warned of ‘a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people,’ the gains we have made in improving our schools are negligible—even though we have doubled our spending (in inflation-adjusted dollars) on K–12 public education. On America’s latest exams (the National Assessment of Educational Progress), one-third or fewer of eighth-grade students were proficient in math, science, or reading. Our high-school graduation rate continues to hover just shy of 70 percent, according to a 2010 report by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, and many of those students who do graduate aren’t prepared for college. ACT, the respected national organization that administers college-admissions tests, recently found that 76 percent of our high-school graduates “were not adequately prepared academically for first-year college courses.”

What is happening and why?

President Obama said in 2008: “The single most important factor in determining achievement is not the color of skin or where they come from. It’s not who their parents are or how much money they have. It’s who their teacher is.”

Klein explains: “Yet, rather than create a system that attracts and rewards excellent teachers—and that imposes consequences for ineffective or lazy ones—we treat all teachers as if they were identical widgets and their performance didn’t matter.” The teachers’ unions, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) and the National Education Association (NEA) are among the most powerful unions in the United States.

Under union policies, teachers who have taught a certain number of years are tenured. In other words they cannot be fired. Klein says that firing a public-school teacher for non-performance is virtually impossible. “In New York City, which has some 55,000 tenured teachers, we were able to fire only half a dozen or so for incompetence in a given year, even though we devoted significant resources to this effort.

“The extent of this “no one gets fired” mentality is difficult to overstate—or even adequately describe. Steven Brill wrote an eye-opening piece in The New Yorker about the “rubber rooms” in New York City, where teachers were kept, while doing no work, pending resolution of the charges against them—mostly for malfeasance, like physical abuse or embezzlement, but also for incompetence. The teachers got paid regardless. (To add insult to injury, these cases ultimately were heard by an arbitrator whom the union had to first approve.)”

The argument for choice and accountability

“Accountability, in most industries or professions, usually takes two forms. First and foremost, markets impose accountability: if people don’t choose the goods or services you’re offering, you go out of business. Second, high-performing companies develop internal accountability requirements keyed to market-based demands.

“Public education lacks both kinds of accountability. It is essentially a government-run monopoly. Whether a school does well or poorly, it will get the students it needs to stay in business, because most kids have no other choice. And that, in turn, creates no incentive for better performance, greater efficiency, or more innovation—all things as necessary in public education as they are in any other field.”

Klein has an ambitious idea to have teachers work with software developers to create math lessons where each child can be working at his or her own level. He apparently does not know that this is exactly what Montessori classrooms already do.

Let’s get the word out about what Montessori offers!

Albert Shanker, the late head of the UFT, once pointedly put it, “When schoolchildren start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of schoolchildren.” It is clear that the teachers’ unions are not putting children first.

Again, I ask: Who Stands for Our Children?

If you do, let me know, mem@ageofmontessori.org

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