If Teachers Fail, Who Should Be Held Accountable?

My latest Huffington Post is below:

Hunting season has begun and educators are the targets.

Governors, state legislatures, and the United States Department of Education want to hold educators responsible for low school performance. But are they the only ones?  Unfortunately, there is enough guilt to go around.

Let’s start with politicians who underfund education and therefore show that they do not value it even as they say they do.  We are told that America spends more money on education than other countries.  And while this is true, America spends LESS of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on education than many industrialized countries.

Current funding formulas used to fund schools is another major cause.  Using property tax assessments to fund schools deprives areas with low taxable property like shopping malls, fewer funds to operate their schools.  This causes low-income areas like Detroit and Newark to have less money to spend than Princeton, New Jersey or Bloomfield Hills, Michigan where median income is $200,000.

President Obama’s Race to the Top rewards successful schools and states.  Shouldn’t money be given to schools that need to improve?

Schools of Education need to fill seats and accept students who have low SAT scores who would not be accepted in business or medical schools.  Teacher education programs need a complete overhaul led by educational practitioners who understand what is taking place in America’s classrooms.  For many of those who prepare educators, the last time they were in a classroom was the day they graduated from high school.  Perhaps the answer is to simply better preparing teachers.  In many colleges, student teaching takes place in the last year of preparation so the individual being prepared has no expectation of what confronts them in the classroom.

Shortages exist in certain educational fields such as special education.  The present administration has put a major effort into the hiring of S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering or Math) teachers, but is having difficulty in attracting enough warm bodies to fill classrooms.  They may be looking for highly qualified but not highly effective teachers.  Highly qualified teachers know what to teach; highly effective teachers know how to teach it.  We have all experienced teachers who knew the material but lacked the ability to teach it effectively.

Some individuals enter the classroom because they see it as an opportunity to get a job and plan to leave as soon as another opportunity opens up.  There exists a misunderstanding of what it takes to teach and for many, the preparation they receive at colleges or universities fails to adequately prepare them.

Politicians are trapped by simplistic views that educational outcomes are linear. Measurable outcomes of one human being (a student) cannot and should not be used to make evaluative decisions about the behavior of another human (a teacher) because the student may not be able to (out-of-school factors) or may choose not to learn.  For example, should teachers be held accountable for habitually truant students?

Why are educators being held to a higher standard than surgeons?  Do we expect lawyers to win every case, police to end crime?  Do we expect coaches to win every game?  No Child Left Behind and the Obama version, Race For The Top envisions that by December 31, 2014, ALL students will be reading at grade level.  And even though Arnie Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education has given states permission to be exempt, the regulation is still written into the law.

The governors of Wisconsin, Florida, New Jersey, and Ohio and the mayor of Providence, Rhode Island have determined that educators and public education make highly visible, easy to attack victims.  They are attempting to balance their budgets on the backs of public servants.  But not all “public servants” only those who are “not essential.” Educators did not cause this problem. But it is easier to target educators rather than the financial, insurance and banking industries that did.

  • Education, in most states, is a major component in the makeup of state and local budgets.  Many states spend close to 50% of their budget on schools.  But politicians tell their constituents that education is expensive.  Ignorance is far more expensive.  Estimates of the percentage of prisoners who are school dropouts range as high as 82 percent. (Source:  cost of Dropping Out by Ben Brudevold-Newman found on  Alliance for Excellent Education “Saving Futures, Saving Dollars”)

Prisons cost taxpayers more than $37 billion a year. (Source: The nation’s 2 million inmates and their keepers are the ultimate captive market: a $37 billion economy bulging with business opportunity by Michael Myser, Business 2.0 Magazine, March 15 2007: 12:37 PM EDT

  •  Every year that an inmate spends in prison costs almost $16,000 (Source: Using figures from Wikipedia and the above cited article, 2,418,352 prisoners divided into $37 billion = $15,299.68)
  • An individual sentenced to five years for a $300 theft costs the public more than $75,000. (Source: 5 years at $15,299,68 = $76,498,40)
  •  The cost of a life term costs almost $1 million. (Source: Wikipedia:  Of these, only the United States currently has minors serving such sentences.[1] As of 2009, Human Rights Watch had calculated that there were 2,589[2][3] youth offenders serving life without parole in the United States.[4]
  •  A minor sentenced at age 17 to life imprisonment, living until the age of 76 would cost $933,280.48)
  •  Some states are spending more money on prisons than education. Over the course of the last 20 years, the amount of money spent on prisons was increased by 570% while that spent on elementary and secondary education was increased by only 33%. (Source:

No school district in the country spends that much on education.

Education affects parents, businesses, as well as law enforcement.  But as importantly, it affects our future and our global competitiveness. It was not long ago that the president, businesspeople and state governors who were decrying the fact that our schools were not “globally competitive”.  But since children don’t vote, they are easy targets.

States need to spend money on education and job programs in order to attract economic development.

Is it possible that the attack on education and the vilification of educators a gender issue?  Police, fire, sanitation and prison guards are not being subjected to the cuts being made in education.  Could it be that since the majority of educators are female they are less likely to complain when jobs and salaries are reduced?