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Don't Blame Teachers For Family Failings

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Initial post: Sep 20, 2010, 7:40:50 AM PDT,0,3636555.story

Don't Blame Teachers For Family Failings

September 19, 2010

The latest flavor of the month in educational reform ties teacher evaluations to student performance on annual standardized tests. This, like most of the educational reforms over the past three decades, is just another political red herring distracting us from a more fundamental and more effective reform we'd rather ignore: family reform.

During 30 years as a Connecticut high school teacher, I participated in a number of school reforms, all of them based on "the latest numbers" and "the latest literature"; all of them developed by research experts, most of whom no longer teach students.

I learned the wisdom of teaching reading with phonics and without phonics; of guided discovery, Socratic method and team teaching; of student-centered classrooms and student learning styles; of "rooms without walls" and group learning; of homogenous tracking and heterogeneous tracking; of career outreach and community service; of teaching the gifted and No Child Left Behind. Though all of these ideas were well-intentioned and marginally effective in helping students learn, it's clear that not only are some contradictory to others, but none changed the 30-year flat-line in student learning.

Now, some are advocating using business model incentives in the schools; namely, holding teachers accountable for student performance. Just as business managers are held accountable for employee productivity, teachers will be responsible for student learning. If the manager/teacher fails to produce measurable results, he can be demoted, reprogrammed or terminated.

But this neat analogy fails to mention that managers can fire unproductive employees. Students, on the other hand, cannot be fired. Further, although employees understand the huge stake they have in their performance; students know their scores on most standardized tests affects neither their grade nor their promotion.

Finally, while the business model aims to maximize productivity and motivate adult employees who have freely chosen a career, public schools mandate that relatively immature children and adolescents learn material in which they may or may not have an interest. Holding teachers accountable for student performance not only misplaces responsibility but won't significantly improve student learning. Teachers may lead students to educational waters, but they cannot make them drink.

Perhaps one benefit of school reforms is that more stringent requirements, preparation, monitoring and mentoring have made today's teachers better prepared to teach than any time in history. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the children teachers face in the classroom. Although the overwhelming majority of teachers already deliver sound lessons to their students, far too many students are unready or unwilling to learn.

On the other hand, teachers universally agree that students who do their assignments learn. Students with a strong work ethic learn. Motivated students learn. The decline in education may say more about the character of our children than the quality of our teachers. What we need is not another school reform but a family reform.

What has been the most significant change in American culture in the last 30 years? The family. As it became more extended, more decentralized and less insulated; many parents, perhaps overcompensating for their strict upbringing, adopted more laissez-faire and lenient parenting styles. Whether or not a child likes his teacher has become more important to some parents than the responsibilities and self-discipline of the child. All too often, self-esteem trumps real character.

When a child isn't taught by his parents to make school his top priority, it isn't. When parents don't monitor their children's homework, it often isn't done; when grades and progress reports aren't discussed in the home, they aren't effective in the school. And, when children aren't held accountable for their academic performance by their parents, there is only so much a teacher can do.

Educational reform may have improved teachers over the decades, but if we want significant improvement in student performance, parents need to show the necessary resolve for instilling in their children the work ethic, responsibility and motivation essential to a lifetime of learning. Real educational reform starts in the home.

Thomas Cangelosi of Avon is a retired English teacher. He taught at the Gilbert School in Winsted.

Posted on Sep 20, 2010, 5:46:27 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 20, 2010, 6:53:45 PM PDT
But Mom says:
School always blames the parent. School systems are bureaucracies. That's disappointing. Real educational reform begins at home, so if we want significant improvement in student performance, parents need to home-school.

Definition of bureaucracy: System of administration distinguished by its (1) clear hierarchy of authority, (2) rigid division of labor, (3) written and inflexible rules, regulations, and procedures, and (4) impersonal relationships. Once instituted, bureaucracies are difficultto dislodge or change. See also Parkinson's Law and Peter Principle.

Definition of Parkinson's Law: Observation that "work expands to fill the time available for its completion," and that a sufficiently large bureaucracy will generate enough internal work to keep itself 'busy' and so justify its continued existence without commensurate output. Proposed in 1955 in jest by the UK political analyst and historian Cyril Northcote Parkinson (1909-93) while criticizing the British Admiralty (which was growing bigger while the number of sailors and ships under its care was going down). It is quoted more as a keen insight into the functioning of large organizations than as an empirical reality. See also Peter principle.

Definition of Peter principle: Observation that in an hierarchy people tend to rise to "their level of incompetence." Thus, as people are promoted, they become progressively less-effective because good performance in one job does not guaranty similar performance in another. Named after the Canadian researcher Dr. Laurence J. Peter (1910-90) who popularized this observation in his 1969 book 'The Peter Principle.'

Definition of bureaucratic leadership: Style of leadership that emphasizes procedures and historical methods, regardless of their usefulness in changing environments. Bureaucratic leaders attempt to solve problems by adding layers of control, and their power comes from controlling the flow of information.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 21, 2010, 6:45:18 AM PDT
I agree that Thomas Cangelosi does place too much blame on parents. He made only a passing reference to all the failed fads that teachers have been forced to promote when he wrote:

<<During 30 years as a Connecticut high school teacher, I participated in a number of school reforms, all of them based on "the latest numbers" and "the latest literature"; all of them developed by research experts, most of whom no longer teach students.>>

He also completely ignored the top-heavy school administration, which has too many incompetents.

Posted on Sep 21, 2010, 7:25:46 PM PDT
Evangeline says:
Parents need to take responsibility for their children. Teachers can only do so much in the classroom, it is unreasonable to expect teachers to "fix" children who have an unsupportive family life. We can not go home with the children and make sure they are reviewing their spelling words, studying for their test, doing their homework and so on. Somewhere in there parents need to be responsible for the children that they have created. Longer school days are not going to fix this, year round school is not going to fix this. Parents need to step up to the plate and understand that they need to take an active and supportive role in their childs education.

Posted on Sep 24, 2010, 6:39:06 AM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Apr 21, 2011, 9:24:32 AM PDT]

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 29, 2010, 5:28:02 PM PDT
Me says:
What are your suggestions for fixing the system?

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 29, 2010, 7:07:05 PM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Apr 21, 2011, 9:24:58 AM PDT]

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 30, 2010, 6:38:54 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 30, 2010, 6:40:09 AM PDT
Dagny Tag says:
"2) Slash the bureaucracy of the School Districts...Appoint don't elect..."
Take a more active role in selecting leaders through research and community involvement not through corrupt media.

"3) screw Political correctness... bring back real grades based on real competitive performance and do away with this "every kid's a winner" crap; the real world doesn't work like that, why should schools?
School is not the economy and the economy never has improved humanity. Stop evaluating humans on artificial scales based on screwed up values.
Every child has personal attributes and can not fit a system where one size fits all. Have a system the benefits those individual attributes and not one that benefits those in charge only. Everyone is not equal and should not be treated as such. Use common sense in the way you treat others.
"'really just like regular kids'"
No child is regular. It is only your low level Skinner/Pavlov system that treats them as such animals. Psychology has a long way to go before it understands humanity. They might want to start with beauty, truth and an appreciation for the human form as an art not a machine.
"5) FAIL kids who deserve it...Don't do the work? Don't pass the grade..."
Why not take it to the conclusion and kill those that do not fit into your system.

Posted on Sep 30, 2010, 6:57:06 AM PDT
HannaH says:
Well spoken comments - to add, educators can only hope to improve a student's performance; they cannot change heredity (IQ) or enviromental factors. As was said earlier, this surge in fixing education is merely a tactic to take one's mind off the real problems - fixing families, the economy, etc. I would llike to see the comments of Cangelosi submitted to the major news networks!

Posted on Sep 30, 2010, 11:58:32 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 30, 2010, 2:51:56 PM PDT
DD67 says:

I am a strong supporter of being an actively involved parent in your child's education, this isn't to say I am a supporter of home-schooling or non-supporter of home schooling.(this discussion for another time)

This is to say that if your child is 5 years old and you are still wiping his/her rear-end and still carrying him/her around don't be surprised if your child's teacher has a few complaints.

on the other hand

If your family is totally disfunctional you cuss at your children, because their loudness and bussiness is interupting your telivision, internet or nap time and you kick them out the door for peace and quiet at the age of 3, you have never played a board game with your child, you haven't had any kind of regular schedule, nap-time, story-time, music-time, ectt.... Don't be surprised when your child struggles in head-start(free day-care) or kindergaraten and the school is telling you they can't function in a regular classroom.

Absolutly, do not blame teachers.

Or what about:

My son who went into Kindergarten, started out with a teacher with 30 years of experience and a week later was switched to a teacher with zero years, months nor days of experience, because the school underestimated the enrollment numbers and decided to add a class a week into the school year, but there were no teachers left to be found.

what if your then 5 year old passed the PALS test with a 9o% going into GRADE K and came out of grade K at again a 90%. With no improvement what so ever in reading ability and complained about how boring school was. My only words of advice were, "It will be better in 1st grade", because I was going to make darn sure that principle new that my son was going to get the best 1st grade teacher and not the new teacher or the transferred teacher.

STill not the teachers fault? Principle? or parents?

one could argue, why were there so many last minute addtions to the class? Or was there?

Yes, first grade did go better.

Why didn't I home-school in the evening?

AFter being in school or on the bus from 7:45 AM to 4pm he was too tired and too grouchy to be willing to listen to any lessons.

he is now in 4th grade, a very well rounded student, great grades, on-level reader, lots of friends and no worser for the wear.

Posted on Sep 30, 2010, 12:10:04 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 30, 2010, 12:14:00 PM PDT
Ritana says:
>>>Why not take it to the conclusion and kill those that do not fit into your system. <<<<

Wow, first of all, talk about a slippery slope. You might want to take logic class before you try entering into a debate any time soon. A black & white approach to the discussion isn't helping kids learn.

Considering your comments about how "every child...can not fit a system where one size fits all" I'd think you'd be able to recognize that there are honestly kids who are, for whatever reason, not developing as fast as their classmates. This is particularly true in elementary school and some children can really benefit from repeating a year: they become mentally more mature and capable. Its a far worse crime to pass on some of these kids: the next year they'll be facing an even bigger gap between themselves and their classmates. Being behind is something that snowballs, its best dealt with early on, because the farther behind you child gets, the less time the teacher has to try to help catch them up. And while "FAIL THEM" sounds like a harsh sentence, it can sometimes be in the child's best interest. Naturally, in elementary school this is rephrased as "retaining," which is really a more accurate title. A lot of kids could benefit from this, but a lot of parents refuse to do it, pretty much for the sake of their own pride. One step of helpful reform could be to help parents realize the value of giving their child an extra year to develop before moving them up to the next level.

PS. I should add, that for kids who are only a little bit behind, there's the option of summer school instead of retaining them. Of course, my school district has an issue with making sure the kids who need summer school get it, since a lot of parents view it as free daycare and enroll kids who don't really need it. :(

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 30, 2010, 12:24:33 PM PDT
Dagny Tag says:
"I'd think you'd be able to recognize that there are honestly kids who are, for whatever reason, not developing as fast as their classmates."
You can take your Skinner development table and float your boat. Children are not standard and never will be. As one might read at 3 and not understand friendships. Another might play music but does not pick up conversation. Another a whiz in problem solving but does not follow instructions. One size does not fit all, neither does standard child development and standard classes. The whole concept of classes by age groups is not good for individuals it nothing more than making widgets. Our children are not widgets.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 30, 2010, 3:09:07 PM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Apr 21, 2011, 9:24:59 AM PDT]

Posted on Oct 28, 2010, 4:01:09 PM PDT
Anthony says:
In defense of Lisareads... She seems to cut beyond the side stepping and backtracking. A system that is designed for standard, non sentient types but is stuffed full of individuals will fail and eventually collapse. We have a school system that is collapsing under the weight of non-standard, non-white, non-straight, non-two parent family, non- upper to middle class, non-English speaking, non-developmentally perfect, non-behaviorally average, non-chemically balanced... well lets just call them individuals. We measure the development of human beings as if they were turkeys. Well, human beings arent turkeys or baboons. Standardization only works on the dominant race, gender or other stat. When that dominant profile gets scared they tend to... as lisareads said: kill (or oppress) the nonstandard. Ask any special needs mom or dad how they feel about the public school system.

As for families... Here they come with the old laissez faire, permissive parenting argument. Permissive is no worse than restrictive. Not appreciating a child as a ball of potential awesomeness happens in restrictive families too. The fear and bigotry harbored in restrictive families is glossed over by the kids' high test scores. Forget the suicidal sons and anorexic daughters. And they spend the rest of their lives saying: Mom and Dad only wanted the best for me or They beat me and I turned out alright. Restrictive families see their kids as their possessions to mold, shape, train and enslave. Permissive ones see their kids as toys to pamper, protect, coddle and abandon. Neither attitude helps kids learn. Almost every educationally-minded person Ive ever heard of says: my parents encouraged me to think my own thoughts, they challenged my ideas and boundaries and allowed me to carve my own path in life. A baboon mother teaches its young to be baboons. But Dalia can only teach her young to be themselves.

Why should parents give a damn about their kids being well educated when most of them are not educated and if they are they probably feel as if it didnt make a bit of difference? A nice car and a bunch of video games dont cost HALF as much as an education! The real question is why should any American (man woman or child) care about education or intellectual pursuits? Education takes time, effort, grace and wisdom. And it wont make you a dollar! Better to dump the kids into the work force early, let them get trained to be widgets right at the site.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 2, 2010, 9:45:08 PM PDT
Mom of 4 says:
I had debated just leaving this board entirley because of such tripe. Argument for argument's sake is just silly. There really is such as thing as "regular" children. I see it in my kindergarten class all the time. Some are advanced, some are in the middle and some are so woefully behind I can't help but wonder if they've been stuck in a closet for the first 5 years of their lives. Amazingly though, those who excel in one area seem to be at least average in other areas. I have yet to see a kid who was truly "gifted" in one area be abysmal in any other area as Lisareads implies. But, regardless of right or wrong, her approach calls for such an extensive overhaul of the education system, and indeed in our society, that it is laughable to even entertain the argument as it will not come into fruition in our lifetimes at least.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 3, 2010, 6:38:35 AM PDT
Dagny Tag says:
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In reply to an earlier post on Nov 3, 2010, 1:03:02 PM PDT
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In reply to an earlier post on Nov 3, 2010, 5:32:47 PM PDT
stacey Krish says:
It seems like modern schools are demanding "hoverparents". We're supposed to know every detail of our kid's school day and be able to prepare them at home. But my kids don't tell me every detail of their school day and their teachers won't post their homework assignments online. They want my kids to "take responsibility" for their homework themselves while actually holding me accountable for the homework. When I was a kid, I either did my homework or I didn't and I had to live with the consequences (as provided by my teachers eg. bad grades). My parents were not held responsible for my actions, I was. Schools are sending mixed messages! Parents are frustrated and confused by stressed out teachers who send conflicting messages.
The bottom line is: teaching is an art. No one can "test" the skill of an artist, no one can quantify it. Intellectual teachers stimulate and inspire children into becoming avid learners. How do we attract intellectuals into the teaching profession?
My brothers and I used to come home from school excited about all that we'd learned and eager to discuss it with our parents. A more competitive classroom encouraged us to enlist our parents to help us prep for quizzes. There was social gain to be had from studying and being smart. My kids are bright and unmotivated. They aren't catching a passion for learning in school, although we've tried to instill it at home, it falls flat when it comes to school work. I think they will not "catch the joy of learning" from a longer school day, but will feel even more bored and burnt out.
Our society has become enamored of bureaucratic record keeping and completely devalues passion. Nearly everyone is experiencing a sense of burnout and feels devalued nowadays. Anything we can do to lighten teachers' record keeping and deepen their passion for knowledge will move us in the right direction. Their true job is to light a fire in the mind of a child by hook or by crook.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 3, 2010, 5:47:58 PM PDT
Dagny Tag says:
"How do we attract intellectuals into the teaching profession? "
Take big Government and big business out of it.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 3, 2010, 5:54:21 PM PDT
stacey Krish says:
Re, "this surge in fixing education is merely a tactic to take one's mind off the real problems - fixing families, the economy, etc."

The way to "fix families" is to honor family always. Family is sacred, so back off. Think of the generations that a family encompasses: hundreds of years, hundreds of people passing family culture, dna and all the personality quirks that come with dna, the gifts and limitations and potential stored in the dna and in the family culture, the sacred identity that is special to each family...Think of that and back off, teachers. You have no right at all to judge parents. Kids adapt. They are adapting to you and whatever message you are sending them. Parents will not cooperate with or even care about teachers who dishonor parents and children with catty, superior remarks, which is disgustingly common among "professional educators" when they talk about parents and kids.
Teaching is a sacred art. Each teacher is a unique individual from a unique family and they will interact with each individual child in an individual way. There is a synergy within a family that must be respected because an outsider can't understand it, same with a teacher in a classroom.
What's wrong with our economy? Because we now fail to honor family and the individuals who make up families,everyone is trying to corner a piece of the "status pie". There's no honor in providing a humble service anymore.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 3, 2010, 6:06:07 PM PDT
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In reply to an earlier post on Nov 4, 2010, 4:19:40 AM PDT
Mom of 4 says:
That is ridiculous reasoning. I actually served in the Army as well, so I did see that many of the people who join the Army are cut from the same cloth - this is why camaraderie is so apparent in those that serve because they are very similar even from day 1 of basic training.

I have gifted students in my classroom - I have several that read above grade level, I had 1 student last year who was advanced in math, and I have 2 students this year who are above average in artistic ability at this age. I differentiate my instruction and work with small groups all the time so that I am helping ALL of my students to learn and grow. I actually spend MORE time and effort with my average to advanced students because my below average students get pulled for intensive tutoring (which they love). Our tutors are licensed teachers who work with groups of no more than 3 students with hands on, interesting materials. In the meantime, I have about 12 students left in the classroom that I can work with in small groups or on an individual basis. I have a student who reads fluently above the first grade level in my kindergarten class and he does not do much of the regular work that the others do because I provide him with higher level opportunities. Last year my son was in 2nd grade at this same school and was advanced in math, he was allowed to go into the 3rd grade classroom for math since he was so far above the other students in 2nd grade. A good school does things like this. As for it being more work, not really - I have to prepare lessons for my students each week which I differentiate so that high, average and low achievers each get something different out of it - if I prepared one lesson for all students I would have a much harder time because my high students would be bored and goof off, my low students would be frustrated and goof off and my average students would see all the goofing off and do it themselves lol. When I get evaluated, that is part of my evaluation, how am I interesting the advanced students, how am I reaching the low students and how am I building up my average students. If I don't do this I get a negative evaluation and can be fired. It is much easier and REQUIRED for a teacher to teach to all levels, than for a teacher to put all children in the same basket.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 4, 2010, 6:32:25 AM PDT
Dagny Tag says:
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Posted on Nov 7, 2010, 9:08:36 AM PST
Scott FS says:
In California, the average teacher makes over $80,000 per year. AVERAGE! This means your child's kindergarten teacher is making more than you do.

The California Teacher's Association exists for ONE reason, and one reason only. That is to get more and more money for teachers. Plain and simple. They will use the issue of leaky roofs and poor student achievement as instruments to bludgeon the heads of taxpayers, but ALL they care about it more money for teachers.

Plain and simple.

Until public employee unions are outlawed, there will be NO progress in education.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 7, 2010, 11:05:58 AM PST
In California, the average teacher makes over $80,000 per year. AVERAGE! This means your child's kindergarten teacher is making more than you do.

On the coast of Oregon, teachers start around $30,000 in my district. With eight years of experience, a master's degree and over 15 additional graduate level units, a teacher may make ~$45,000. It's a tourist economy, so that means that housing and food is expensive. Teachers are still better off than many of the students they serve, however, since those students come from families working in the tourist industry, which pays only minimum wage.
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