By Kathie Marshall
In May 2005, I wrote an op-ed for one of our Los Angeles newspapers, in which I vented my frustrations about the state of education in my community. Here’s some of what I said:
“I’ve been an educator in the Los Angeles area for more than 30 years in grades two through eight, including general education, second-language learner, gifted, special-education and intervention students. I’ve taught some of the wealthiest families to some of the poorest, in both private and public schools. For the past four years I have been a literacy coach at a middle school in the Los Angeles Unified School District, working with teachers and students to improve instruction and learning. And I have to tell you, many things that have taken place in education over the last decade have me mad!”
Lately I’ve been feeling a powerful urge to vent again. Fellow teachers can probably relate. So here’s an updated version:
Nearly six years have passed, and I’m not just mad – I’m outraged. I’ve been an educator for nearly four decades now, and the current and continuing onslaught against public education is unprecedented.
I’m outraged that President Obama has so let down public educators by enabling the continuing rhetoric against bad teachers and failing schools, all the while neglecting to undo the worst aspects of No Child Left Behind. What happened to those campaign promises for meaningful reform?
I’m outraged that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan continues his laser-like focus on teacher evaluations and monetary rewards based on unreliable standardized test scores, without addressing ongoing problems of “teaching to the test” and the narrowing of curriculum—especially in low-performing schools. Where will Duncan position himself when the achievement gap widens even more?
I’m outraged that Michelle Rhee is still a media darling, appearing on CBS and Fox News to publicize her “Save Great Teachers” campaign and undo teacher seniority in layoffs, as though all or even most great teachers are among the recently hired. Why isn’t Rhee out there exposing the dire state of education financing and its impact on poor and minority children, campaigning for a return to budgetary sanity in public education?
I’m outraged that a handful of extremely wealthy individuals increasingly control the policy agenda and use their big bucks to force corporate solutions on schools where many students are suffering the consequences of poverty and Wall Street’s reckless raids on the economy. How can we continue to allow them to persist in their delusions that they know best what should happen in students’ lives?
I’m outraged that scores of media continue to exclude teacher experts and teacher leaders from substantive conversations about education reform. How do teachers morph themselves into media darlings?
I’m outraged that California politicians have so destroyed the eighth largest economy in the world that we are close to having a third-world educational system in place. Who’s going to want to educate my beloved grandchildren when they enter school?
I’m outraged that the workforce at my large high-needs middle school, where we accomplished the nearly unheard of goal of increasing the state Academic Performance Index score by 47 points last year, continues to be gutted. How are we to make do next year with two assistant principals instead of four? With four clerical workers instead of 12? With one custodian instead of five? No magnet school coordinator? No librarian? No literacy coach? No math coach? No nurse?
I’m outraged that 15 more of my school’s most talented, experienced teachers are going through the turmoil of Reduction in Force notices – informed that they may, in fact, be jobless after June. Who understands how valuable these teachers are to the future of public education?
I’m outraged that the tireless dedication of my principal is being rewarded with the continual spiraling down of paid days in which to perform her job well and the continual ratcheting up of pressures to demonstrate teacher effectiveness and student learning. How is she supposed to support us with so little support herself?
I’m outraged that my students, growing up in one of the poorest communities in Los Angeles, are expected to perform better than ever while being provided with fewer and fewer resources in and out of school during these dismal economic times. Who cares about students who’ve lost their homes? Lost a parent? Speak little English? Didn’t eat yesterday?
I’m outraged that after a decade of ill-informed rants against bad teachers and failing schools, now the pundits and politicians are coming after our pensions and health benefits. With the added insult that in 15 states, including my own, Social Security benefits will be reduced by approximately 40% because a partial teacher pension is considered “double dipping.” How is it that my 37 years in this important role now counts for so little as I near retirement?
I’m outraged that so few Americans attempt to understand the dedication and long hours that are required in the teaching profession and so easily accept media portrayals of teachers as being overpaid for their “cushy part time” jobs. Where, oh where is the public outcry against teacher-bashing and the decimation of school budgets?
Most of all, I’m outraged over the growing negative impact on teachers of all of the above. Across the country, teachers are feeling disrespected, unappreciated, threatened, demoralized, and defeated. Nonetheless, we appear daily before our treasured students with a smile and a new, important lesson for the day.
When will those in power and position finally understand that in order to have a strong, vibrant, economically sound future for America, we must give teachers respect, empower them to reform their profession, and support them with adequate finances to realize our dreams for all our students?
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