E-DEMOCRACY | Playing the blame game in education


Tom Goldstein posted at 8:10pm, Jul 05:

I think the most significant problem in education right now is that no one is willing to take ultimate responsibility for the welfare of all children. Teachers blame parents or kids… while parents, some politicians, and administrators blame teachers. Teachers in turn blame administrators–or school board members. School board members blame the state or the federal government for a lack of funds or onerous expectations or whatever, while the state or federal government mandates an ever-changing patchwork of rules and regulations–and the cycle just perpetuates itself. Rarely, if ever, do you hear anybody willing to take responsibility or be held accountable, except in ways where there are no real consequences.

When was the last time you heard the school board or district administration–or teachers, for that matter–acknowledge that “we’re failing to serve kids,” except in the context of “we have to do better,” which becomes a meaningless aspirational goal since almost no one ever loses his or her job for failing to close the achievement gap, significantly improve the graduation rate, or ensuring that all children are prepared for college or vocational training after high school. Instead, there is an endless stream of PR from the district applauding merit scholars, students with perfect scores on the ACT, or other “superstar” accomplishments which take the focus off the larger reality that we’re barely making incremental progress on raising achievement and better preparing kids for life.

In almost any other endeavor, if 30 percent of an organization’s customers didn’t acquire the tools they needed over a 12-year period in spite of paying $12-15,000 a year for the service, the company or organization would be out of business or seen as having enormous structural issues. Yet with nearly 30% of St. Paul’s high school students failing to graduate on time, and as many as 40% of those who do graduate not prepared for higher education (where colleges scramble to provide remedial courses that will hopefully allow kids to survive at the collegiate level), no one is to blame except the parents and kids?

That’s not to diminish or refute the points Jim is making [see: ‘More Than 350 Attend May 20 School Board Meeting.’]; behavior-problem kids are indeed extraordinarily difficult to teach, and their disruptive behavior makes it even harder to teach others in the classroom that are there to learn. But to ignore the way that at least some teachers take the easy way out by focusing only on high-achieving students while intentionally creating low expectations for kids who may be disruptive simply relieves schools of the responsibility for educating all children that they find in their classrooms.

Obviously, there are no simple solutions to what ails public education, and those in far right wing think tanks who regularly demonize teachers seem more interested in scoring political points than finding real solutions. But there are plenty of folks on the left and right of the political spectrum who support teachers but are losing patience when they see a continued flow of money into school budgets with little change in the outcomes.

Until we all collectively embrace the responsibility for educating all children, and teachers, administrators, parents, politicians, faith leaders, etc., are willing to acknowledge their particular contribution to the continued shortcomings in our educational system, we will see little if any change in the status quo. Unfortunately, without accountability measures that have real consequences, finger-pointing will remain the norm with the result that nothing changes.

AS with everything, however, at some point the status quo will become unsustainable, and the fallout will end up impacting the same group that it always hurts–the kids we’re supposed to be lifting up and educating.

Tom Goldstein
Former School Board Member

Mike Fratto posted at 8:25pm, Jul 05:

I want to remind Tom that Selby Slim said those students who act up are the responsibility of their parents [see: ‘More Than 350 Attend May 20 School Board Meeting.’];.

Placing disruptive students in a classroom serves no one The teachers get blamed for not presenting their lessons. The students lose out because they aren’t getting the necessary attention from the teacher. The community loses out because our students aren’t getting educated. All because there are students who disrupt classes and the teacher can’t get them out of class.

A while back I read something about student suspension. The article claimed that suspending students for behavior usually fits into the students plan. The article suggested that instead of suspending the student, they should be placed in a monitored schoolroom where they would be expected to do their classwork.

To suggest that teachers or administration is responsible for disruptive students is ludicrous. It should not be acceptable and the parents should be held accountable.


Tom Goldstein posted at 9:35pm, Jul 05:

There are all sorts of reasons for why kids act up in class-a desire for attention, wanting to be the class clown, anger issues, boredom, etc. None of this behavior is desirable, but there is a difference between a kid who acts out because he or she is not being intellectually challenged as opposed to a kid who acts out because he or she had no dinner the night before or has parents missing in the home, no disciplinary limits being set, etc. Unfortunately, the research shows that kids of color are much more likely to be suspended than their white counterparts for both minor and serious offenses, i.e., cutting up in class or actually being verbally abusive. So, the white kid is essentially tolerated for wisecracking while the non-white kid is sent to the office or worse. I’ll let others with more expertise deconstruct the racial components to this dynamic, but the implication is that because teachers generally view white students as more likely to succeed, they’re willing to accept a level of acting out among those students that they won’t from non-white students because the expectations among teachers and administrators for non-white students are not the same. (The phrase used in the most recent past to describe this phenomenon was the “bigotry of low expectations,” a statement that has sometimes been attributed, believe it or not, to former president George W. Bush.)

Obviously, few teachers will admit that this is what’s going on, but that’s what the data has shown, the same way that non-white offenders in this country are incarcerated in far greater numbers than whites for similar offenses. We can certainly ignore the data if we want, or pretend that there’s no structural racism within the system, but continuing to take the punitive approach that Mike is suggesting, i.e., that parents are the only ones responsible so let’s just suspend or discipline the kids until they improve their behavior, is what we’ve been doing for most of the last thirty years-and it’s not working. As Mike pointed out, the community loses out because the kids aren’t being educated, regardless of who you want to blame for this result.

That’s not to suggest we simply tolerate disruptive behavior; kids who make it impossible to teach effectively should not be in the classroom. But there’s a way to defuse acting out behavior through engagement rather than punishment, something that skilled teachers tend to practice effectively. It’s quite possible that the district’s approach may be short-sighted or not doing enough to address the problems Jim raises, but so was the previous disciplinary approach with its racist implications.

As I said in my previous post, there are no easy solutions to the problems facing public education, but blaming only the parents for disruptive behavior in the classroom effectively relieves administrators and teachers of the responsibility for educating anyone other than model students. So we can acknowledge the joint responsibility we all have for educating children in spite of the many barriers that work against that goal, or we can continue to finger point and blame-which is just another way to ignore the problem while preserving the status quo, a status quo that seems to benefit adults far more than the children it is intended to serve.

Tom Goldstein

Renee Jenson posted at 4:32pm:

I agree with Tom. It is a community’s responsibility to have safe schools where kids can learn and teachers can teach.

But Tom forgot to mention about the kids in the school suffering from ptsd because they have recently immigrated from countries in war zones, or those kids with severe cases of depression and trauma because their house was shot up by a gang member who was seeking revenge against some member of their family, or the very bright boy with autism, and the young teen with an eating disorder, or the suicidal teen who has been bullied because his clothes are “not normal” and he kinda smells. Sometimes these kids are unable to control symptoms of disorders; like agitation, easily distracted, restlessness, pacing, chronic pain, swearing, lashing out at others, talking loudly, panic, seeing things that aren’t there, and many other physical, emotional, psychological, and behavioral symptoms.

Punishing these kids for symptoms of their disorders that they are unable to control is fruitless. It is like punishing someone for vomiting or having a headache. Learning how to prevent, manage and de-escalate these symptoms makes the environment safer for everyone (kids, teachers, administrators, staff). Kids develop trusting relationships with teachers and the environment is much calmer so teachers can teach and kids can learn.

Right now SPPS have a fearful environment. Kids and teachers are always worried about the next altercation. They shouldn’t have to be.

Everyone wants to be understood and treated with respect. The SPPS needs a culture change.

Renee Jenson
I used to be a School Board member too which really isn’t normal

John Gaylord posted at 7:16pm:

It seems to me that statements such as ‘far right wing think tanks who regularly demonize teachers’ do not represent reality, and have become cliched to the point where they lose all impact.

I haven’t seen anyone demonize teachers. I’ve seen teachers’ unions demonized, but that is essentially Management. Besides the responsibility of the student and the student’s parents, I’ve seen lots of criticism of school managers. School management, both government and union, must squarely face the issues and innovate – not try to deflect accountability.

Teachers bear the brunt of bad behavior, bad child-rearing, and bad school management. Appeals to emotion ostensibly on their behalf threaten to prevent teachers from improving their lot.

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