Student Achievement - A Shared Responsibility

Shouldn't pupil achievement be considered a shared responsibility?

While test scores do not reveal everything about a teacher's performance, they can and should be factored into his/her evaluation. However fair is fair. The vast majority of teachers I knew and worked with during my 35 years as a teacher and principal laid their collective souls on the line for the inner city kids they served. If they were unable to extract better outcomes, it wasn't because of a lack of effort or motivation on their part. Rather it was because their training did not reflect the knowledge base. This is especially true in the area of literacy training where a recent report by the National Council on Teacher Quality found that most schools of education do not include reading science in their core curricula.

It is unfair to make teachers the default scapegoat under such circumstances. If teachers are to be held accountable, so should those who prepared them. If that were the case, everyone including the kids would likely perform better.

Leaving Johnny Behind

During my 35 years as a teacher and principal in an economically depressed area, I witnessed firsthand the scourge we inflict upon our most vulnerable citizens because we failed to provide them with adequate literacy ability. In many cases this lack of an essential skill has been a death warrant to those who might otherwise have led productive lives and contributed meaningfully to society. Too many of our most promising youngsters turn to gangs and drugs because their literacy inadequacies essentially rob them of their freedom to make wiser choices.

Reading Malpractice

After three years of intensive research, I have found that the empirical evidence that undergirds reading pedagogy is so consistently powerful that those who reject it are akin to geo-centrics and flat-earthers.

Tragically, anti-science factions have denied countless children reading instruction with the clearest and most unassailable link to actual reading ability, methods that require direct and systematic attention to precursor skills such as phonemic awareness and phonics.

Holistic practitioners continue to take exception to that but in so doing fail to see the symbiosis that exists between the two constructs. Failing to take advantage of that middle ground on behalf of children who need us the most is unconscionable. In fact, attorneys have a word for it; they call it malpractice.

Bridging the Gap Between Phonics and Comprehension

Perhaps the greatest obstacle to reading comprehension is that traditional reading programs fail to adequately address precursor skills - phonemic awareness and phonics taught in a direct and systematic fashion. Those two function as an aid in allowing students to derive meaning from print, the ultimate purpose for reading. Holistic practitioners will probably take exception to that but in doing so fail to see the symbiosis that exists between phonics and comprehension. You can't comprehend what you can't decode. If we could bridge this chasm, we would see that phonics opens doors that allow children full participation in a whole language world.

Race to the Top Gets Messy

It is wrong to cast teacher unions as the default scapegoat in the controversy surrounding Race to the Top. The unions are simply attempting to fulfill their mission of improving teachers' wages, hours and working conditions. However, unions’ refusal to allow student performance to factor in teacher evaluation is not the best expression of support. It comes across as a blatant attempt to dodge accountability. That is not something good teachers want or need.

If unions really wanted to do right by their members, they should be using every means at their disposal to guarantee that teachers receive the proper training. Schools of education and staff development professionals have proven woefully inadequate in that respect. School improvement is a shared responsibility. Let’s make everyone accountable.

Tony Pedriana
Author, Leaving Johnny Behind

If teachers are to blame, who is teaching them?

The following letter appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on Sunday, April 11, 2010:

The front-page story on Race to the Top ("Our $250 million weak spot: Weeding out poor teachers?,'' April 4) highlighted the collective failure of state agencies, school administrators and the teachers union to agree on ways to remove under-qualified and incompetent teachers. The point is well-taken, but the story misses a key constituency in that failure: those responsible for training teachers in the first place.

All too often, teacher preparatory centers have omitted critical elements from their core curricula. This is especially true in the area of literacy training, where a recent study by the National Council on Teacher Quality found that only a fraction of education schools even bothered to teach their clients all of the components of the science of reading.

Yes, teachers must be held accountable. But it is a cruel hoax when those whose job it is to prepare them steer them along ill-fated tangents and leave them hanging in the wind when things go terribly wrong.

Our Kids are Worth the Trouble

President Obama knows a good idea when he sees it regardless of political affiliation. He is not departing from the educational policy set forth by George Bush which attempts to steer schools and districts toward methods of teaching reading that have been validated through scientific inquiry and clinical trials. That is precisely what Race to the Top attempts to do. Yet some are complaining that retooling to meet federal guidelines in order to qualify for funds under Rtt is more trouble than it's worth. They just don't get it. This is true reform, the kind that can make a difference in a kid's life. That's worth all the trouble in the world.