Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Challenges to Teacher Education

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Challenges to Teacher Education

Article excerpt

Today, American education faces a crisis. It is not too extreme to say that public education hangs in the balance. Anyone who has read the history of American education knows that there have always been critics. But they did not want public education dismantled. They wanted it to be better. Today, however, there are critics who believe that public education itself is obsolete. The latest manifestation of this view can be seen in a report released in December 2006 called Tough Choices or Tough Times (National Center on Education and the Economy, 2006). It came from a group called the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce. Some of the best known names in American education signed the report, including former Secretaries of Education Rod Paige and Richard Riley; Tom Payzant, the recently retired Superintendent of Schools in Boston; and Joel Klein, chancellor of the New York City public schools.

The commission says that our public school system is obsolete. We must start all over. Statistic after statistic is tossed out to show that other countries are overtaking us and we are losing the global competition because of our public schools. Engineering jobs are being outsourced to India, the commission says, where corporations can hire an engineer for only $7,500 a year, whereas in the United States, the same engineer would earn at least 5 to 6 times as much. Logic suggests that the corporations are going where they can get educated labor at salaries that are unthinkable in the United States, but the Tough Choices commission insists that the public schools are to blame, not the wage differential.

The commission says that our teachers are not coming from the right strata of society. They say that we must recruit "the best and the brightest" to teach in our schools. And how will we do this? We must raise starting salaries to $45,000 and top salaries to $110,000. This may be expensive, the commission says, but we can pay for it by cutting the retirement benefits of teachers--reducing their pensions and health benefits, so that they are commensurate with what is available to workers in the private sector. To say the least, this is not a realistic proposition. Teaching is and always has been a mass profession; it will never be staffed exclusively by graduates from Ivy League colleges and universities. Set aside for a minute the implicit snobbery and condescension behind this pursuit of "the best and the brightest." If the commissioners really expect to recruit large numbers of Ivy League graduates, they should propose tripling the pay scale for teachers. Until they do, I expect that teachers will not relinquish their retirement benefits.

The commission proposes an elaborate new examination system--assuming that our students are not tested enough! They would have all students take a super-high-stakes test at the end of 10th grade. Those who score really well would be allowed to finish 2 more years of high school and then take another high-stakes exam to see if they are fit to go to college. Those who score well enough would then be funneled to community colleges. What would happen to those who did not pass any of these exams? The commission says, not to worry, the kids can take the exams again and again and eventually everyone will pass. Apparently, this group of eminent leaders feels that we have not done a good enough job of sorting kids into winners and losers and preventing the less prepared from going to good colleges.

The most outrageous proposal of the commission is that in the future, all public schools should be turned over to private managers. The role of school boards would be to approve performance contracts with these managers and monitor their performance. In effect, the commission recommends the complete privatization of American public education.

Who would these private managers be? The commission does not say, though it suggests that they might be corporations owned and run by teachers. …

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