8 Myths That Undermine Educational Effectiveness
In the above article, 8 myths about education are deconstructed. After a ear of teaching in a Title I school system, I’d like to address each one from my perspective.
Myth #1: “Teachers are the Most Important Influence on a Child’s Education”
I’ve seen the impact of drug abuse. I’ve seen the impact of sexual abuse. I’ve seen the impact of death in the family. I’ve seen the impact of divorce. I’ve seen the impact of a night job before waking up to go to school. I’ve seen the impact of parents not disciplining their children. These factors affect the way children think about everything, and I get them for an hour and a half a day, five days a week, for 3 months. I can’t suck out all the outside life from their head and make them only thing English class for the hour, and I can’t make them prioritize the skills and content when life outside is, how some put it, “Hell”.
Nonetheless, I do what I can. I can’t change a deadbeat father, but I can become a teacher who won’t let a kid down.
Myth #2: “Homework Boosts Achievement”
I seldom assign homework. When I do, I make it small and applicable. When I give homework, the students with low performance patterns continue their low performance patterns, and those with high performance patterns continue their high performance patterns. So when I give homework, it adds to the GPA gap. Why? Because those patterns are set in place and giving assignments I can’t monitor only provides proof of what I already know. If they read outside school, it raises achievement. If they don’t there’s another zero. Or they cheat. I had several students come tell me at the end of the year that they didn’t read a single page I assigned for homework. They cheated when they filled out their worksheets.
So I give homework to the ones who want to go to college, because when they get there, they will have it in plenty. Homework doesn’t really boost achievement; it only prepares some students for a different kind of work.
Myth #3: “Class Size Does Not Matter”
The more kids, the less attention I can give them. The fewer times I can call on them. The less behavior I can notice. It doesn’t take a dummy to know this; it takes a dummy to deny it. My advanced classes have fewer students, and a cycle repeats itself so that the privileged retain the privilege of individualized attention. But the ones who need the attention the most are given teachers and aides who are spread thin.
Shoot, I never had an aide in my classroom more than 20 minutes at a time. The state of VA doesn’t have it in the budget to
care be able to fund more human resources. The state throws just enough money at us to “appease” teachers for the work they are told they aren’t doing right (see myth #8).
If class size didn’t matter, we’d have one teacher for each subject for each grade, and shuffle them all at the same time in a giant, walled gymnasium.
Myth #4: “A Successful Program Works Everywhere”
We know standardization doesn’t work with SOL testing, so why would we think it works with education programs? You can only read so much of some of the published teaching experts out there before you realize that guy has never taught English in “District 12”. I couldn’t care less how successful your program was if your student population and mine are worlds apart. What’s that? Your program successfully prepares IB students to study Shakespeare in college? Terrific! Meanwhile, my students will be building the cars your students inherit from their own parents to drive to the college their own parents are paying for. You’re welcome.
Myth #5: “Zero-Tolerance Policies are Making Schools Safer”
My students aren’t stupid. If, God forbid, one of them were to have the desire to bring a weapon to school, a sign will not stop them. I am no fan of seeing guns in schools, but I also know that criminals don’t have an inclination to obey laws “just because”. Posting such asinine signs and enforcing every rule more strictly only further aggravates unbalanced, troubled students. This doesn’t just apply to weapons. When a single student had an attack because she was given a cough drop, the nurse was no longer allowed to give out cough drops. Why? Because fear is stronger than intelligence. Teachers work really hard for a world in which cough drops won’t be banned because of one incident. Please do not undo our hard work in a school board meeting.
Myth #6: “Money Doesn’t Matter”
Get stuffed, fascist. I teach in a Title I school system in a county with 15% of the population under the poverty line. Around half the town receives welfare of some sort. This year our school barely remained fully accredited in English. Money doesn’t matter if it’s just thrown at a system, but when used wisely, it pays for good human resources, most notably teachers and aides.
And money matters for the community, too. If you’re poor, you’re less likely to afford college, and since high schools are pressed to prepare all students for college, school is sometimes perceived as a necessary evil, not an opportunity. When a community is pressured to raise scores, but not given the resources with which to do so, defeatism sets in. You see it in students’ comments. You see it in parents’ complaints. You see it in faculty reluctantly jumping through hoops. I don’t care if I never get a raise again: Just get me somebody in here with me who you can pay to assist. Get me technology that works or don’t get me any at all. Money only doesn’t fix things when it’s just thrown at a problem.
Myth #7: “College Admissions are Based on Academic Achievement and Test Scores”
Especially with community college, I’ve seen students accepted into college who wouldn’t have been if it were based merely on their GPA and test scores. They had other accomplishments and crafted a representation of themselves that showcased who they were as a student, not merely what grades and scores they earned. Shoot, I wasn’t even accepted into grad school based on the strength of my writing sample (the very reason I enrolled was to make my writing stronger), but on my unique background. I may have been a white male, but nobody else had a B.A. in Bible Studies and was seeking a Masters in English.
A lot of college wants a narrative, not a bullet list. Institutions of higher thinking actually tend to think higher, and evaluating someone merely by a score is not higher thinking. That’s what state depts of Ed. do.
Myth #8: “Merit Pay for Teachers Improves Student Performance”
I don’t name names, because that’s not how I roll, but every school has at least one story of a bad teacher, a teacher who was paid the same as any other teacher there, but barley did anything. And when teacher gain tenure, it’s very hard to fire them, no matter how bad they are. A very small fraction of teachers do it for the money. There are easier jobs for the same pay, or even more.
If you actually subscribe to the theory that punishment increases student performance, punish the students and parents. When teachers are moved to compete, they will just compete for higher scores, meaning more cut corners. Nobody with true passion for anything ever demanded for more money until at least after they had done a good job. Few of the teachers I’ve met decided to try harder because they heard they might get a raise. We were too busy getting these kids to pass, working our butts off already, and on top of that often finding ourselves doing the work of parents that some children’s parents weren’t doing.
One of my school system’s biggest issues is student attendance. If you’re going to punish me because a kid missed 114 days of school this year, you can kindly get stuffed. Go to the parents and tell them what we’re doing right. I don’t care if you decrease my pay as long as you use the money to build a campaign to market education to parents. Oh wait, good teachers and successful students are the campaign. Want to withhold more pay from me? Fine. I’ll tell you a number of places you can put it, and most of them involve helping low income families.
I had a great first year, but it was in spite of the the decisions handed down to me and my colleagues from people who forgot what a classroom actually looks like. These myths didn’t make my year happy. Having a great group of teachers and students made my year happy.
Dear Federal and State powers that be: If you want to see us look better on paper, either step into our classrooms, or step out of our lives forever.