Teacher recruitment remains daunting task

Despite the long summer vacation, recruiting teachers continues to be a Sisyphean task (“Most College Students Interested in Teaching Never Make It to the Classroom,” Education Week, Jul. 10).  A new study entitled “Baccalaureate and Beyond” of about 29,000 students who earned a bachelor’s degree in 2015-16 found that of the 41 percent who had considered teaching as a career, only 17 percent actually ended up in the classroom a year later.

That’s not at all surprising.  The truth is that despite what critics say about teachers having a plum job, few college graduates choose teaching as a career.  The more they learn about the reality of the profession, the less likely they are to go on to earn a credential.  I don’t blame them at all.  Teaching today bears little resemblance to teaching in the past.  The incessant pressure to boost standardized test scores has effectively stripped teachers of the freedom to devise lessons that they alone believe meet the needs and interests of their students.

Moreover, teachers no longer possess the authority they once had when they were allowed to act in loco parentis.  The U.S. Supreme Court held in Goss v. Lopez that students have the right of due process for even the most routine disciplinary decisions.  As a result, teachers find themselves having to walk on eggs, lest they be sued.  That’s especially the case when discipline involves students of color.  It’s little wonder that chaos exists in so many classrooms.

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Migrant children education reality check

When the U.S. Supreme Court in 1982 ruled that all children, regardless of their immigration status, are entitled to a free K-12 education, it had no idea what that would mean for school districts (“Engulfed by Migrant Children, and Straining to Teach Them,” The New York Times, Jul. 10).  Only now is the full picture emerging.

School districts across the country are inundated with newcomers who lack even the most rudimentary education.  Moreover, many are traumatized by events they have been through in their native countries.  As a result, school officials are hard pressed to find enough certified teachers to meet their needs and interests.

These newcomers deserve a basic education, but Congress needs to step up to the plate and find sufficient funds to provide it.  So far, they have not done so, leaving states on their own.  Even when they have been able to come up with the funds, many residents worry that their own children are being shortchanged.  This is not xenophobia.  It is a reasonable reaction to what is happening.They have compassion for migrant children, but they also don’t want to see education standards dragged down by the influx of so many undocumented newcomers.

If history is any guide, the success of schools will be decidedly mixed.  As Irving Howe wrote in “World Of Our Fathers” about the wave of immigrant children in 1905 in the New York City system: it “did rather well in helping immigrant children who wanted help, fairly well in helping those who needed help, and quite badly in helping those who resisted help.”

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Busing opposition is not racist

School busing is in the news as a result of the first presidential debate (“There’s a Reason We Don’t Say ‘Integration’ Anymore” The New York Times, Jul. 9). Once again those who criticize busing are depicted as racists.  I don’t agree.

In the late 1970s, the Los Angeles Unified School District, where I taught for my entire 28-year career, began forced busing after court attempts to block it failed.  Although most parents were not fans of the policy, they were willing to give it a chance in the interest of fairness.  But it soon became evident that students who were bused in brought with them huge deficits in academic achievement and socialization.

Teachers were forced to jettison lesson plans that had worked so well in the past to design new ones to meet the needs and interests of bused-in students.  Parents complained that the quality of instruction suffered to the point that their children were bored to tears.  As a result, they began to pull their children out and enroll them in private or religious schools.

At no time did I see evidence that their decision was racially motivated.  They just were concerned that their children were being shortchanged.  I don’t blame them.  How many parents are willing to sacrifice their children’s education on the altar of ideology?  Recognizing the strength of the opposition, the Legislature in 1979 placed on the ballot Proposition 1, which effectively ended forced busing.

The district subsequently stepped up its efforts to promote its magnet schools.  It instituted a program known as Permits With Transportation.  The program has had notable academic success, although it has not achieved its goal of complete integration.  I still think magnet programs deserve far greater emphasis as a reasonable compromise.

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No discipline, no learning

There are many reasons why schools are persistently failing, but when students find out there are no consequences for their behavior, teachers cannot possibly teach their subject matter (“An Education Horror Show,” The Wall Street Journal, Jul. 8).  The latest example is Providence, where only 5 percent of eight-graders on average scored proficient in math between the 2015 and 2017 school years.  That compares with 21.3 percent in Newark, where students have similar socioeconomic backgrounds.

In fact, the longer that students remain in Providence schools, the lower their performance drops, according to a 93-page report by the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy.  Why that is so will be the source of heated debates in the months ahead.  But I submit that the lack of discipline is the No. 1 factor.  Students in Providence schools terrorize teachers in ways that are shocking.  For example, one teacher was choked by a student in front of the entire class and yet that student was not expelled.

I attribute the situation to the student-rights revolution of the 1960s that effectively undermined the concept of in loco parentis.  When I started teaching in 1964, teachers were authority figures.  Students who misbehaved were subject to suspensions and expulsion, depending on the severity of their behavior.  But once the U.S. Supreme Court held in Goss v. Lopez in 1975 that students had the right to due process, the authority of teachers was severely crippled.  It was further weakened in 1976 when the high court decided in Wood v. Strickland that if teachers knowingly violated students’ due-process rights, they could be held personally liable for financial damages.

I’m not saying that factors outside of school have not contributed to the present situation.  But without order, teachers cannot possibly teach their subject matter.  I see little hope for things changing in this regard because reformers persist in blaming racism for the failure of students to learn.

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Racism is not the cause of failing schools

The cause of unequal outcomes in public schools has been the subject of a litany of studies over the decades, the most famous being the Coleman Report that was published in 1966.  Despite its finding that the quality of schools has little influence on the difference in average achievement between black and white students, some educators maintain that the root of the problem is “inherent bias” in the school system (“Carranza has no plan at all for making the city’s schools do better,” the New York Post, Jul. 6).

I don’t buy that claim.  I submit that the family backgrounds of black and white students are the reason.  Students whose parents are deeply involved in their education continue to post impressive results, regardless of their race.  Attributing differences in outcomes to racial prejudice merely deflects attention away from the hard work that needs to be done to improve education quality.

New York City, home of the nation’s largest school system, is a case in point. Instead of identifying strategies that can improve education for all students, Chancellor Richard Carranza chooses instead to cite racial bias on the part of teachers.  As evidence, he likes to point out the higher suspension rate for black and Hispanic students over white and Asian students.  But white students are suspended at a higher rate than Asian students.  Does that mean teachers are prejudiced against white students?

In the final analysis, factors outside of school play a far greater role in understanding different outcomes than Carranza and his ilk will ever admit.

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Charter schools’ built-in advantage

It’s always heartening to read that some charter schools manage to post remarkable results with disadvantaged students that traditional public schools have failed (“Entire Bronx Success Academy class aces statewide math exam,” New York Post, Jul. 2).  I have reference now to Success Academy Bronx 2 in the New York City system, where 99 percent of eighth-graders passed the New York State Algebra I Regents exam.

What makes the achievement so remarkable is that 90 percent of them qualify for a free lunch.  If poverty were indeed the cause of failing schools, then how to explain why the school was able to post such impressive results?  Part of the credit, of course, goes to their teachers.  But I submit that the No. 1 factor is that the students who were in the school are there because their parents are involved enough in their education to have applied for admission in the first place.

Compare that with the situation at traditional public schools.  All students who show up at the front door must by law be admitted, regardless of their ability or motivation.  All it takes is one miscreant to disrupt the learning of other students.  In other words, students have the right to be enrolled but not the responsibility to learn.  Teachers cannot perform miracles, no matter how competent they are in their subject.

If traditional public schools were permitted to operate like charter schools, there would be virtually no difference in outcomes.  Too bad they can’t.

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Whitewashing history shortchanges students

The decision by the San Francisco Unified School District’s board of education to spend at least $600,000 to destroy a mural painted during the Great Depression by Victor Arnautoff, an avowed Communist, points up the hypocrisy surrounding the teaching of American history (“San Francisco Spends $600,000 to Erase History,” The New York Times, Jun. 30).  Because the mural did not depict the nation’s past in the politically correct way, the board wanted to protect students.

But in doing so, the board deprives students of the opportunity to develop critical thinking skills.  What students are getting is intellectual pap that makes a mockery of what a real historical education is about.  They certainly are not getting the truth from textbooks because textbooks are the product of committees composed of people with their own agendas.

Private schools have far more freedom to teach.  I’m not saying what they teach is any less tendentious.  But at least it is not subject to the same number of conflicting interests as public schools. Let young people learn the truth about our past.

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Free college is a terrible idea

Politicians are obsessed with making college free for all students (“Does Free College Work? Kalamazoo Offers Some Answers,” The Wall Street Journal, Jun. 29).  I understand the intent behind the movement, but in reality it is going to backfire.

The hard truth is that not everyone is college material.  It takes a certain IQ to handle college-level work, or at least what used to be college-level work.  Yes, grit can make a difference in overcoming intellectual deficits, but it is not enough.  Moreover, so many young people have no idea about what is involved in earning a four-year degree.  In high school they were passed from grade to grade without much effort on their part.  They think that college will be like high school in that respect.

I do not understand why we persist in the myth that a bleak future awaits those without a college degree.  What about learning a trade by attending a community college and doing an apprenticeship?  What’s wrong with enrolling in a vocational program?  Historians are going to look back at this era and wonder why we deluded ourselves.

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Teacher turnover rate wrecks continuity

It’s not surprising that 41 percent of teachers in the New York City system, the largest in the nation, quit the classroom during the first five years on the job (“City teachers fleeing New York at an alarming rate: report,” The New York Post, Jun. 25).  I say that because new teachers are totally unprepared for the realities of what they face on a daily basis.

Licensing places far too little emphasis on the challenges that new teachers deal with.  They’re given no mentors and are expected to sink or swim.  It’s a prescription for disaster.  Turnover is predictably higher in schools with large numbers of students from low-income families who bring huge deficits to the classroom.  Before teachers can begin to teach subject matter, they must perform triage.  Eventually, this wears them out and they quit.

Residency program during the year that college graduates are working on their license can help prepare them.  They’re akin to apprenticeships, where students combine classroom instruction and hands-on experience.  There will always be some turnover, but the appalling rate reported makes changes mandatory.

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How to increase diversity in elite high schools

Elite high schools have been lambasted for their lack of racial diversity. Yet there is hope.  The Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in New York City has managed to achieve that goal while at the same time posting a 99 percent graduation rate (“ ‘Fame’ High School Principal Leaving Post After Student Protests,” The Wall Street Journal, Jun. 25).

Admission to LaGuardia is based solely on an audition, as viewers of the movie “Fame” will recall.  Applicants perform before a panel of judges.  There is no standardized written test.  For decades that policy has worked extraordinarily well.  But when the principal attempted to place greater emphasis on academics rather than on arts, she was forced to leave.

Academics are important, but LaGuardia correctly recognizes that they do not constitute the sum and substance of a student’s potential for a successful future.  The performing arts by their very nature cannot be measured by any standardized test.  That’s why auditions are used in casting for various roles.  It’s not perfect, but then again what way is?  LaGuardia deserves high praise for what it has accomplished.  It’s too bad other specialized high schools don’t follow in its footsteps.

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