Teach Your Children Well

I recognize teaching is one of the hardest jobs out there.  My mother is a retired high school English teacher.  She taught in rural, suburban, and urban high schools.  She taught in charters, magnets, and run-of-the-mill traditional high schools.  She walked the picket line for weeks with the NEA in West Virginia in 1990.  And she was often the only thing that kept many a student from dropping out or giving up.  It was just incredible to see the difference she made with kids at a DC charter high school, showing kids that everyone else had given up on that they should demand more of themselves.

Sometimes, I don’t know what pushed my mother to show up for another day of teaching, after getting bombarded by administrators and parents and all other sorts of external forces the previous day.  But she did.  Because she was, and always will be, a teacher.  And she is an effective one, regardless of whatever new state test or requirement was thrown at her (and there were a lot of them over the years).

That’s why I almost fell out of my chair this afternoon when a press release from the Teachers Network landed in my inbox.  The Cliff Notes version — Point 1: NCLB is forcing almost seven in 10 teachers to quit the profession,
Point 2: 1 percent of teachers think NCLB can effectively measure a school; and, even more startling, 
Point 3: Only 3 percent of teachers surveyed said NCLB encouraged them to improve their effectiveness. 

Most disturbing is that last point.  With a law created to ensure every child has access to a high-quality education, and a time when a third of all students will drop out of high school, 97 percent of surveyed teachers felt no need to improve their effectiveness.  Where are these teachers teaching?  I can tell you none of those teachers ever served in one of my mom’s schools.  Just about every effective teacher I know consistently pushes to improve, both for themselves and for their students.  Put simply, effective teachers feel pressure to improve, have well before NCLB, and will long after we’ve forgotten the acronym.

What do we learn from all this?  It is easy for folks to tell you what they are against, but far harder for people to stand up and declare what they stand for.  And at the end of the day, we are measured based on what we believe in, what we stand for, what we advocate for, and how passionately we advocate it.  That’s at the root of any successful communications effort.

No, it is no big surprise that Teachers Network is opposed to NCLB.  Such a position is all the rage.  But in its zeal to oppose NCLB, the Network failed to tell us what they advocate.  Effective PR 101 — Stand for something.  If NCLB doesn’t effectively measure a school, tell us what will.  Solve the problem, don’t just point to it more emphatically than the guy next to you.

The real truth here is that Teachers Network (and many others, I shouldn’t make them stand alone) isn’t looking to solve the problem.  Its accusation is based on a question it doesn’t want to answer — How do we effectively measure a school?  Effective PR 201 — Don’t ask a question if you don’t know the answer … or if you don’t want to hear it. 

I can’t fault the Network.  They were going for the easy headline, and stating that 99 out of 100 teachers think NCLB doesn’t effectively measure a school is a quick way to do it.  But the short-term gain of a headline isn’t worth the long-term consequence of credibility.  Such numbers simply don’t jive with the data you see from NCLB un-lovers like PDK, and they certainly don’t match what I’ve heard from countless teachers around the country.  If I read between the lines, though, I fear we are just using NCLB as shorthand to describe any program of reform or diversion from the status quo. 

Effective teachers want to succeed.  They want their students to succeed.  They want to use instructional practices that will get them there.  And they want to be able to document and measure that success.  NCLB was designed to help them get there.  If it does, then the law fulfilled its goals.  If it doesn’t, then propose a better solution.  How about national standards?  Expanded school choice?  A common data set for comparing schools or school districts?  Or even just agreement that the status quo isn’t working?

Anyone?  Anyone?


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