Are American teachers the problem?

Posted: February 02, 2012

LEAVE IT to American teachers to give each other high-fives and pats on the back for slightly increased test scores compared with other schools in their local communities, yet they rarely display any accountability when their students don't measure up on a more competitive platform. The Program for International Student Assessment concluded that American students ranked from 15th to 25th worldwide in science, reading and math. According to npr.org, Education Secretary Arne Duncan was quoted as saying, in response to the U.S. students' results on the standardized test, "This is an absolute wake-up call for America."

A growing number of people firmly believe that teachers unions protect incompetent members and prevent good teachers from being paid more. Also, ineffective but overpaid administrators contribute to the problem.

According to broadeducation. org, 68 percent of eighth-graders in the United States can't read at grade level, and most will never catch up. Collectively, for the American education system to succeed, it is going to require teachers to do more heavy lifting. Teachers who stay an hour after school to instruct students who are struggling in one of their classes should be the norm and not considered anything special.

Instead, the reality is that many teachers provide private tutoring services to students from affluent families at a typical rate of $50-$90 per hour. Also, when I was in public school, teachers would coach sports to earn extra income. Forget about getting good instruction during the football, basketball or baseball seasons, if one of your teachers happens to be a head coach.

In this tough economy, some parents have no choice but to work two or three jobs. Teachers should encourage public-school systems to provide more opportunities for parents to participate in educating their students by having more teacher/parent meetings through the school year at night after the majority of parents get out of work, and even provide parents the option to meet with teachers on Saturday mornings a few times a year. Many teachers end up making snap judgments about parents who don't show up to the one or two teacher/parent meetings that are held at the majority of schools during the academic year. For the sake of the children, it's worth teachers' putting forth the effort to organize meetings with parents every other month when school is in session and to give parents several opportunities to participate.

Compared with corporate America, teachers might not get paid well, but the majority of employees with salaried positions at top-tier corporations typically put in 60-80-hour workweeks. According to manhattan-institute.org, the median full-time public-school teacher works an average of 36.5 hours per week when school is in session. Teachers get a very generous vacation package compared with other employees who work in the private sector, including summers off and holidays and school breaks. Throughout the year, teachers generally receive 10-12 weeks off; meanwhile, the majority of working Americans are considered lucky if they get three paid weeks off.

Other than parents, who is exclusively representing the interests of the children within the institution of public education? Because in the United States, clearly, teachers unions care more about teachers' rights than students' rights. The evidence is the abundance of failing schools across this great nation. America can do better, and many teachers need to stop coming up with excuses why they cannot produce better results in the classroom.


Jason Kaye is a Philadelphia writer and student advocate.

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