Our Failing Public Schools (Especially in California); Part I, Section 1: Whose Fault Is It?

The K-12 school systems in a few East Coast states are alive and well. However, it’s well known that the standards of only a few decades ago have slipped or totally plummeted in most of the country, and are nearing cesspool levels in California in particular. Parents blame the government for not investing enough money. The government blames teachers. Many teachers blame the administration and the students. Administrators blame everyone except themselves. Who’s right?

There are many causes for our failing public school systems, but few fixes. Over the next few weeks, I will present an on-going discussion (in small segments!) on my blogosphere of both aspects from the standpoint of a teacher.

From Second to Second Worst?

In 1970, California stood number two in the mythical race for state supremacy of K-12 public education systems. Naturally, the U.S. as a nation was highly regarded throughout the world for the knowledge and skills of the students in our public schools. Now California stands number 49 in the U.S., and still seems to be on the decline. The American education system is becoming a joke throughout the industrialized world. The burning question, of course, is: Whose fault is it?

The number one answer I hear is: It’s all the fault of the teachers. Teachers are the people most directly in control of the outcome, right? Therefore, if scores are falling, it must be because the teachers are failing.

This theory has primarily been propagated by politicians, either directly or indirectly. I have seen many politicians use the media to specifically say that we have many “bad teachers” or “dead wood” in many schools, especially in the low performing schools. Even those politicians who do not overtly accuse the teachers of being the culprits do so indirectly, primarily by piling new requirements and qualifications on top of what a person must already go through in order to receive their teaching credentials. The emphasis on continuing education and endless training for teachers is overwhelming to most.

Not surprisingly, when their elected representatives make use of their easy access to the media to make such claims, the people nod their heads in agreement. After all, parents also know who has most direct responsibility for the education of their children, yet they know very little about anything else in relation to the public school system. Naturally, the children then follow prevailing wisdom. After all, they have the most direct contact with teachers every day, and that person becomes the most influential being in their failure –or occasional success. There were many times I asked the question in one of my classes: “Why is our standard of education falling?” I got that answer first and foremost: the teachers are bad.

As public education teachers are government workers, serving the same state (or county) as our legislators, what possible motivation could the politicians have for blaming it on teachers? Because the first priority of a politician is to be reelected.

Obviously, a politician’s constituents complain about the problems they face in their daily lives. Education is always a topic for discussion, whether it’s about the cost or the quality of what is being delivered. As our national status has continued to decline since 1970, and California in particular has been sliding off of the domestic map, the public has been clamoring for fixes to the problem. There are actually many factors that are contributing to this phenomenon, and the legislators know they must be seen taking some sort of action in order to fix things or their constituents will find someone who will. The easiest target is clear: blame the teachers. If we say the teachers are lousy, then we can take a number of steps to clearly show action, responsiveness, and deep concern — even if we don’t show progress.

Tomorrow: blaming the teachers

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