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Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Sep 10 2012

Class Backwards

I don’t know enough about the back story to comment on the strike in Chicago; however, I’ve been skimming articles on both sides of the picket line to get a balanced perspective of the situation. One TFA corps members has an insightful post concerning one school. All I can say is that low income students are presently losing out. I say “presently” because I agree with the viewpoint that “we don’t need quick fixes. We need long-term commitment and investment.”

Now, I don’t know whether the average CPS teacher makes $70,000 working less than 6 hours a day for half a year, as some have quoted, so I can’t dispute any of that. I will say that I’d have to be nearly three times older than I am now to make that kind of money in Mississippi, where there are no true unions. The Chicago Teachers’ Union (CTU) has its pros and cons, but the public needs to realize the unions don’t automatically equal poor results. Massachusetts has some of the strongest unions in the country yet it gets results way better than the non-unionized states in the south. By the same token, we can’t turn around and attribute all the success to unions- academic achievement is more complicated than that.

I will say that while facts are up for debate unfortunately, I strongly oppose media bias in any direction like that found in this Huffington Post article, which claims that poor students are hit hardest.  I don’t disagree with the assertion but I disagree with the overall tone and underlying message the article sends with lines such as:

“But a strike doesn’t leave students with substitute teachers — it leaves them without any school at all. Research on summer learning loss shows that being out of school has a disproportionate effect on low-income students. One recent study found that “while all students lose some ground in mathematics over the summer, low-income students lose more ground in reading, while their higher-income peers may even gain.” In other words, the consequence of being out of school is to increase the already unacceptably large achievement gap between low-income students and their affluent peers.”

You can interpret this paragraph in a few different ways. Let’s analyze three:

1. The CTU teachers on strike are being selfish and hurting poor students more than others.

2. Summer learning loss is a problem and we should address this issue.

3. Public schools are more important for low-income students than for wealthier students, so we should invest more resources in the former.

I’m not saying there’s a right way to interpret these studies, but why do we, as a society, focus primarily on point #1 rather than #2 and #3? Perhaps we focus on #1 because the others force us to confront the challenges of poverty and culture? If poor students lose ground over the summer whereas their higher income peers gain ground, can we seriously blame teachers without first examining what’s going on at home and determining what resources might be lacking? To do anything else is to scapegoat a crucial profession.

Seriously? If you believe such a reductionist argument, then you’ve got your logic class backwards.

One Response

  1. Preach.

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