I was in the DC metro with my daughter, heading back home totally energized from the Save Our Schools March in DC and by pure chance ran into the same parent and child we saw heading towards the march in the morning. We struck up a conversation about the march and then about our public schools in Ward 3, which happens to be a fairly affluent area in DC and happens to be where I also live and teach. The minute I mentioned that I work as a teacher for the DC Public Schools in Ward 3, he injected his opinions that Ward 3 schools were still not 'as good as private schools' and that there 'still a lot of work to be done'. In the age of the highly misleading corporatist movie, Waiting for Superman, I am no stranger to the growing misdirected anger from parents at the so called 'crisis' of 'ineffective DC public schools and every time I get such comments as these I am in awe of how little parents really know TRUE FACTS about the forces affecting their own child's education today. They know a lot of myths, but very few TRUE FACTS.
If this parent were more aware of the misdirected forces shaping education today, he would not be saying such comments. He would surely know that private schools highly value smaller class sizes, while here in DCPS we are taking millions in foundation money from millionaire Bill Gates. Bill Gates has been working tirelessly to produce 'studies' to convince the entire country that larger classes are actually perfectly fine for public school children as long are there is a so called, 'effective' teacher in the class. In addition, private schools highly value experienced teachers and year-to-year stability in their staff. Private school want teachers who want to stay in the school community for years, it's good for the kids, it's good for the parents, it's good for the whole community to have this stable sense of continuity, of familiarity. We all know how much kids need stability. Meanwhile, DCPS is firing and churning in inexperienced teachers into the District, closing the so called, 'ineffective' schools, hiring Teach For America (TFA) teachers who possess a poultry 5 weeks of education 'training' to replace the so called, 'ineffective ones' they've fired. What's most illogical about this is that most TFAers don't plan on making teaching their life's calling. So much for stability there.
This misdirected anger towards public schools and teachers on the part of some parents needs to be analyzed, reexamined and placed in proper context. It comes to no surprise to wealthy parents in Ward 3 that any school with small class sizes, predictable, stable and experienced staff will be better. Ask any wealthy parent what qualities they look for in a school? They will never say they want a class of 32 kids, or teachers who have never taught before. Yet, common sense and logic seems to disappear when we judge the quality of our public schools. Somehow, some parents in DC expect public school teachers to perform miracles in often overcrowded, packed classroom, and without the private-school levels of resources they currently enjoy.
Unfortunately, true academic improvement in the DC public schools will not become reality until we, politicians, parents, and administration officials are honest with ourselves and admit that broad and gaping inequalities do exist in these key areas. The comparison does not need to be between public and private either. Even when just comparing public schools from various wards in DC, these gaping inequalities exist. These inequalities lie less in the quality of the teacher, but in every other aspect of the environment such as resources, smaller class sizes, course diversity, after school programs. Last year, I scored high enough in my teacher evaluation to be considered a 'highly effective' teacher by the District of Columbia. While it's flattering to be in this position, I doubt I'd score as high if I were put in a less affluent district, with 45 kids and 34 chairs, with only 100$ supply money to teach fine arts to 540 kids weekly for a year. These are not random fictitious situations I am listing, these are the facts teachers live with daily in some DC schools. Public school children deserve the same quality school characteristics that define what private schools are all about. The wealthy know it, the politicians know it, Bill Gates knows it. How do I know this? Because they all demand these specific characteristics from their own children's education system. Small class sizes, solid, experienced, career teachers do matter, no matter what Bill Gates' studies say.
Focusing the blame on public school teachers and coining them as the main reason for ineffective schools and further framing the teachers as using poverty as merely an excuse not to do their jobs, are THE BIGGEST excuses of them all.
Parents, please, I beg you, do not allow these broad, relentless and shameful tactics to fuel more disconnectedness between parents and teachers. Trust more the ones who have dedicated their lives, passion and love to OUR children and approach with caution the ones tearing apart OUR schools, OUR communities and OUR children's future at the expense of fattening their paychecks and feeding their bottomless egos.
As a parent of two young people, I logically want what is best for my children as the wealthy parents want what's best for their children. So I don't bemoan them for wanting the very best education money can buy. What is infuriating though is how these 'customers' of small class size schools, and believers of experienced teacher for their children are trying to convince the nation of the useless nature of such qualities. But shouldn't what's best for the children of the wealthy also be what's best for all children in America? Why are these reformers asking the exact opposite for OUR children than they ask for their children? Many years from now historians will judge us on our actions and true democracy lies in how we choose to educate our children. What would historians say about how we care for our young? Right now, our country's policies are making some schools more segregated, and making our poverty schools worse.