In “Who’s Bashing Teachers and Public Schools and What Can we do About it?” Stan Karp argues that there are a variety of people bashing the public schools for a variety of reasons. Karp focuses on the idea that many of the individuals that are bashing teachers and public school are proposing education reforms are doing so to serve their own agendas. Karp discusses the documentary “Waiting for Superman,” and how it uses “charged images and rhetoric to frame issues in ways that serve particular reform agendas.” “Waiting for Superman” and other individuals are promoting business models and market reforms propose to get rid of the bad teachers that they say are causing the public school to fail. “Waiting for Superman” bashes public education and teachers and proposes charter schools, merit pay, and test based accountability as a solution to the problem. Karp feels that the idea that public education and its' teacher are failures has led to unsuccessful reforms with focuses on test scores, firing teachers, closing and reconstituting schools, and funding through competitive grants. Karp believes that much of the education reform today has underlying political and monetary motives.
According to Karp, the teacher and public school bashing has led to test-based accountability where teachers are being fired based on students’ test scores. The teacher terminations are occurring without addressing the underlying issues that may contribute to the low test scores. Karp feels that these issues, not bad teaching, are the major factors in low standardized test scores. For example in Central Falls, the entire high school staff was fired because the school had low test scores. No one addressed the fact that it was the only high school in the poorest city in the state and that 65% of the students were English language learners. Karp feels as though America needs to address these underlying issues that are hindering student performance in standardized testing, such as poverty, race, and language in order to “fix” the public education system. Karp believes that test based teacher evaluation and compensation systems (paying teachers to raise test scores) can seriously damage public education and the teaching profession. Karp argues that these plans will hurt, rather than help support teacher effectiveness. Karp also examines charter schools (which are being seen as the new “magic reform”) and how they have a much higher turnover rate and lower pay for teachers, but obscenely high pay for administrators. He also explains they are not held to the same standards as public schools. He feels that charter schools are a way for investment opportunities for those who see education as a business.
With all of these issues going on what can be done? Karp disagrees strongly with “Waiting for Superman” that super teachers can eliminate the achievement gap with scripted curricula and super teaching powers. Karp argues that in order for the achievement gap to be eliminated that issues such as inequalities of race, class and opportunity need to be addressed. Karp explains that while teacher evaluation and improvement are issues that must be addressed, test based accountability and merit pay are not the type of teacher evaluation systems we need. Karp feels that comprehensive teacher evaluations that incorporate testing but are not solely on based student test scores, can help teacher effectiveness. He gives the example of the professional growth system in Maryland, where teacher evaluations involved test scores, student outcomes, classroom performance, professional responsibilities, advanced degrees, and other factors. The evaluations also provided specific plans to improve struggling teachers’ practice and performance, by working closely with well-trained teacher coaches for a two year period. Karp believes evaluations and plans for improvement such as this can improve teacher performance much more successfully than test based accountability and merit based pay. Karp goes on to point out that “in some respects public education is the most successful democratic institution we have and has done far more to reduce inequality.” However, Karp acknowledges that racial and class inequalities are still the major issues in public education, as well as in society as a whole. Karp concludes that the public schools reflect what is wrong with democracy and we must fix that in order to fix public education.
This was a very interesting article to read. I agreed with many of Karp's points. As educators we are constantly being judged by people who do not know much about the education field. I like how Karp pointed out the factors that can contribute to low test scores and that it does not necessarily have anything to do with the quality of teachers. I agree with Karp that educators do need to be evaluated from a multidimensional approach with a plan for improvement. I wish that public education would steer away from putting so much value and emphasis on test scores.
Stan Karp - Video - "Who's Bashing Teachers and Public Schools and What Can we do About it?"