Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

November 19, 2012

Teachers aren’t really culprits

Tribune managing editor

— Conventional wisdom at the Indiana Statehouse seems to be that public schools are failing because of bad teachers and their powerful unions.

Lots of folks, particularly Republican lawmakers, are convinced that the solution is to shackle the teachers’ unions and get rid of the bad teachers.

Frankly, that’s the wrong approach. And if the Indiana GOP didn’t recognize this before Nov. 6, it should after the election of Glenda Ritz as state schools superintendent.

Teachers, for the most part, are stuck playing the hand they’ve been dealt, and that sometimes means trying to engage youngsters who come to school far from ready to learn.

These kids sometimes come from homes where what happened in school that day is the last thing on anyone’s mind. They might be a lot more worried about when they’re going to have their next meal than about any homework assignments.

Children who get themselves dressed and off to school every morning are a whole lot less likely to do well on tests than those whose parents check their homework and make sure they get plenty of sleep and a healthy breakfast before heading off to school.

Certainly, some teachers are more gifted than others, and there is no doubt that a percentage of them probably had no business getting into the teaching profession in the first place.

We’ve probably all had teachers like that, and few of us would fight very hard to save their jobs.

Still, the problem isn’t so much that the system protects the really bad teachers as that it fails to reward the really good ones.

No one should choose a line of work based solely on the pay scale. The fastest road to happiness is to pursue a career doing something you would gladly do for free.

Nevertheless, rewarding those who get the most from their students can’t possibly hurt.

Education reformers argue that Indiana now has a system that will reward teachers based on merit, and we won’t argue with that. The problem is coming up with an adequate measuring stick.

What the state needs is a way to measure the progress of individual students. Rather than comparing last year’s third-graders to this year’s third-graders, the state needs to judge the way each student is performing now compared to how that student performed a year ago.

That is, after all, what we’re trying to measure, right? How much did the teacher really teach?