Low test scores due to poverty, other factors

Today, public education in the United States, once a great equalizer and the envy of the world, is being weakened through a very slow, stealthy process called “reform.” According to the April 15 News Tribune, Partnership for Educational Justice and the Minnesota Chapter of Students for Education Reform filed a lawsuit right here in Minnesota (“Suit challenges laws affecting Duluth teachers”).

The so-called reform groups place considerable blame for the low performances of students on teachers unions and tenure. Both came about at a time when teachers’ knowledge and expertise were respected and considered paramount to learning. They were (and still are) intended to protect teachers from dictatorial practices and to ensure fairness in treatment. They are not here to coddle ineffective teachers, but they do insist that proper procedures and documentation be implemented before teachers are fired. Many in charge use the teachers unions as scapegoats to excuse not doing their job.

Unfortunately, the “reformers” point to Myers-Wilkins Elementary in Duluth as an example of a school where the  “lowest-performing teachers are concentrated,” as the story stated. But how are they defining a low-performing teacher? We already know low test scores are more closely related to poverty, physical and psychological problems, and the lack of language proficiency than to teacher performance.

 Most Myers-Wilkins teachers are dedicated, very highly qualified and supportive of their students.

Before so-called reformers are allowed to go forward in their condemnation, important questions need to be asked. Who is supporting them? What are their own academic backgrounds? What has been their experience with public schools and teaching itself?  Are they familiar with the extensive research readily available about how children learn best? These questions must be answered before further demoralizing our teachers, our children and the community itself.

Patricia Richard-Amato of Duluth is a professor emeritus for California State University, Los Angeles, and is the author of “Making It Happen: From Interactive to Participatory Language Teaching, 2010,” as well as several books on achieving academic success in grades K-12.