A WRITER'S WIT
“Regardless of the popular literary trend of the times, write the thing which lies close to your heart."
--Bess Streeter Aldrich
Born February 17, 1881
My Book World
More than any book I’ve read recently, this one is full of what I call “nuggets”—tidbits of information that are so astounding, so stupefying in their obviousness that they have flown under the radar for decades or even centuries of education in this country without due notice. Or else, as I suspect may be true of national, state, and local officials in control of educational funding, who could help, DON’T CARE.
[I use the term “loc” to indicate the place in my Kindle where one might find this citation; unfortunately, on this particular book, the publisher does not also indicate the page number from the hardcover edition.]
From the Introduction
“After all, one-fifth of all American children were growing up poor—twice the child poverty rate of England or South Korea” (loc 88). Yikes!
“Why are American teachers both resented and idealized, when teachers in other nations are much more universally respected?” (loc 96). Why, indeed?
“Henry David Thoreau, Susan B. Anthony, W. E. B. DuBois, and Lyndon B. Johnson are just a few of the famous Americans who taught. They resisted the fantasy of educators as saints or saviors, and understood teaching as a job in which the potential for children’s intellectual transcendence and social mobility, though always present, is limited by real-world concerns such as poor training, low pay, inadequate supplies, inept administration, and impoverished students and families. These teachers’ stories, and those of less well-known teachers, propel this history forward and help us understand why American teaching has evolved into such a peculiar profession, one attacked and admired in equal proportion.” (loc 116-9). We’re all in good company!
“ . . . even the highest-poverty neighborhood schools in cities like New York and Los Angeles employ teachers who produce among the biggest test score gains in their regions. What’s more, veteran teachers who work long-term in high-poverty schools with low test scores are actually more effective at raising student achievement than is the rotating cast of inexperienced teachers who try these jobs out but flee after one to three years” (loc 134). Clears up a certain myth.
“Even we set aside the nearly 50 percent of all beginner teachers who choose to leave the profession within five years—and ignore the evidence that those who leave are worse performers than those who stay—it is unclear whether teachers are formally terminated for poor performance any less frequently than are other workers” (loc 155).
“But teaching employs roughly five times as many people as either medicine or law. There are 3.3 million American public school teachers, compared to 691,000 doctors and 728,000 attorneys. Four percent of all civil workers are teachers” (loc 166-7). Quite a statistic.
“We must focus less on how to rank and fire teachers and more on how to make day-to-day teaching an attractive, challenging job that intelligent, creative, and ambitious people will gravitate toward” (loc 218). Hear hear!
“Advocates for universal public education called common schoolers, were challenged by antitax activists. The détente between these two groups redefined American teaching as low-paid (or even volunteer) missionary work for women, a reality we have lived with for two centuries—as children of slaves and immigrants flooded into the classroom, as we struggled with and then gave up on desegregating our schools, and as we began, in the late twentieth century, to confront a future in which young Americans without college degrees were increasingly disadvantaged in the labor market and those relied on schools and teachers, more than ever before, to help them access a middle-class life” (loc 222-7). This missionary philosophy couldn’t be truer than in the state of Texas.
Chapter One: “Missionary Teachers”: The Common Schools Movement and the Feminization of American Teaching
Educator Catherine Beecher said: “[A] woman needs support only for herself” while “a man requires support for himself and a family,” she wrote, appealing to the stereotype that women with families did not do wage-earning work—a false assumption even in the early nineteenth century, when many working-class wives and mothers labored on family farms or took in laundry and sewing to make ends meet. Black women almost universally worked, whether as slaves in the South or as domestic servant or laundresses in the North. What was truly new about Beecher’s conception of teaching was that it pushed middle-class white women, in particular, into public view as workers outside the home” (loc 375-7).
Chapter Two: “Repressed Indignation”: The Feminist Challenge to American Education
“In 1850, four-fifths of New York’s eleven thousand teachers were women, yet two-thirds of the state’s $800,000 in teacher salaries was paid to men. It was not unusual for male teachers to earn twice as much as their female coworkers” (loc 613).
[Goldstein uses the word “snuck” instead of “sneaked,” the past participle of the word sneak (loc 753). “Snuck” is largely slang. In the context of writing about education, the author should, I think, favor the more formal word, “sneaked.”]
Chapter Three: “No Shirking, No Skulking”: Black Teachers and Racial Uplift After the Civil War
“The federal government had acknowledged that the education of former slaves should be one of the major goals of Reconstruction, but Congress never appropriated adequate funding for the task, nor did it compel states to do so” (loc 906). What’s new?
Chapter Four: “School Ma’ams as Lobbyists”: The Birth of Teachers Unions and the battle Between Progressive Pedagogy and School Efficiency
“A study by education researcher William Lancelot explained how administrators could record a ‘pupil change’ score for every teacher by testing how much the teachers’ students knew on a given subject at the beginning and then the end of a term. (Today this calculation is called a teacher’s ‘value-added’ score.)” According to peer reviewer Helen Walker—as well as many of today’s critics of value added—the pupil change measurement ultimately had a ‘low relationship’ to true teacher quality, since so many factors beyond a teacher’s control could affect a student’s test score, from class size to family involvement in education” (loc 1457). Value-added: a fancy term for such a deadly practice!
Chapter Six: “The Only Valid Passport from Poverty”: The Great Expectations of Great Society Teachers
“What Coleman’s research really revealed was that compared to white students, the average black child was enrolled in a poorly funded school with less qualified teachers and fewer science and foreign language classes. Those black students who attended integrated, well-resourced schools, however, tended to earn higher test scores than black students in segregated schools, and reported feeling a greater sense of control over their lives” (loc 2014-6).
Chapter Eight: “Very Disillusioned”: How Teacher Accountability Displaced Desegregation and Local Control
“In Japan the average teacher earned as much as the average engineer; in the United States, teachers earned only 60 percent as much as engineer” (loc 2882). Tokyo, anyone?
Chapter Ten: “Let Me Use What I Know”: Reforming Education by Empowering Teachers
“When many teachers resign each year, institutional memory is lost, and ties to the community weaken. There are fewer veterans around to show newbies the tricks of the trade” (loc 4205). Makes sense, doesn’t it?
“But the latest research shows schools simply do not have an unlimited capacity to absorb and train first-year teachers, and that students suffer when they are assigned to a string of novice teachers in grade after grade” (loc 4213).
Epilogue: “Lessons from History for Improving for Improving Teaching Today
“Since these schools are now producing a huge oversupply of prospective elementary school teachers—in some states, as many as nine times more prospective teachers than there are jobs—states ought to require these institutions to raise their standards for admission or to shut down their teacher prep programs” (loc 4471).
I could go on citing nugget after nugget of truth, things that to me, as a former teacher, are so OBVIOUS, but to the general public, even educated people, might not be quite so apparent. I urge anyone unsure about the history of public school teachers in this country to read this book by Dana Goldstein. It is worth its weight in value-added teaching.
NEXT TIME: Behind the Book—MLPR, "The Age I Am Now"