News & Politics  
comments_image Comments

Reactionary 'Education Refomers' Fenty and Rhee Support Scott Walker's Attack on Teachers

Why is it suddenly okay to blame a group of people doing such important work? We can partially blame media darlings who pointed fingers at unions instead of at poverty.

Continued from previous page


Teachers may have good benefits and decent salaries compared to workers in, say, the service industry, but that doesn't mean it's a cinch to make ends meet. They also have to submit to a lot of difficult conditions. They go home each night to a pile of grading and planning. They frequently have to pay out of pocket for school supplies for their students. They are often forced to change their teaching styles based on the educational fad of the day. They spend extra hours acting as tutors, counselors, mentors and coaches.

Why blame these hard-working people, rather than the structural inequality of our class system? A great teacher can’t feed a hungry kid. She can’t change the home life of a neglected kid. She can’t shield a kid from violence in the neighborhood. She can’t snap her fingers and enable a well-meaning parent without the requisite skills to suddenly be able to sit down and muscle through trigonometry homework with their child. And she can’t end the racism and classism that exacerbates and contributes to many of these conditions. 

Just because a good education can sometimes enable people to move into the middle-class doesn’t mean it should be the only means of lifting people out of poverty. As Kevin Drum rightly points out, research shows that one of the biggest indicator of educational success is not teacher quality, but parents' educational attainment: "Children of college graduates score about one standard deviation above the mean  by the time they're three, and that never changes. Children of mothers with less than a high school education score about half a standard deviation below the mean  by the time they're three, and that never changes either."

This is the result of dozens of factors, which are attributable to circumstances and are not a reflection on a child's "cognitive ability." No school, be it charter or parochial, private or public, can single-handedly break the cycle of stratification.

We need to cure inequality at the root by helping to feed, house, rehabilitate and train those people who suffer the stings of poverty or lack of access to basic services--in addition to strengthening schools with smaller class sizes, early childhood education, more individualized help for troubled students, and curricular innovation. Schools matter, and education reformers are certainly right that educating low-income or otherwise disadvantaged kids should be extremely high on our priority list. But what we don’t need is the knee-jerk blame of teachers for complex, foundational inequality, a wound they are struggling every day to help heal. 

Hopefully the American public, which has rallied behind teachers these past few weeks, will begin to embrace the idea that we should partner with teachers, not shut them out, in our efforts to make things better for American kids.

In the meantime, here's Samantha Bee of the Daily Show mocking the blame-it-on-teacher mentality by taking a fake MTV Cribs-style tour of average teachers' homes, followed by a youtube video made by teachers themselves correcting false assumptions about their profession. 

Sarah Seltzer is an associate editor at AlterNet, a staff writer at RH Reality Check and a freelance writer based in New York City. Her work has been published in and on the websites of the Nation, the Christian Science Monitor and the Wall Street Journal. Find her at

See more stories tagged with: