Home > Uncategorized > Blogger-Teacher Steven Singer Admits He Isn’t Superman and Urges Us to Get Over It

Blogger-Teacher Steven Singer Admits He Isn’t Superman and Urges Us to Get Over It

Steven Singer, a blogger-teacher whose work is often cited by Diane Ravitch and whose posts are sometimes featured in publications like Common Dreams where I read this piece,  I Am Not A Hero Teacher. In this essay Mr Singer offers some solid evidence against the notion that teachers can make that much of a difference and apologizes for his limitations:

According to landmark research by Dan Goldhaber and James Coleman, only about 9 percent of student achievement is attributable to teachers.

That’s right – 9 percent.

If you add in everything in the entire school environment – class size, curriculum, instructional time, availability of specialists and tutors, and resources for learning (books, computers, science labs, etc.), all that only accounts for 20 percent.

There’s another 20 percent they can’t explain. But the largest variable by far is out of school factors. This means parents, home life, health, poverty, nutrition, geographic location, stress, etc. Researchers estimate those count for 60 percent of student success.

Yet we somehow expect teachers (9%) to do it all.

I’m sorry, America. I can’t.

There are two reasons (at least) that the American public wants to believe teachers can make a difference. The first reason is a positive one: everyone had one teacher who they admired and who made a difference for them and, in all probability at least on teacher who they disliked. The public, therefore, can be easily convinced that if every teacher was as good as the teacher they admired and made a difference for them and all the terrible teachers were eliminated that schools would be excellent. The second reason is that a relentless sorting process would not require any additional funding! Simply “weed out” the terrible teachers and keep the super-heroes and schools would automatically improve! This makes it easy for “reformers” to market their notion that super-hero teachers like, say, Jamie Escalante, can save the day.

And there are two reasons (at least) that the public resents public school teachers and therefore is open to solutions that would yield more super-hero teachers. First, teachers have benefits that exceed those currently available to most employees in today’s workforce. They have benefit packages, extended summer breaks, pensions, job security, and decent if not spectacular wages. This can lead to resentment, particularly when taxpayers realize the “bad teachers” they had in school are recipients of this largesse at their expense. Secondly, teachers are represented by unions, which hardly exist in the workplace and, when they DO exist, require out-of-pocket contributions that are not funded directly or indirectly by taxpayers.

I urge anyone who thinks teachers have it easy to read Ms. Singer’s column. It will set them straight!

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