To paraphrase Ronald Reagan: There he goes again. He is Mayor Michael Bloomberg and he is blaming New York City’s public school teachers for the colossal failure of the city’s schools yet again. Specifically, he has been calling on the state legislature and Governor to eliminate tenure for teachers.
Implicit in the Mayor’s ongoing campaign to do away with tenure is his belief that teachers – especially older teachers – are the ones responsible for the miserable academic performance of so many of the city’s students. In his view, if only he could fire those older teachers who allegedly are not doing their jobs and replace them with “young, energetic teachers,” he would be able to turn the city’s school system around to the benefit of everyone. In fact, he declared that if tenure were to continue – given the city’s dire financial situation – he would have to let go thousands of teachers who were hired within the last 3 to 5 years. In his estimation, those are the very teachers worth keeping.
Actually, it is likely he is going to lose those teachers anyway, since the average career-life expectancy of a typical New York City teacher is 3 to 5 years. So tenure or otherwise, most of those teachers relatively new to the classroom probably will leave the system on their own in a short while. The reason: conditions in far too many city classrooms are unendurable – students who verbally and physically abuse their classmates and instructors; parents who don’t care what time their children arrive at school, who send their children to class without so much as a pencil, who do not keep appointments with school officials and who threaten teachers with physical harm. There also are the chronically disruptive students who destroy the learning environment of so many classrooms and the school administrators who turn a deaf ear and blind eye to them. In short, so much is beyond the control of the classroom teacher that blaming them for poor student performance is downright disingenuous.
The Mayor should be honest and admit that he wants to get rid of tenure because it would allow him to retain lower-paid teachers while firing those at or near the top of the pay scale. If he really were concerned about student performance, why didn’t he speak out against the “dumbed-down” state math and reading tests administered during his many years in office? The tests were prepared by state officials, but as head of the city school system, he should have reviewed them before they were administered. If he did not review them, he was negligent. And if he did review them he would have seen that most family pets could have achieved a passing grade. In either case, he said nothing about the tests, but did take credit for an artificial jump in scores; that is, until the state itself admitted how easy they were and how little knowledge was required to pass them. It might be good politics for the Mayor to attack New York City’s teachers, but he’s placing the blame on the wrong people. The fact is educational disadvantage is born not at school but in the home. As UNICEF recognized several years ago, learning begins at birth and is fostered by a loving, secure and stimulating home environment.
Teachers have no control over that environment. Classroom teachers know that. Too bad the Mayor doesn’t know it, too.