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article imageOp-Ed: The value of failure — What Obama missed at his teacher luncheon

By Calvin Wolf     Jul 13, 2014 in Politics
Recently, four teachers sat down with president Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for lunch at the White House. They did not tell these men what they needed to hear.
This August I will begin my fourth year as a high school social studies teacher, likely teaching three periods of Advanced Placement Economics and three periods of regular Economics. I teach at a high school with a thorough mix of students, both racially and socioeconomically. We have rich kids whose parents are in the oil industry, middle-class kids who run the gamut, and kids who live in poverty. I see many rich kids in my AP classes and many poor kids in my regular classes.
Teaching is not one-size-fits-all because students, schools, and teachers themselves are not one-size-fits all. Beginning with the presidency of George W. Bush, and his unwise No Child Left Behind legislation, we have tried to institute one-size-fits-all schooling across the country. President Barack Obama has continued the trend with his similarly unwise Race to the Top policies. Schools are expected to record and quantify everything, teach everyone the same stuff and, of course, not fail anybody.
Last week president Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan had lunch at the White House with four teachers, who gave the politicians their respective opinions on public education in America, as explained by The Washington Post. Unfortunately, these teachers did not give Obama and Duncan the real deal. They talked about how great kids were and how teachers needed more freedom.
Teachers do need more freedom...the freedom to fail students as well as the freedom to design curricula. In our national waxing eloquent on education and its merits we refuse to talk about the benefits of failure. Our refusal to fail students who do not put forth effort is crippling Common Core performance as it rolls out across the country. For too many years our nation's pupils have gotten by on grade inflation and helicopter parenting - and now they must pass rigorous standardized tests in order to graduate?
Is it any wonder that, after years of coddling, our students are unprepared for high-stakes testing?
I teach high school seniors, young men and women who are one step away from college. While many of my pupils are diligent, hardworking students who are ready to excel at the next level, many are not. They know that teachers will pad their grades to avoid outbursts from parents and administrators. They know that schools are obsessed with their beloved statistics. It's easier to pass every student, regardless of merit, and not risk having the state downgrade your campus.
Education policy pundits of all stripes have debated No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top ad nauseum...but rarely, if ever, does anyone suggest tough love. We want to fix teaching and education but, somehow, do it all without holding students accountable. If everyone passes regardless of effort, why should students work hard? Just sit in your seat and collect your 70, then go to college. If things continue, college will be the exact same way in a few decades.
Education policy since 2001 has been focused on minimizing teacher freedom but maximizing teacher accountability - a dreadful practice similar to taxation without representation. We want teachers to teach someone else's lesson plans, take someone else's assessments, assign no student discipline without the approval of a dozen administrators, and give inflated grades. And somehow we thought this would make students put forth more effort in the classroom? Slacker students got a great deal because teachers are now powerless automatons.
Want to fix American education? Let teachers teach. Empower them to design lessons, teach the lessons, and assign fair grades for effort and achievement. Simple. If we want better teachers, let us allow them to be better by inspiring them and making them feel important. Teachers will rise to the challenge and, by taking control of their gradebooks, make students do the same.
If Obama would like to hold another teacher luncheon to hear the real deal, I'm free until mid-August.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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