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Minnesota teacher unions aren't the problem

  • Article by: Eva Lockhart
  • June 13, 2013 - 8:26 PM

Counterpoint

Gary Davison (“Guarding the status quo in our schools,” June 12) repeats the same tiresome, anti-teacher, anti-union litany as his heroes Michelle Rhee and Steve Perry.

His arguments reveal flawed logic right from the beginning. First, he claims that “university-based teacher certification programs are wretched.” But then he tells us two paragraphs later that Teach for America applicants are “brilliant graduates from the finest colleges and universities.”

So, a 24-year-old graduate of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education is ill-trained, while a 22-year-old with a Harvard degree in, let’s say, anthropology, who has completed TFA’s five-week summer training, is “brilliant” and ready for your child’s classroom.

Please. This is a ridiculous argument, especially considering the actual research. Far less than 50 percent of Teach for America grads remain in education after their two-year stint is finished. Many have written about the challenges they faced teaching with so little preparation and of their guilt when leaving the profession after having been mentored by experienced teachers in their schools (read Valerie Strauss’ article in the Washington Post, February 2013).

Research from California State University at Sacramento also reveals that TFA teachers in New York produced far lower test scores in reading compared with new teachers who were traditionally trained.

Some $33 million is annually spent to train TFA teachers, most of whom leave education directly after finishing two rookie years in the classroom. Is this a wise allocation of resources? Is this what you want for your children — the 22-year-old who has had the five-week training course? Or, might you prefer the traditionally trained teacher with 10-plus years of experience?

Davison feels that the future of American education ought to be in the hands of these “brilliant,” idealistic and energetic young graduates. Those pesky teacher unions just get in the way of this fabulous idea.

One has to wonder why we don’t apply this to other professions? Why not employ a nurse who has graduated from Harvard with a degree in biology and who has received a five-week training program? We’ll call it “Nursing for America.”

After all, in many parts of the nation we face a nursing shortage — and who needs those traditional university nursing programs anyway? Traditionally trained nurses must be failing, because look at all the sick people in hospitals. Why, some of them even die!

And really, while we’re at it, why not have the Harvard economics grad with the five-week training in accounting do your taxes, too? (“Tax-guys for America!” It has a real ring to it!) All those rules and regulations that traditionally educated Certified Public Accountants have to go through — what a waste — we could have “brilliant” 22-year-olds doing that for far less money!

I know, it sounds absurd. But this is what Davison and his ilk propose for teachers. To their thinking, traditionally trained teachers aren’t professionals. Our bachelor’s and master’s degrees don’t count. Our years of experience and continued training don’t count. We aren’t equipped, in Davison’s mind, to educate your children.

Interestingly enough, Minnesota has one of the lowest ratios of TFA teachers, and it has the highest student ACT scores. Southern states, with some of the highest numbers of TFA “teachers” (Texas has the highest number) also have among the highest dropout rates and the lowest ACT scores.

Now, this correlation may be coincidental, but they are statistical facts nevertheless.

Some would like to blame our achievement gap on traditionally trained teachers and the unions that have advocated for us. The reality is something Davison and others like him don’t want to face: that there are no quick and easy solutions to the myriad social, economic and educational challenges our students face. Slandering teachers is not the answer and will not help us find one

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Eva Lockhart, of Edina, is a high school English teacher.

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