Wednesday, July 11

So simple, yet somehow so hard for many to understand

The On Education column this week in the Times, by reporter David Herszenhorn, addresses a simple idea that, if actually understood by legislators and the general public, could dramatically change the way schools are governed: "Working with children looks easy. It is not."

Herzsenhorn writes that covering the schools has shown him that the challenges facing people working in schools are broader than most on the outside imagine. He writes:

School professionals are called upon not only to educate children, but also to nurture curiosity and civic values, and even to teach the most basic manners. ... Not only do professional educators have to know how to deal with children, they have to be clever about soothing an even wackier bunch: parents.

The daily work in schools is so hard that most educators in the system do not distinguish between the chancellor’s office and the mayor, the labor unions and state government, the teachers’ contract and the federal No Child Left Behind law when they complain, frequently, that the “system” is against them.

Forces above and beyond school level often make the work in classrooms more difficult. And the work in classrooms is difficult enough.
While this notion might seem like a no-brainer, the fact is that teachers and administrators are continually asked to improve students' performance -- measured in standardized test scores -- without being able to address kids' vast "non-academic" needs. And when teachers struggle to raise scores, their quality is impugned. Sometimes criticizing teachers is justified, but often it's a smokescreen to distract from the more complicated factors underlying student performance.

A quarter of kids in New York City live in poverty (as do 1 in 6 kids nationally). The city's expansion of the summer meals program underscores the reality that many kids here are often hungry. This reality, like many others beyond teachers' control, makes it hard for kids to learn. Not until legislators sincerely address the "forces above and beyond school level" can successfully teaching kids get easier.

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