California Educator

November 2015

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S O M E T I M E S , I T J U S T D O E S N ' T M A K E S E N S E . Why is teaching — a profession admired by so many Americans — reviled by so many? In her best-selling book, e Teacher Wars: A History of America's Most Embattled Profession (Doubleday, 2014), Dana Goldstein explains that while the controversy surrounding teaching may seem like a recent development, it is deeply rooted in our nation's history. Educators have long been expected to solve societal problems that are clearly outside of their control, such as racism, poverty, or the complications that arise from the influx of non-English-speaking immigrants. And when schools are — not surprisingly — unable to address these issues single-handedly, it is the teachers who get the blame. is vicious cycle of high hopes followed by disappointment, coupled with inevitable attacks on the profession, leaves many of us feeling utterly dejected. But there are reasons for optimism. After Goldstein's study of 200 years of public school teaching, she presents a path forward to creating a profession that receives the prestige it deserves. She will speak about her book and its recommendations at CTA's Issues Conference, Jan. 15-17, 2016, in Las Vegas. Goldstein is a staff writer at e Marshall Project and a contributor to Slate, e Atlantic and other magazines. Previously, she was an asso- ciate editor at e Daily Beast and reported on education news for e American Prospect. She comes from a family of educators (her father, grandfather and both stepparents were teachers). e Teacher Wars has been praised by those inside and outside of the teaching profession as a well-researched and balanced look at teaching and the education reform debate. Author Dana Goldstein sheds light on new and old debates By LISA GALLEY Ending the 'Teacher Wars' What drew you to this topic? Why write a book about it? A lot of authors say that they wish they could have read the book that they write. That's how I felt when I was covering the 2008 Demo- cratic primary. I noticed that education was a flash point among candidates (Obama, Clinton, Edwards) who generally agreed on things. I was curious why we were arguing so much about teachers, even at the presidential level. When I did some research about the history of teach- ing, I found there was lots of information, but it wasn't all in one place. I wish this book existed when I started out as an education writer. And I love history — that's what my dad taught. Why is teaching both idealized and resented? We have really high hopes for teachers. Over time we've expected them to close cultural and racial gaps and solve problems related to the clash between native-born Americans and immigrants. Today we expect them to close socioeconomic gaps. We have a romantic idea of the amount of impact a teacher can have. When it turns out that teachers alone can't close gaps as quickly or completely as we hoped, disap- pointment sets in. It becomes convenient for people to blame teachers because it lets them off the hook. This doesn't mean we can't expect a lot from teach- ers; for example, it is crucial that teachers work for social justice. But we can't become overly focused on teachers to the exclusion of other solutions. To do so shows a failure of political will and a lack of understand- ing of the social science and economics of poverty. You note that education has always been seen as a solution to inequality in America, but teachers know they can only do so much. Can we ever have a productive national conversation about the effects of poverty on student achievement? Having a great teacher can help a kid dream bigger, and that's something you can't measure. But it's depressing that we talk a lot more about accountability than we talk about raising the minimum wage of the parents. Teachers are rightly frustrated. One of the early components of No Child Le Behind was a plan to address chronic absenteeism. It has been proven that reducing chronic absenteeism can be effective in efforts to improve student achieve- ment. But this is work that social workers and support staff must do. Teachers can't add this to their plates. 46

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