Why Teachers Are a Great Part of This Country
Why You Shouldn't Just Blame Teachers
Some people in America’s General Public believe schoolteachers are “a little bit below average” (Goldstein). They believe students aren’t getting very bright in schools because teachers aren’t bright (Dubner). The comparisons to other wealthy countries like South Korea, Japan, and Finland has led some people to believe this statement is true. For example, “In the nations that lead the international rankings (Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Finland, and Canada), teachers are drawn from the top third of college graduates, rather than the bottom 60 percent as is the case in the United States” (Mehta). Although “we have all heard the depressing numbers when compared to kids from other rich countries, US students are also a little bit below average, especially in math, even though we spend more money per student than most other countries” (Dubner). The comparisons to other Nation’s teachers and students put some of the General Public in the mind frame that US students aren’t doing very well and US teachers are not the best and brightest (Dubner). Just because a teacher graduates at the top of their class does not mean they will be a great classroom teacher (Dubner).
Let us not forget that these comparisons between our teachers and students to other wealthy countries are weighted averages. According to The world Factbook as of July 2017, America’s population grew to 326,625,791. We are third, behind China and India, of being one of the largest populations in the world, so our student and teacher ratio comparisons to 34 other Organization Economic Co-Operation and Development countries are large in scale. Yet in the eyes of society, our ranking numbers are not that great. OECD’s Comparative world education ranking report, PISA, averages 493 for reading, 496 for math, and 501 for science. The United States sits at 500 for reading, 487 for math, and 502 for science (Shepherd). Although our math score is a bit below average, America’s scores are the average when it comes to world education averages. “If we consider a chart, from Education at a Glance 2011, showing percentage of students who have attained 'upper secondary education,' specifically high school graduates, Finland drops to 9th place, with a minuscule lead over the United States, finishing 12th out of 35 nations” (Viall). What happens if we drop some of our worst performing states (Alaska, Georgia and Oregon)? If we then compare Finland and top-scoring states in the Union (or Finland and Wisconsin alone), Finland’s teachers suddenly don’t look so great (Viall). The statistics that lead some people to believe that our education system is below average reflects the fact that the number of observations may vary among different groups within the United States education average. Due to our large scale in population size, our education average suffers, but in reality, based off subcategories, views can be different. Therefore, stating that America’s education system average is “a little bit below average” compared to world averages is an undeveloped theory.
Based on world averages, some groups in the general public blame teachers for the poor performance of American students. When asked if there is one thing we need to make a change to in order to improve the education system and the quality of teaching, most people would say, “it would be teachers” (BBL). The subject of teacher skill has taken over the education debate (Dubner). Although I agree with the general population when they say, “smarter teachers matter,” the data used to show that American teachers are “a little bit below average” is irrelevant in knowing that teachers truly are the main cause for low performing students. Until just recently, there has been no internationally comparable measure on teacher quality. Teacher salaries or crude background characteristics are used as proxy for teacher quality comparisons (Hanushek). Questions like “how many years of experience?” and “Did you go to a teacher training school?” are asked to build the data for teacher quality averages. The data on these averages and teacher performance are uncorrelated (Hanushek). In terms of years of survey information, it’s sort of saying Pakistan has better teachers because they have more experience; clearly this is not the right answer. Without having a strong measure of teacher cognitive skills, which is one generally important dimension of teacher quality, it has not proven that teachers are the cause of low performing students. Stating teachers are “a little bit below average” based off world comparisons of teacher quality is flawed within its findings.
When compared to other wealthy countries, studies have shown that American students are “a little bit below average.” “In 2009, the Program for International Student Assessment, which compares student performance across advanced industrialized countries, ranked American 15-year-olds 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math, trailing their counterparts in Belgium, Estonia and Poland.” (Mehta). The OECD reports that the U. S. has fallen to 16th in attainment of “tertiary education,” or percent of students with college degrees. Although one-third of entering college students needs remedial education, the United States is “still in a ranking of thirty-five advanced nations, we remain ahead of Switzerland (18th), Finland (19th) and Germany (mired in 27th place)” (Viall). Although we have problems when it comes to the performance of American students, blaming American teachers’ ability to teach them is not the root to the problem, as studies have shown we are ahead, of many countries.
The United States is said to be a “melting pot.” There are students from all walks of life in our education system, and with 55.2% of them being enrolled in our education system, there are many new things our society has to become acquainted with. Embracing the diversity amongst our great country has been a successful one, from social economics to population density. However, we struggle to define success in education. Like the economy and population, schools have become diverse and populated, but the different backgrounds that make the United States that successful “melting pot” is not yet embraced in our school systems. “Performance differences that are related to student background are evident in every country, students with an immigrant background are socio-economically disadvantaged, and this explains part of the performance disadvantage among these students. They face considerable challenges in reading and other aspects of education. In general, they tend to show lower levels of performance even after their socio-economic background is taken into account. However, despite the strong association between socioeconomic status and reading performance, many students from disadvantaged backgrounds confound predictions and perform well. Thus educators must not assume that someone from a disadvantaged background is incapable of high achievement” (Education at a Glance).
America is made up of immigrants; we are the definition of immigrant, seeking greater economic opportunities and religious freedom. Our said history is unique on its own, and comparing it to other countries dilutes our country’s free identity. With reforms and programs, our Nation is trying to provide students with equitable learning opportunities. “Education systems aim to reduce the extent to which a student’s socio-economic background affects his or her performance in school” (Education at a Glance). “In April 1983, a federal commission warned in a famous report, “A Nation at Risk,” that American education was a “rising tide of mediocrity.” The alarm it sounded about declining competitiveness touched off a tidal wave of reforms: state standards, charter schools, alternative teacher-certification programs, more money, more test-based “accountability” and, since 2001, two big federal programs, No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top” (Mehta). But little do most Americans know that the stress and paperwork in schools, just to compare to other wealthy countries, has brought on neglect. Which, in turns, would increase community differences, decrease in job opportunities, and higher crime and poverty rates.
In some communities, teachers are blamed for the behavior of students. In my recent college experiences, I have had the pleasure to interview a special education teacher who has been teaching for over 20 years. In the interview of her educational experience, she said, “my principal would say, 'Students would respect each other and respect the adults.' She told me, 'Parents never accused or blamed the teacher for why the student was in trouble. Now, they ask why, and why didn’t you make them do the work.' She said, 'Parents don’t want to be parents, they want to be friends.”' Have you ever looked at the possibilities of students’ performance being related to background adversities? The education system’s averages are affected by students/teachers’ home lives, school funding abilities, and curriculum. Parents, communities, and educators are what make up the education system background, and if the backgrounds of students are affecting comparable education averages, then our focus for solving the issues that lie in our country’s education system should be on parents, communities, and educators. So just blaming teachers for the poor performance of our students is an unfair opinion.
There are millions of students receiving a great education in America, and there are many excellent teachers in America (Dubner). Teachers are what make up most of the United States success, whether influencing world leaders, becoming one, or just even the knowledge of one. Teachers play a huge role in society. For example, Martin Luther King Jr. and Steve Jobs are two Americans that were influenced by Gandhi, a teacher (Malhortra). The teaching profession is an old one; it has been around for many years. Through those years, the school systems have been overwhelmed with senseless work, work that has not embraced the importance of our country. Although diversity is embraced in our society, it is not a shared happiness within our education system. The lack of positive socio-economical influence has caused rumors to spread. Rumors that believe students aren’t getting very bright in schools because teachers aren’t bright. Instead of blaming just a part of our society, we should look at ourselves as parents, community members, and teachers, because it is up to every American to insure that our young generations are equipped for the future.
Dubner, Steven, J. “Is America’s Education Problem Really Just a Teacher Problem?” Freakonomics. January 28, 2016. http://freakonomics.com/podcast/americas-education-problem-really-just-teacher-problem-freakonomics-radio-rebroadcast/. Assessed 10 April 2018.
The World Factbook. CIA 2018. www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2119rank.html#us. Assessed 10 April 2018.
Malhotra, Nishi. “20 Greatest World Leaders and Thinkers Who Were Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi.” TheBetterIndia. October 2, 2015. www.thebetterindia.com/35422/20-greatest-world-leaders-and-thinkers-who-were-inspired-by-mahatma-gandhi/. Assessed 12 April 2018.
Digest of Education Statistics. National Center for Education Statistics 2018. www.nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d17/tables/dt17_103.10.asp. Assessed 12 April 2018.
Shepherd, Jessica. “World education rankings: which country does best at reading, maths and science?” TheGaurdian. December 7, 2010. www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2010/dec/07/world-education-rankings-maths-science-reading. Assessed 12 April 2018.
“The State of Racial Diversity in the Educator Workforce”. US Department of Education, July 2016. http://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/eval/highered/racial-diversity/state-racial-diversity-workforce.pd. Assessed 12 April 2018.
Hussar, W.J., and Bailey, T.M. (2009). Projections of Education Statistics to 2018 (NCES 2009-062). National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC.
Vaill, John. “Finland Has Smarter Teachers!” Blogspot. July 14, 2013. www.ateacheronteaching.blogspot.com/2013/07/finland-has-better-teachers.html. Assessed 12 April 2018.
OECD (2011), Education at a Glance 2011: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/eag-2011-en. Assessed 12 April 2018.
“Graduates by field of education.” OECD 2018. http://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DatasetCode=RGRADSTY. Assessed 12 April 2018.
Mehta, Jal. “Teachers: Will We Ever Learn?” The New York Times Company 2018. April 12, 2013. www.nytimes.com/2013/04/13/opinion/teachers-will-we-ever-learn.html?pagewanted=all. Assessed 12 April 2018.
Lacdao, MaLorelei. “BBL- The Value of Smarter Teachers” WBG Video. Feb 15, 2018. www.1930181.mediaspace.kaltura.com/media/BBL-+The+Value+of+Smarter+Teachers+-+Feb+15,+2018/1_vb6te0uu/29528271%20. Assessed 10 April 2018.