By Paolo von Schirach
September 11, 2012
WASHINGTON – Amazing to observe to what lenghts some media can go when determined to obfuscate rather than clarify a critical issue, the dire state of American public education in this case. There is now a major, almost historic teachers’ strike underway in Chicago, one of America’s largest public schools systems. While there are many issues on the table, including pay, at the core of the confrontation is Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s effort to introduce serious accountability for Chicago’s educators. The teachers’ unions, mostly concerned about themselves as opposed to their education mission, resist change. The reform would measure teachers’ performance on the basis of the results of their teaching. If the children learn, it means that they have good teachers. If they do not, then those teachers need to find another line of work.
And why is this an issue? It is an issue, in fact a huge issue, because in Chicago and nationwide America’s children are held back by far too many mediocre or bad teachers who stay in their jobs not on account of their performance, but because they are protected by their membership in powerful teachers unions, like the National Education Association, (NEA), and The American Federation of Teachers, (AFT). The American education crisis is deep. Nationwide, test scores show poor results; meaning that children do not learn much, or nothing at all. International comparative analyses of students abilities clearly indicate that American children do either so-so or poorly against their peers from China, Korea, Finland and many other countries.
All this is now well known and well documented. Mayor Emanuel’s efforts aimed at introducing accountability among Chicago’s teachers should be saluted by the media as a valiant effort aimed at turning things around, an effort aimed at weeding bad teachers out so that America’s young people, especially the poor and the disadvantaged, can get a real education. It is quite clear that in today’s super competitive world a bad education is a ticket to nowhere.
Coverage failed to mention critical issues at the center of the dispute
But absolutely none of this came out of an in depthsegment in the course of a radio program normally regarded as serious journalism. Absolutely nothing. The program anchor started by wandering what this strike might be all about. No context, no background about the US education crisis. Nothing about the new and more stringent teachers evaluation criteria put forward by Mayor Emanuel. And the expert interviewed proceeded to raise a lot of dust by talking about ancillary issues that supposedly are instead at the center of Chicago teachers’ grievances. They complain, we are told, about class sizes, about lack of air conditioning in some buildings and about rehiring the good teachers who have been laid off when a failed school is closed. (Again, no explanation as to why in Chicago some schools are so bad that they need to be closed down).
In the end, the causal listeners got from this rather lengthy segment that Chicago teachers are up in arms about work place and pay raise issues, or something like that. Nothing whatsoever about the national fight (of which Chicago is now a major battleground) to reform the entire system of teachers’ tenure, so that there will be accountability, and so that it will be finally possible to get rid of incompetent educators who teach nothing.
Failure to inform
A mediocre to bad public education system is one of America’s major weaknesses. This is bad for young people getting into the world with little knowledge and no training to think. It is bad for the economy, as uneducated workers under perform; and it is ultimately very bad for America, because any country will thrive only if its citizens are creative and capable. It is to the credit of leaders like Chicago Mayor Emanuel that they are trying to remedy this disaster; but major media that supposedly are there to provide in depth coverage dance around the issue, failing to inform the public as to what is really at stake here. A major disservice.