“ROUNDING THE GLOBE’-17: Critical analysis of Boston Globe education coverage
This month’s scoreboard-and a guest piece
Today, the Globe got a little rounder but it still has a long way to go to get to round.
Shiver me timbers, an actual debate appeared on the Sunday op ed page of all places, on the subject of national vs state standards. This is not a dispute that necessarily involves the more contentious issues in the on-going education reform controversy. For example, the Boston Globe deeply believes in standardized testing (the more, the better) and currently prefers the Massachusetts state standards to the proposed national ones. Todays’s pro-national standards op ed was written by former education commissioner David Driscoll, who didn’t really discuss testing. The opposing point-of-view was authored by two local education professors who do have a critical perspective on testing and expressed it toward the end of their op ed. So this is an issue that divides both proponents and opponents of testing/charter expansion/merit pay along lines that are not very neat. That the national standards haven’t been finalized only adds confusion to the issue.
Still, let’s give the Globe some credit for even thinking to run an opposing piece, even if on the fuzzy standards issue.
Thinking back over the past month, I add this anti-testing op ed to a thoughtful Joan Vennoci column, and I come up with two columns offering something other than the standard Globe fare. That’s a grand total…two. On the other side of the ledger I come up with the usual diet in the form of a two editorials, op eds by Larry Harmon, Andy Samrick, Jeff Jacoby, and Scot Lehigh, approximately five seriously deficient news stories (in terms of balance), and two huge news omissions (Diane-You-Know-Who and the recent Christ veto, both of which were played large in other reputable papers.) So the scoreboard on the Green Monster still tells an ugly tale, and not only for the Red Sox of late.
But I am not the only media observer who can’t get any satisfaction. Ann O’Halloran was the Massachusetts History Teacher of the Year. She was listening to the Emily Rooney Show last January 6 and heard something that upset her. She wrote a letter to Ms. Rooney, but has yet to receive anything other than a canned response.
Here is what she wrote. Emily Rooney, if you are out there, please write back to this celebrated (now retired) public school teacher. After all, she is someone who worked in our classrooms for 30 years to put the “Greater” in “Greater Boston.”
“Dear Ms. Rooney,
A friend called this afternoon, urging me to watch the middle segment of last night’s Emily Rooney show. Perhaps because of what is happening with education this week, I was particularly attuned to some of your statements and questions.
As a veteran teacher, now retired, I’d like to share some ideas which may help your understanding of schooling, particularly in areas which are challenging for a variety of reasons.
You may be surprised how statements glibly made affect those who work every day with dedication to keep our children and our schools whole, particularly in those very challenging areas where school may be the only sanctuary available for those children. And how such generalizations affect how the public views educators. How “untruths” become part of our everyday parlance. Perhaps, most importantly for the future, how they affect those who might aspire to become teachers. I listened three times to the segment because I honestly couldn’t believe what I heard!
I would like to introduce myself. My name is Ann O’Halloran and I went into teaching in inner city Boston – right across the field from the Franklin Field Project. I had worked in business but decided my real goal was to become active in the social justice issues of my time. Not trained as a teacher, but in Sociology and Psychology, I had a quickie summer student teaching gig through the Harvard/Newton Summer Program.
When I began teaching, I was very raw material. We teachers were not allowed to stay in the building after school as the area was deemed too dangerous. Even though I was young and enthusiastic, every day of that first year, I went home, had a Bloody Mary (yes, I got over that part!) and a two-hour nap!
What made me the teacher I became was the warm affection, mentoring support, and leadership of the veteran teachers around me. Our school had opened the year before and was beautiful, with light flowing through its large windows, and spacious, filled with teachers who had chosen to teach in an open space school. The learning curve for me was tough that first year, with a class of 28 students – this was before the Chapter 766 law which created programs and specialized teachers for students with special needs. I was in charge of all the kids, their variety of issues – and alone in the classroom. Always supported by my peers, I struggled to become a real teacher.
There was much learning for me that year. But fortunately right before my eyes was a laboratory of how to become a great teacher. There were out-of-the-box ideas. A veteran teacher came up with a plan for a great adventure for our third-graders. Because, she said, “I want to open the eyes of our students. I want them to see something of the world beyond the neighborhood where they live.” Together we seven third-grade teachers, made her dream come true. Made it happen – just a group of teachers with a great idea. There was no money for such an idea! We organized and raised funds to fly every one of our students to Washington, D.C. for a day, a magical day.
There was brain-storming. “What would you do?” I frequently inquired and then listened or watched my own personal lesson unfold. There was connecting, watching how others got to know parents and urged them to share their thoughts and concerns about their children.
I remember watching and watching Barbara Elam, our school librarian. Why was her voice so soft and calm and the kids focused so intently? How did she know so much about children’s literature? This past year I was stunned to learn that most Boston schools these days don’t have libraries and certainly no professional librarians. That breaks my heart – no libraries, and no Barbara Elams.
Rose Hester was an aide for the third grade. She loved the kids but she could give them one l–o–n–g look and any mischief would shrink and die away. How is she doing that? I’d wonder.
Every step of my career, I leaned on veteran teachers. Schools may benefit from coaches or bosses, but more supportive veterans are absolutely required. A school without that great gift is a school missing an essential support system for new teachers.
In the late sixties I had lived in Washington, D.C. and watched the city burn after the death of Dr. King. Next, I had been support staff at a training program in rural Montana where one trainee had murdered another. Then, came Jonathan Kozol and his first book Death at an Early Age to open my eyes to the problems of poverty and education deprivation.
Interestingly, he had also been a young, enthusiastic, eager teacher in Boston, inspired by the work of Dr. King . That enthusiastic teacher was fired for teaching the poetry of Langston Hughes and other African American poets! His work was innovative at a time when Boston children could not have access to our rich cultural life. I chose to work with young children to help give them “life at an early age.” Kozol went on to become the major critic of education in our city schools and he taught us grownups.
Last evening when Senate Preside
nt Therese Murray spoke with such concern in her voice about some of the issues in the poorer school districts, you chose to dispute her statements about children who come to school hungry or ill clothed. “Is that still true? I thought we were done – I thought that was a seventies’ argument. Kids go to school and they get fed.”
Perhaps you should go visit some Boston schools – for a week! Speak with the principal, sure – but more importantly the teachers – who see the little ones coughing, exhausted, with their heads down on their desks. Sit in classrooms in poor neighborhoods and then comment on education. In my time in Boston, the school psychologist and I bought the boots for the four kids in one family; my grandmother, born into poverty, knitted mittens for my entire class one year. This is real stuff. That’s what teachers do – These are children and families whose lives are so fragile. Please never dismiss out-of-hand the very real issues of challenging schools.
In discussing proposed changes in collective bargaining rules you remarked, “Well, they can’t get rid of the whole faculty.” As Ms. Murray replied, “yes, indeed they can.” In fact that was one of Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan’s specialties in Chicago – called Turnaround schools – every staff member was fired. Yes, every person, down to the custodian and school secretary, every staff member. And he’s proud of it. Ask the folks in Chicago how effective this was. You might want to read, So Much Change, So Little Reform, by psychologist, Charles Payne, or come hear him speak at Simmons this spring. Reminds me, actually, of some of our venture capital firms which take over companies and fire everyone. The business model finally comes to public education!
Who will teach? The options of choosing to teach in an underperforming or chronically-underperforming school don’t seem very attractive under the education bill just passed. As it is right now, there are incredibly high numbers of teachers who leave the profession in the first three years – even more from charter schools. We can’t even maintain a steady flow of new teachers.
When the public discourse has a constant thread of derision about teachers – imagine your remarks of “twenty or thirty percent – or more” who are “just showing up or not.” Or the Boston Globe’s recent editorial urging the “brooming out” of bad teachers. “Brooming out”? Words applied to a vital profession? Where will our future teachers and leaders come from when America starts treating its teachers as throwaways?
There are no easy answers. When I retired a year ago, I promised my colleagues and myself to bring the “teacher voice” to public conversation, to the State House, in writing, wherever I could because there are far too many condescending and outrightly incorrect remarks that hurt our teachers and schools in many ways, large and small. It’s pretty much a full-time job.
When it comes to a TV show, the uninformed might hear you say, “Well, those are “70s issues” or “they” get fed at school and that “there are twenty or thirty percent or more teachers who should be fired,” and believe it. Then it’s time for “teacher voice.” Certainly, some children receive breakfast and lunch at school – but then imagine the next eighteen or twenty hours when they may have mashed potato or cereal for supper.
Before you make further statements, please read Jonathan Kozol’s book: The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America. Or read Pedro Noguera’s book, What’s Wrong with Black Boys? where he takes on the “school to prison pipeline.” Kozol’s Letters to a Young Teacher or Rookie Year by Dan Brown.
I am hopeful that this information will be helpful.
Ann B. O’Halloran
Massachusetts History Teacher of the Year, 2007
Finalist for National History Teacher of the Year, 2007
Thirty-year veteran public school teacher”