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Excuses, Excuses, Excuses

Educators in Maryland Need to Take Responsibility for Poor Test Scores and Fix the Problem!


A few years ago, the Baltimore Ravens were having a terrible season. They were losing game after game. The reason was they had so many injuries to key players that the team they put on the field was so much weaker than they should have been.

And no one cared about why. Despite all of their circumstances and injuries, the fans wanted winning and they, and the owner, got tired of hearing the head coach explain why the team wasn’t winning. “No excuses,” they said, “You’re a professional football team. Fix the problem and win!”

It’s a shame educators didn’t get that message.

With the release of the awful Maryland State test scores this week, this is the refrain from educators across the state. From the State Superintendent:

“There is the gloom story of math, but there are so many kids who are close to hit that proficiency bar, too,” said Choudhury. “They’re on the cusp of it.”

While some members of the board might read the highlights and conclude ‘Our schools are failing’ — it’s not as gloomy as you think it is,” said Choudhury.

It’s nice that he can turn horribly bitter lemons into lemonade. No one in the state outside the unions and his staff are buying that line of cow flop. The scores are bad, our kids are in trouble. The Titanic is sinking and having the orchestra keep playing isn’t helping that fact. It’s not a serious approach to a serious problem. Here are the scores: MCAPAssessmentResultsPart2-6DOWNLOAD

An even worse response is one I saw on Facebook from a teacher. Having been a teacher and even a testing coordinator for my county, I know how devastating it can be when bad scores are published. The public rightly criticizes those on the front lines first, and that includes teachers and school staff. However, the knee jerk defensive responses make the situation worse. Here are two of the paraphrased comments from the teacher:

  • Stop blaming teachers. We are working so hard and no one appreciates how hard we work. It’s not our fault.

  • Teachers have an impossible job and we don’t get paid enough.

The first argument is the same comment every time things go bad in the schools. Even when people are clearly talking about the educational system, teachers complain about being blamed. The “don’t blame us, we just work here” response is what the teachers’ union have taught teachers, thinking that it will shut everyone up. If you keep playing the pity angle, it seems to work. What they may not realize is, by saying this, teachers are in fact implying they aren’t very important in the education equation. They are shooting themselves in the foot.

The bottom line is that people know it is the system that is not working and teachers should not shoulder the brunt of the finger pointing. But teachers don’t get a pass either. It’s true that they are the front line and not the policy makers, but they ARE the majority of employees and can affect change if they truly want to. A teacher in the classroom has a great deal of power to educate his/her students. Yes, the district provides the curriculum and materials, but once that classroom door closes, a teacher has sole impact on what goes on there, especially once the teacher achieves tenure. Of course, supervisory staff and administration will occasionally stop in to see what is happening, but that is it.

This may be both a blessing and curse to the teacher and the public, because as we have seen, some teachers take this autonomy and foist personal political beliefs and inappropriate ideologies on innocent students. But if we are talking strictly about teaching academic content in schools, teachers matter most: From the Rand Corporation:

  • Teachers matter more to student achievement than any other aspect of schooling. Many factors contribute to a student’s academic performance, including individual characteristics and family and neighborhood experiences. But research suggests that, among school-related factors, teachers matter most. When it comes to student performance on reading and math tests, teachers are estimated to have two to three times the effect of any other school factor, including services, facilities, and even leadership. Teachers Matter | RAND

Teachers could help their public image by not supporting a union that only spends ten cents per dollar on representing them and that promotes outlandish ideas while constantly begging for more money and lobbying for power. This is while they sit on hundreds of millions of assets. One look at the MSEA and NEA websites and you will find page after page of statements about transgender rights, political lobbying etc. and almost nothing about supporting actual normal, everyday teachers and better working conditions. If the hundreds of millions of union assets were spent on actually helping teachers and schools instead of paying staff and lobbyists, imagine what positive change could happen. If the unions even pretended to care about students, it might be better. They gave that sham up decades ago.

Teachers also need to take a hard look at colleagues. Anyone who has ever taught will tell you that there are people in the profession who work very hard and are great at their jobs. But there are also teachers who have depended on tenure to protect their jobs while they don’t actually do their jobs. Other teachers know this, will privately acknowledge it, but will actually “circle the wagons” when administrators try to get rid of bad teachers. The rotten apples destroy the image of ALL teachers and drag down student achievement.

As for the difficulty of the job, this is another refrain educators need to stop singing. I taught for thirty years. Yes, it’s a difficult job. Difficult. Not impossible. In fact, when you compare hours, days working, etc. teaching is no more difficult than most other professions. The comments about taking work home at night are true for some, but again, ask those in other salaried professions how much work they do after hours. It’s comparable if not more. Like any other job, the difficulty of the job is directly related to WHERE and WITH WHOM one works and how efficiently you use your time during the day.

The bottom line is being an educator is a choice. If one was unaware of the challenges of the job, shame on them. No one is forcing people to go into teaching. I applaud all of those who go into teaching with the purest of motives. I also suggest that those who find the job impossible either change their approach to the job or leave.

Having said that, I am sadly aware that we are losing teachers each year. Many districts are still not fully staffed after the pandemic. Blaming the pay as the main reason is the wrong approach. Pay has always been an issue with teachers. But that is the case in almost all jobs right now. Inflation is devastating and pay raises for almost everyone are not keeping up. In fact, in Maryland, many counties are giving teachers pay raises well above what other public service professions are getting.

Teachers’ main complaint is that they can’t do what they were trained and want to do, teach their students. Poor student behavior, multiple distractions in the classroom, focusing on social programs instead of academics, interruptions of class time for various feel-good activities, all stand in the way of teachers being able to do what they got into teaching for. And so they leave. No one likes a job where you can not accomplish your main goal. In education the main goal is teaching children the skills they need to be successful and productive adults.

If left up to teachers, the test scores probably would be much better than they are. Instead of being told to teach curriculums that don’t work with materials that are inadequate or even detrimental to learning, teachers would choose materials that would actually help students learn. But systems usually contract with publishers on the basis of what administrators choose. In some cases, administrators make money off these choices in the form of kickbacks or promises of well-paying consultant jobs.

If teachers could focus on the basics, get disruptive students out of the classroom, remove the constant interruptions for silly, feel-good programs that help no one, the academics would improve. But no one wants to discuss that. They would rather throw money at unproven, wasteful initiatives.

If kids truly felt safe at school instead of worrying about some out-of-control student slamming them against the wall or attacking them, they would do better academically. But we keep sacrificing the many for a few habitual miscreants. And those students are ALL different races and genders.

If teachers would stand up without the unions and tell the federal, state and local administrations that they have real solutions to the poor test scores and that these solutions focus on academics, the public would get behind them 100% and support them.

But, instead of doing that and saying, “These scores are awful! I want to make them better and will do whatever I can to make that happen, ” teachers are playing the victim role in public like they have for decades. It’s getting them and our students nowhere.

It’s time for them to change their approach. They need to see what is and stop blaming everyone and everything else. You can’t see the real problem unless you take a hard look at yourselves.

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” – Matthew 7:3-5 And I would add to this, “and solve the problem.”


Jan Greenhawk, Editor/Writer for Radio Free Oxford

February 3, 2023 Jan is a retired teacher and a current Chapter Chair for Moms for Liberty, Talbot © Janet L. Greenhawk and Radio Free Oxford, 2023. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Janet L. Greenhawk and Radio Free Oxford with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Jan can be reached at jan417@radiofreeoxford.com

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