NEA TODAY: What’s behind the trend of blaming teachers for the problems in education?
Kumashiro: First, it’s really easy to scapegoat teachers because common sense prompts us to see education on the individual level. For example, a Frameworks Institute study revealed that, when people think about education, they picture a classroom where a teacher stands in front of students. When you then talk about the problems in education, all eyes turn to the teachers – they aren’t working hard enough, or they’re too greedy, or they’re not accountable. Rather than focus on education as a broken system, the debate becomes about fixing individuals teachers – how do we incentivize them, how do we get rid of the lazy ones, how do we weaken their union “bosses.”
NEA TODAY: What are the systemic problems that are being masked?
Kumashiro: One of those problems is funding. One of those problems is funding. Our neighborhoods are even more segregated by income and race than ever before, and because so much of school funding is based on local property taxes, the historically vast wealth gap in our nation makes it easy to see why funding is not equitable, and therefore neither is the quality of education being provided.
NEA TODAY: What are those who scapegoat teachers hoping to gain?
Kumashiro: Public education is now a $500 to $600 billion enterprise, being outsourced and privatized more and more each day. By pointing to low test scores and blaming teachers for them, there’s a justification for dismantling public school systems and outsourcing education, and a lot of profits to be made by doing so.
NEA TODAY: What are the consequences of blaming teachers and distorting the bigger picture?
Kumashiro: The most immediate consequence is that we’re harming the teaching profession. A lot of really great teachers are leaving the profession in frustration. For those who stay, it affects how they feel about their jobs. Last year’s Met Life Survey found that the teacher job satisfaction rate dropped 20 percent in one year. How can you feel good about your job when everyone is saying you’re terrible at it because you can’t raise everyone’s test scores?
NEA TODAY: Why do some groups claim to champion teachers but denigrate their unions
Kumashiro: As reflected in the recent strike of the Chicago Teachers Union, as well as in teacher strikes happening right now around the world, unions stand in the way of these “reformers’” agenda, which is often profit-driven. Not only do unions push back on the agenda of those interested in marketization and privatization, they push for better working and learning conditions and they want to have their members’ voices heard in discussions about reform. This is why states across the country have recently or are now considering legislation to weaken collective bargaining rights, and it’s also why “reformers” push to expand charter schools, which do not often have to contend with unions.
NEA TODAY: What can NEA members do to help clarify the bigger picture?
Kumashiro: Collectivize! Unions have an essential role, and so do communities of learning where expertise is shared that sheds light on what reforms work and what reforms don’t. When they don’t seek out ways to collectivize, teachers often feel isolated. From the beginning, teachers should look for schools with energizing, professional learning communities that can support them in their work. Teaching is collaborative and can’t be best practiced behind a closed classroom door.