Reevaluating the meaning of teacher commitment

Yesterday Terry responded on Flypaper to remarks made by the president of the Dayton Education Association (DEA) as to why the union turned down up to $5 million in federal Race to the Top money. (This, while the district faces a $5 million budget shortfall! Do the math.)

There is something specific about the DEA president's remarks worth addressing further. In response to a Dayton Daily News editorial arguing that the teachers union ???let kids down by saying no to millions,??? she said:

It is totally wrong, and indeed inappropriate, to claim that Dayton teachers do not care for their students.

Her evidence of Dayton teachers' commitment to children is that they spend, on average, ???$500 a year of their personal funds for materials and supplies for their classrooms.??? Whether or not teachers care about students is totally beside the point (although it's an oft cited defense any time teachers unions are the target of critique). And pointing to teachers' supply receipts doesn't refute the underlying reasons the DEA is being criticized: intentionally stifling reform, and rejecting much-needed funding for its students.

Not many people would doubt that Dayton teachers are committed to children. But this commitment (as evidenced by extraneous purchases, long hours, or any one of the countless sacrifices that teachers make for their kids) does not offset the need for serious evaluations to be sure that all teachers are doing what they were trained, recruited, and hired to do ??? help students progress academically.

The more germane question is whether or not teachers perceive it as their fundamental responsibility to move students forward academically (as opposed to being caring and committed) and prepare them for college and life success.?? For example, you may be surprised to learn that according to recent results from a Deloitte education survey, only nine percent of high school teachers think that preparing students for college is the most important mission of high school. This question (of what teachers view their role to be) is a critical one, especially for students living in disadvantaged communities like Dayton. Teachers can have a far greater impact on students' life outcomes by having a sense of self-efficacy (like the ???idealists??? in last year's Public Agenda teacher survey) and taking responsibility for moving students forward. This should be the DEA's true measure of ???commitment.???

-Jamie Davies O'Leary

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