Curtis Hier: Attract good teachers and let them do their jobs

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Curtis Hier, a 33-year high school teacher from Fair Haven and the president of the Vermont Alliance for the Social Studies.

Our public education system is bipolar. Its reformers are manic, but the test scores are depressed.

Bipolar disorder is a serious condition afflicting nearly 6 million Americans. Unfortunately, it’s also a metaphor for our public schools. Symptoms of mania include rapid speech, grandiose ideas, and wild spending sprees. Education “reformers” exhibit all three.

The so-called reformers of education have been rapidly and frenetically speaking seemingly forever. TED Talks and TEDx Talks and podcasts and workshops and panels and keynotes and in-service sessions and slide shows. Many, many slide shows. It’s a lot of talking.

Wikimedia Commons/ProjectManhattan

Curtis Hier: “Recent fads of education have included cooperative learning, curriculum mapping, differentiated instruction, flipped classrooms, personalized learning, social and emotional learning, and positive behavioral intervention support. It’s dizzying.”

Reformers have been writing rapidly and frenetically, too. As of this writing, an Amazon book search for “education reform” reveals over 20,000 titles. Google provides 272 billion results.  “Scholarly articles” for education reform yields 3.1 million sources.

Seemingly everybody’s been published on the subject, many people with little or no experience teaching children.

When I began teaching, some of the grandest of grandiose ideas were playing out, like open space classrooms. Teachers were finally driven to distraction and erected bookshelves and crates — anything to block out other classes. Dividers went up, and soon rooms were evident.

Whole language was being phased out as the preferred method of teaching reading, but it left me facing a string of high school students over a span of several years who could not spell. Millions of students across the country were victims of the “reading wars.”

Recent fads of education have included cooperative learning, curriculum mapping, differentiated instruction, flipped classrooms, personalized learning, social and emotional learning, and positive behavioral intervention support. It’s dizzying. This list may mean little to the non-teacher, but it illustrates the number and frequency of fads we’ve faced.

Teachers may just laugh. Or cringe. Like a loved one of someone in a manic episode, we’ve been yanked and pulled in many directions.

Albert Einstein said insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  In this case, it’s our education system changing and remaking itself all the time that is insane.

I’ve seen the pendulum swing from portfolio assessment to standardized tests. George H.W. Bush promised to be the “education president,” and the next three presidents enacted major education legislation — Goals 2000, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and Every Student Succeeds — built around standardized testing.

Just what we needed: politicians getting in the education reform game.

Then there’s the spending — wild spending. Our country is devoting some $680 billion to public schools. That’s twice what we did 30 years ago. Much of that goes to an ever-expanding education bureaucracy. New York leads the nation in spending over $20,000 per student. That doesn’t include capital expenditures.

Philanthropists are scattering their money at our schools. Bill Gates has spent in the billions. A RAND report on a $1-billion seven-year Gates initiative found that it did little to help students.  Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg famously threw $100 million at Cory Booker and his unruly Newark public school system.  Of that, $20 million went to consultants who did little to actually help students.

Our education technology addiction is costing us $11 billion a year. Over $8 billion is spent on software, much of which isn’t even used. Zuckerberg is backing a personalized learning platform known as Summit Learning, which is overexposing our students to screen time, as if they needed that.

How have the results of all this activity been? Awfully depressing. On the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), only one third of eighth-graders are at proficiency level or above in mathematics. One third are at proficiency or above in reading — a decline from the previous assessment. Additionally, the achievement gap is not budging. Study after study is showing that technology does not boost meaningful student outcomes. It may stimulate “engagement” at times, but that’s not the same as achievement. Our results are sluggish.

So what would I prescribe for our public school system? Easy. Attract good teachers, then let them do their jobs. That’s the sane thing to do.

This commentary originally appeared at American Thinker.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/ProjectManhattan

12 thoughts on “Curtis Hier: Attract good teachers and let them do their jobs

  1. Just some random rumination: Is it too far-fetched to think that parents ought to be the educators of their kids and to suspect that teachers have become trapped as indentured servants to their guild and the state? Wouldn’t all this go away if we removed the barriers before parents as the educators and teachers as independent contractors offering schooling? Perhaps we should take note of the problems inherent in a monopoly. Has the public school system been a noble but failed experiment? Should we remove the obstructions between those with a worthy service and those desiring it?

  2. Note the absence of detail in the suggestion – “Attract good teachers, then let them do their jobs’.

    Who defines what a ‘good teacher’ is? Who decides what their ‘jobs’ are? If these decisions were ‘easy’, Mr. Hier would have described them. But he didn’t….because they aren’t ‘easy’.

    This is the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing, the same tenants expressed by socialists around the world. “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need’. The hidden agenda is in who determines one’s ‘ability’ and one’s ‘need’?

    Our American Republic was founded on the principles of a free market economy, and they have served us well. Especially when compared to the alternatives tried throughout history. If Mr. Hier really wants to attract good teachers and then let them do their jobs – allow a free market in education goods and services. Get rid of the education monopoly.

    The freedom and liberty of School Choice means Teacher Choice too. And George Bernard Shaw said it best: “Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.”

    Apparently, Mr. Hier dreads it too.

  3. Join the NEA, and no matter had bad you are, you have a job for life, test scores in the tank
    grade levels down kids being pushed into the next grade ” Shameful ” but it’s not a problem
    you’ll get your raise year after year !!

    Wake up people, the kids are our future, schools today they indoctrinate instead of educate !!

  4. Mentioning also is how the school systems have indoctrinated students to become politically active protesting many “scenarios” such as climate change. They are bused to propaganda sites, get their professionally made protest signs and walk around in school zones, state capital,,town main streets (Brattleboro) and etc.

    No wonder they are illiterate, And it costs mega bucks “to educate” them (to protest). The system is Socializing them for the future of the country. Learning has become an after thought and makes for a high student / staff ratio Townshend 1:3. It’s in the plans by outside groups and people and Act 46 for example.

  5. Jeffrey, I agree that we should have civics and citizenship education without indoctrination. Your daughter’s experience is disturbing. I refused to tell my students when they asked me whom I was voting for last week.

  6. Oh, BTW Mr. Hier…your article was very good! Kudos…..but I see you are: “President of the Vermont Alliance for the Social Studies.” I’d like to share with you two “anti social” things that happened with my two childern…in the Vermont “eduational” system….errr, no….Liberal Indoctrination System. Both my kids went to U-32 outside Montpelier….Middle School and High School. When the second George Bush was elected President, the Principal of U-32 allowed the US flag to be flown at HALF MAST…..Mr. Hier, that is not “social study”…that is political indoctrination……. NEXT?…another true “VT Education” story…..In Middle school there was a teacher who taught my two kids that the Unites States never landed on the Moon…..and that it was all fabricated on a Hollywood movie set – to create more $$$ funding for the “Military-Industrial Complex”…..similar such antics still go on at U-32…to this day. I’ve heard from current parents .. My two kids could not wait to “get out” and they have no intention of ever, ever returning to VT. Nor will my daughter ever give a single penny to UVM… Nor have I……and I won’t even BOTHER to mention the “Indoctrination Camps of Global Warming ” (the ICGW) and all other Committee Approved Enviro policy 🙂

  7. You CANNOT fire bad teachers in VT, to hire good ones. I went thru it in a Central VT Elementary school. About a dozen parents complained of one very bad teacher, who was giving many kids NIGHTMARES. The UNION would not allow her to be removed or disciplined. So they did what the Catholic Church does with their pedofile priests….switched their Parishes. In our case the bad unionized teacher was justput into a different grade level….and it played out again. ALSO? real “Teaching” is not paramount these days…Diversity and Climate Change is…My daughter went thru the Vermont K-12 indoctrination…and then it got WORSE at UVM. I NEED to share a post I just did…on VT Digger. It is from the story on the BTV Council interviewing for the Superintendant position. Several candidates came and spoke. WHAT did each candidate hammer away at? DIVERSITY!. Nothiing about Science, Math and English…teaching… was all about DIVERSITY and CULTURES in BTV! I wrote this reply to VT Digger, and odds are they will NOT publish it. VT Digger CENSORS a great many people as they do me – very often. Yet, they are a registered (supposed non bias) NON PROFIT? Thare are not! They are just a total Liberal policy mouthpiece outfit, funded by rich liberals….staffed by older washed up Liberals, who are out of their old jobs…. from other fast shrinking “print” liberal mdia outlets….OR VT Digger hires kids just out of “college indoctrination degree’s”. Please read It is ALL true what I wrote. Then watch and see if VT Digger prints it, after they “moderate” (censor) me ……….”VT spends the 2nd or 3rd largest per pupil spending in USA. Classes average 10 -1 pupil to teacher. Now I know why all VT kids, on standardized tests, are showing average to below average outcomes. Because “real” education is out, and “diversity” is paramount.. All else is secondary. My daugher went to UVM. All freshman have a mandatory “Diversity Class”, even tho’ Minorites are the lowest % of our population of any state. The “mandatory” Professor spent his first 30 minutes stating that all VT kids are racists, their parents are racists and all whites are very bad people. First quiz came – and my daughter stated she is not a racist. Prof gave her a “F” and messed up her otherwise high GPA. She met Prof – and he got ANGRY!. So? For rest of semester she lied and just told the Prof whatever he wanted to hear.. She still ended up with a C, and it hurt her GPA. She is still angry to this day – she had to LIE. The real racist is the “diversity” Professor.”

    • These posts are very disturbing, but not surprising. I really don’t think we can correct this problem unless we ring in the teacher’s unions in this nation.

    • It should not be a surprise to anybody that UVM is an over-priced university with an abundance of social justice warrior ‘professors’. Forty one years ago I was there – first day of a poli-sci elective – young, first-year ‘professor’ just had to tell the class how proud she was that her husband took a hammer to his kneecap to avoid going to Vietnam. I had friends there, from my high school, who lost older brothers in Vietnam.

      Quality control has never been one of UVM’s strengths – and it appears they like it that way. DO NOT allow your Vermont children to attend this place – there are much better, less expensive options.

        • His head is so big I wonder how he fits through ordinary doorways. If you don’t believe he’s always the most intelligent person in the room, just ask him – he’d be happy to tell you.

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