Other Voices: 3 reasons why students underachieve
Some people are trying to make school teachers the scapegoats for student underachievement, but before we get too carried away by all the finger-pointing (Got low test scores? Blame a teacher!), let’s put some of the blame where it belongs. Here are three reasons why many students do poorly in public schools:
1. “Misassignment” of a teacher occurs when a school district or school assigns a teacher to a class that (s)he lacks a state-issued certificate, or credential to teach. Misassignment means that an English class is being taught by a P.E. teacher, a history class is being taught by a science teacher, and so forth.
In the Los Angeles Unified School District, for one of the worst examples, in the 2008-09 school year in 20 high schools with an average student enrollment of 2,785, the average number of classes taught by misassigned teachers was 155. One of the 20 high schools had 363 classes taught by misassigned teachers.
Assigning a teacher to a class he or she is not highly qualified to teach is a disservice to and misuse of teachers. It may also be a violation of the civil right of students to equal-educational opportunity.
2. Student misbehavior is a pernicious phenomenon that ruins teaching and
learning in classrooms. In three of the past four school years in the public high school where I teach, for example, an average of 1,831 student suspensions were issued for misbehavior. (Note: Google search “CA SARC” to find the number of teacher misassignments and student suspensions for any California public school.)
Students themselves are obviously at fault for their own misbehavior, but school districts, too, are responsible for employing sufficient numbers of school site security staff to be able to quickly remove student misbehavers from classrooms. School districts must dedicate all the human and material resources necessary to preserve, protect and defend the right of teachers to teach and students to learn in safe, orderly classrooms.
3. iPods and cellphones have transformed the classroom landscape for the worse. Students listening to music, talking and/or text-messaging while teachers are trying to teach them are students who are lost in their own thoughts and emotions, oblivious to instruction. School districts and schools must enforce bans on student use of electronic devices during class time.
Daniel M. Nusbaum is a candidate for California Superintendent of Public Instruction.
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