The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession
349 pp, Doubleday
Dana Goldstein’s excellent book, The Teacher Wars , chronicles the important historical developments and political and pedagogical battles of America’s “most embattled profession,” often using the stories of some famous figures who were once teachers (like LBJ, Du Bois and Susan B. Anthony) to make various eras and movements more engaging.
One of the main themes of Dana Goldstein’s book is that when it comes to education reform, there is nothing new under the sun. Most of what education reformers are currently advocating for has already been tried decades ago, and the supposedly data-driven reformers of today have been surprisingly reluctant to learn from previous experiments.
One mistake we continue to make is setting unreasonable expectations for teachers, tasking them with the impossible feat of erasing tremendous social and economic inequities (when research shows teacher performance only accounts for 7% of the achievement gap), and asking them to do it for minimal pay and prestige. Furthermore, reform advocates are quick to disparage and blame teachers for the state of our education system, rather than incorporate them in the decision-making process and draw upon their expertise when trying to improve schools.
As an alternative to reformer-favored measures like high-stakes testing and de-unionizing the teaching workforce, Goldstein points to promising peer mentoring and evaluation programs that, combined with low-stakes testing, can help schools determine areas of weakness in teachers and students and provide teachers with quality feedback and chances for improvement, before firing those unable to make progress.
There is a lot in this book that you can’t get from a short summary. It’s a manageable length, but gives a rich (if condensed) history of teaching, dispels a number of myths about what what works and what doesn’t, and gives a Fair and Balanced™ hearing to all sides of the education reform debates (Goldstein goes out of her way to point out the bright spots of Teach for America, for instance).
Fit to Print recommendation: Read this book.