Dear TIME: The rotten apple image is a bit played out.

Dear TIME,

The rotten apple image is a bit played out, don’t you think? I mean, you’re one of the biggest magazines in the world. Don’t you have a better image library to use? I get it; one rotten apple spoils the bunch, an age-old idiom. But let’s try and use a little innovation, the same innovation you and your tech tycoons would like to see in public education.

Why not try something a little more effective like a teacher backhanding one of her students? Or a teacher screaming in the face of a kindergartener with a conversation bubble that says, “you’re a colossal disappointment to this country!”

But it’s not teachers backhanding students or calling them failures; that’s Arne Duncan’s job and the job of President Obama, with his Race to the Top initiative. Teachers and students, according to this duo, are a bunch of losers who can’t cross the finish line fast enough.

In reality, teachers are trying to undo the damage done by ineffective leadership and insatiable tech tycoons who are looking for a new venture. Education is very profitable for people like David Welch and Bill Gates, who send their kids to private schools, and who have a vested interest financially by focusing their efforts on public education. Both of these men, by the way, send their kids to private schools.

Furthermore, if you’re looking for the proverbial, played-out, rotten apples, look no further than educational leadership in this country. Look to your education commissioners, superintendents, principals and assistant principals. You will find a whole lot of rotten apples, who, have managed to fly below the radar in this debate over teacher tenure.

In fact, there is a saying in education: Screw up, move up. Many of the people in positions of power, have screwed their way up to the top.

The teacher tenure problem you showcase in your latest article The War on Teacher Tenure is not a teacher problem; it’s a leadership problem.

The problem is complacent administrators have not done their job in the last 20 years.

Administrators have allowed bad teachers to stay because firing them takes a ton of time and energy. A principal has to document bad teaching and actually have a case for firing the teacher. That would require the principal to be an instructional leader and have a clue as to what is happening in the classroom. Many principals are unwilling to do this.

In fact one instance comes to mind that ultimately led to my leaving my job as an assistant principal.

It was December and we, the APs, were sitting at a conference table in the principal’s office, talking about how we would place teachers the following year. I disagreed with the way we were handling one teacher in particular, one I had begged my principal NOT to hire. In fact, as a leadership team, we could have non-renewed his contract as he was still on a temporary certificate. I pushed for that but he was a coach, and in high school, sports trump everything else.

The principal talked about giving this teacher, whom we all agreed was ineffective, Advanced Placement and Dual Enrollment classes. These are the classes full of well-behaved, high-flying, college-bound students. These are the easiest classes to teach because the students are self-motivated and intrinsically driven to achieve.

They are much different than the remedial, low-level classes where one has to work day in and day out for little academic gains. In remedial classes, students have been dubbed failures by our system, a system damaged by bad education policy that comes from the top.

Disappointed in this approach to scheduling I asked, “You’re going to give him the best schedule on the board, while all the other teachers, who work their asses off get to stay in the trenches?”

One of my colleagues in charge of scheduling teachers quietly said, “He can’t do as much damage in these classes.”

I looked over at her and said, “Is that leadership?”

Instead of doing the paperwork to fire him, we were going to give him the easiest and most coveted schedule on the board. And his test scores would reflect that he was effective because the kids in Advanced Placement and Dual enrollment classes test well.   While our best teachers, fighting every day in the trenches, would most likely receive scores that reflected their population of students: poor, hungry, not taken care of and failing.

So it appears that the good teacher is doing poorly and the bad teacher, chillin’ in the advanced placement class, is doing very well.

This is not only unfair, but it is completely moronic.

The problem with your article, TIME magazine and all of the education reformers like Welch and Gates, is none of you are looking to leadership.

When the market crashes we blame the president. When a company’s profits fall, the CEO gets fired. Yet in education, leadership has been completely left out of the conversation and teachers working their asses off are blamed for a system flawed by bad governance. An examination starting with Bush then Obama and their bad education policy, should be step number one.

Then it’s time to look at Mr. Duncan.

Arne Duncan has been in his role since 2009. If you are so upset with the state of education, start at the top. Then after that, start looking at governors and state education commissioners. Then make your way down to superintendents. And then take a good hard look at your principals and assistant principals. Then and only then should you be blaming teachers. If we are going to lead by using a top-down approach, let’s start blaming the problems of education in a top-down manner.

Oh and just so you know, my five-year-old is playing school right now and she is imitating her kindergarten teacher. My daughter is reciting the objective of the lesson: We will identify parts of a discovery noun.

An objective, for you and your tycoon friends who know nothing about education, is a goal the students will reach by the end of the lesson. My five-year-old reciting this as she plays teacher, tells me that her instructor is doing this daily in class. As an instructional leader I can tell you, when a kindergartener can talk about an objective, the teacher is doing a bang up job.

Do a bit more research next time you run an article depicting bad apples.

5 Responses

  1. Kafkateach

    Thank you for writing this! It’s everything we all know is true but never gets to see the light of day thanks to our national media discussion over education being controlled by billionaires who have never stepped foot in the classroom.

  2. Linda

    I do not agree with his statements that:
    “Advanced Placement and Dual Enrollment classes. These are the classes full of well-behaved, high-flying, college-bound students. These are the easiest classes to teach because the students are self-motivated and intrinsically driven to achieve.” Self-motivated and driven they are, but often incredibly diverse and challenging. It is, however, very true that he can’t do as much damage there, and that on norm-referenced, standardized tests they will test well. But no population is well served by keeping that teacher; not even the sports teams.

  3. Suzan Harden

    Thank you for writing this. I have had a dead feeling in the pit of my stomach ever since I read the TIME article. If I’m not smart enough, if I don’t have a diverse enough arsenal of tools, if I don’t “get it,” it’s because administrators want me to be that way. The lack of goal-setting is appalling, the lack of planning is appalling, the lack of team-building is appalling. I realize that the true desire to help children succeed does not come naturally to school administrators. The only reason we have made any “progress” is due to initiatives forced on us from the outside. But teachers have hung in there through everything, working miracles in classrooms every day. Giving up their time, money, social lives, and opportunities for prestige because they believed their efforts were appreciated. Articles like the one in TIME let us know have been made fools.

    In my next life, I hope I’m smarter than to choose a life of public servitude ( word usage intended). I want to be the know-it-all billionaire.


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