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Save the Children

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Why -- after 30 years of trying -- is America failing to save its public schools?

How can so many projects, so many plans, so many States, so many "expert" super-committees formed by Governors and Mayors year after year continue to fail to find answers that work?

Because all along something has been missing -- something so obvious, that we have failed to see the forest for the trees.

Some months ago I was given a document published in November 2010 that presented the answer we have all been looking for. The answer was right there spelled out in 25 pages: teachers have not been trained to teach our children.

There it was -- the forest and the trees. The training of teachers by our Schools of Education has been totally inadequate and must be turned upside down.

Who is making this claim? Who is saying the unthinkable -- our teachers can't teach our children?

An organization which is empowered to give or withhold accreditation to every School of Education in the country: The National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education. And this Blue Ribbon Panel Report gave two specific answers to fix these Schools of Education: educate teachers the way we educate doctors -- three years of student teaching, not ten weeks. It said three years of practice in classrooms was what student teachers needed to have before they could graduate and be ready to walk into a classroom and take charge.

What have we done to our teachers?

What have we done to our children?

Those who would teach have been scammed -- given certificates to teach that are meaningless because they've not been prepared to teach. In effect, these certificates are fraudulent. Is it any wonder that for the past 50 years more than 50% of our young teachers are quitting the field before five years are up?

But that's just the beginning. Fraud is everywhere.

Because educators have failed to recognize or fix the problem, politicians have taken charge. On every level -- City, State (which is officially responsible for education) and now the Federal Government -- politicians have replaced educators.

And what has their answer been? Testing. Testing. Testing.

And where did that idea come from? The most natural source in America today: Big Business. The big publishing corporations where the tests are prepared, printed, distributed, marketed and graded.

And what have tests and more tests given us?

Students who aren't being taught to do anything but be successful on tests. SAT scores that were dumbed down 12 years ago. Graduates who can't get into a community college without remediation. Young people who can't read well and can't make change without a calculator. Teachers who are little more than test-givers. Teachers in New York City and around the country who are forced to make questionable decisions regarding test scores. You've read the stories of cheating on tests, changing wrong answers and so forth. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

Testing has given us highly paid administrators in schools throughout the country who prepare the lesson plans for young and for experienced teachers: lesson plans based on tests, not on learning skills that matter.

Testing is a substitute for learning. It has nothing whatever to do with learning or with the excitement of learning or of teaching. We do not properly prepare teachers to teach. We give them no professional training when they are teaching. We take the joy and pleasure of teaching away from them. And as it just gets worse year after year and all we do is prepare lengthy and preposterous teacher evaluations and make their very jobs dependent on those evaluations and test scores -- it's no wonder there is cheating. No wonder teachers spend so much time just managing their classrooms, where everyday it is about testing.

We are destroying our teachers as we bore our children to death.

Here's what must be done:

We've got to push Schools of Education to provide teacher education that works. We must expand student teaching to three years and we must prepare our public schools for all of those student teachers. We must have master teachers to mentor them and a system which genuinely helps prepare them and helps the children as well. A MASSIVE JOB -- but one that we can do. Our country and our city spends more money on education than almost any other in the world.

There's plenty of money to fix public education if we use it correctly. We must institute a Mastery program of teacher training in every school. No exceptions. The program must develop tier levels to inspire the best teachers with responsibilities and salaries that fit their abilities to lead, and that encourage every teacher to be the best that he or she can be.

We cannot pretend to care about whether our children are learning, if we don't do anything to make our teachers the best that they can be.

We give teachers our children each day.

We should give our children the best teachers they can get.

Tom Allon, a former public school English teacher at Stuyvesant High School, is a 2013 Liberal and Democratic candidate for Mayor of New York City.

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