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Groundswell Shouts Down Time Magazine’s Egregious Teacher-Hating Cover

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On Monday, November 3rd Time Magazine will publish a cover that has teachers across the nation up in arms.  Claiming that, “It’s Nearly Impossible to Fire a Bad Teacher,” the cover is not representative of the article itself, which has already been published online.  The polarizing front image could have a tremendously negative effect on teachers who are fighting for their careers against school boards and corporate education reformists who want to crush unions and fuel a myopic agenda.

American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten said she “felt sick when she saw the cover.”  Others have proclaimed the cover as “yellow journalism at its worst.”  Given the importance of imagery to public opinion and the fact that the majority of people only interact with magazines by seeing them on the shelf (rather than actually reading them), the cover is egregious. The actual article is much less condemning.

Anti-Time petitions have been circulating, and the AFT says they’ve gathered 90,000 signatures.

On Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR.org) Peter Hart wrote:

There are a few problems with the story, but the biggest one is pretty familiar: It buries the lead. The Time piece, by Haley Sweetland Edwards, waits until the very end to tell readers that the teacher evaluation scheme central to argument is advancing is highly dubious.

The article is about how a small group of very wealthy Silicon Valley millionaires have decided they’re the ones who can fix America’s public schools–a “half-dozen tech titans who are making the repair of public education something of a second career.” The movement has been joined by people like “CNN anchor turned education activist Campbell Brown.”

Hart goes on to summarize the complex array of problems with the cover and article in one simple sentence: “Turns out that if people are exposed to wildly unrepresentative horror stories about abusive teachers, it impacts how they feel about job protections.”

Lily Eskelsen Garcia, President of the National Educators Association (NEA), used her space on the NEA’s website — Lily’s Blackboard — to invite other educators to co-sign her letter to the editor of Time:

As a teacher, it’s disheartening that not a single teacher was given voice in last week’s cover article (The War on Teacher Tenure, November 3). If Ms. Edwards had asked a teacher, she would’ve learned that due process policies like tenure are still needed and have nothing to do with rotten apples!

In this age of high stakes tests and deep budget cuts, teachers need to be protected when they put themselves on the line for students. Every day, in every state, teachers bump up against bureaucrats who bow to political pressures to terminate a teacher who has been an outspoken advocate for her students.

In just the last few years, teachers have had to challenge terminations because they believe they were fired for reporting poor classroom conditions, pressure to falsify test scores, discriminatory and illegal conduct toward special needs students, and a lack of resources for students. These are just a few examples. Tenure doesn’t give teachers a job for life. It is a guarantee that proven, experienced, and accomplished teachers won’t be fired for doing what’s best for students.

Now, how about a story on what students and public education really need? Perhaps a full feature on school funding? Or unequal resources in schools? Maybe even an entire issue devoted to testing abuse?

Former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch decried the Time cover, too:

This TIME cover is as malicious as the Newsweek cover in 2010 that said, “We Must Fire Bad Teachers. We Must Fire Bad Teachers. We Must Bad Teachers,” and the TIME cover in 2008 showing a grim Michelle Rhee with a broom, prepared to sweep out “bad” teachers and principals. (As we now know, Rhee fired many educators, but saw no significant gains during her tenure in office.)

This non-stop teacher bashing, funded by millionaires and billionaires, by the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, and even by the U.S. Department of Education, has become poisonous. Enrollments in teacher education programs are declining, sharply in some states. Experienced teachers are retiring early. Teaching has become so stressful, in this era of test mania, that our nation’s biggest teacher issue is recruiting and retaining teachers, not firing them.

Since when do tech millionaires know anything about teaching children? Why should they determine the lives and careers of educators? Why don’t they volunteer to teach for a week and then share their new wisdom?

The hypocrisy of the situation, wherein an iconic publication deems the political position of a handful of über-elites more worthy of a cover than the ongoing fight to reform the education system by educators themselves, was not lost on Fordham University Professor and co-founder of the Badass Teachers Association, Mark Naison.  On his blog, With a Brooklyn Accent, Naison expresses his disappointment:

What is going on here? Why is a campaign against High Stakes Testing by respected educators not worthy of coverage while a campaign by a billionaire against tenure from someone who has no experience teaching or administering a public school becomes the lead story of the week?

Time’s campaign epitomizes everything wrong with the crusade for “School Reform” that has become a national obsession since the passage of No Child Left Behind.

It is financed and driven by business leaders, not educators. It has no support from teachers and school administrators and systematically ignores their voices. It chooses to totally disregard the best education research when it fails to support the application of a business model to classroom teaching and educational administration.

Demonizing teachers, and anointing CEO’s and billionaires as saviors of public education, the way Time Magazine does, is not only a sure path to weakening public education, it creates momentum for a campaign to privatize public education a policy from which those attacking public education, especially those in the tech industry, are likely to profit.

Perhaps the public outcry is exactly what Time wanted. What other than corporate propoganda could shift the collective consciousness to a complicated labor question?

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