Once I started reading this book, I found that I could hardly put it down! It was like reading the story of my life in education. I began kindergarten in 1974, and for most of my student life I was seated at a desk taking notes from the chalkboard. I graduated in 1995 with my B.A. degree, and with only two days of experience as a substitute teacher I was hired to teach math on an emergency credential.
I was fortunate that my first assignment was in Valencia, California (a primarily affluent community), but I was given one class of the ELL students as well. The students no one wanted to teach were given to the least qualified teacher, and I was given chalk and chalkboard - by 1995 some long-time tenured teachers even had whiteboardsI The daily curriculum I was to teach consisted of dumbed-down worksheets of drill-and-kill basic skill activities.
Everything Darling-Hammond mentions in her book is a reflection of what I experienced and was instructed to do. At the time, I did not realize that this was happening all over the U.S., or the impact it would later have on society. No Child Left Behind was coming up, and after teaching without a credential for many years, It was time to finally get one, as I was still not highly qualified.
Next came standardized testing, and teaching to the test was rampant - as well as the deliberate targeting of students that would otherwise bring our scores down. We all knew who the top ten behavioral problems were, as well as the lowest achieving students (these categories often overlapped), and sure enough they were targeted, written up, and suspended far more than other students.
When the economic crisis hit, we were urged to do more with less. I recall how angry I was to find out how much was being spent on prisons and corrections, and how little on education. Per-inmate spending at that time was approximately $50,000/year, whereas my district was spending $4,000 per pupil. Correctional officers with a two-year junior college degree were making $20,000 - $40,000 more than a highly qualified first-year teacher! We were contributing more to criminals than to the children who are our future, and if this trend persists, the school-to-prison pipeline will continue to grow.
Reading Linda Darling-Hammond’s book painted a much clearer picture of my experiences and frustrations, and she clarified some of the politics that had exasperated me as well. In the end it is the policy makers who are making our educational decisions, and there is no way that students can have equitable classrooms when schools do not provide adequate resources, qualified teachers, and an attitude that all students can learn and achieve.
I taught in a Title 1 school for over seven years. One point from the book that resonated to my very bones was the labeling of teachers and schools as failures. This approach affects teacher morale, and they often depart out of frustration and despair. I left after fifteen years, a math teacher colleague left after ten, a special ed. teacher after nine, and a P.E. teacher after twelve. Once we had all started our new jobs and gotten back in touch with each other, our conversation was all about how nice it was to have paper, supportive administrators, involved parents, and (most importantly) the feeling of being needed and appreciated by our new schools.
This book should be assigned to anyone who aspires to be an administrator or superintendent, and by all educational policy makers. As a result of inadequate policies and resources, our former school lost 46 years of combined teaching experience to four first-year teachers, which hardly seems like an ideal outcome, and one that under different circumstances might have been prevented.
To reiterate, Darling-Hammond gave the impression of having followed me throughout my teaching career, but since she never once mentioned my specific school or district, I imagine the situation her research outlines is likely more severe than even she realizes.