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Do 20% of Teachers Deny a Share of Responsibility?

Now that entire school staffs are being fired in order to "transform" their struggling schools, the issue of teacher responsibility for students' success or failure has gained tremendous significance.

Last week I posted a piece entitled Competition Can't Beat Collaboration, which challenged the central metaphor being used to drive education reform. I received a provocative response from a respected colleague who works in the field of education philanthropy, which challenges some of my assumptions. I would like to open this dialogue up so that others can participate as well. I think this dialogue is a good representation of the larger debate that is reshaping education in our country, and is of critical importance for that reason. I am going to post passages from my original post, followed by his response, and then open up the comments to get YOUR responses.

I wrote:

First of all, according to many reformers, we need financial incentives to force teachers to take responsibility for the performance of their students. The grievances teachers have lodged against the unfairness inherent in the punishments meted out by NCLB have been widely interpreted as a disavowal of this responsibility. However, according to the MetLife survey, 80% of teachers "strongly agree that the teachers in a school share responsibility for the achievement of all students."

My colleague writes:

I agree that more collaborative schools would allow for greater teacher satisfaction and a general atmosphere of responsibility for the needs of children. But, the pure act of collaboration does not unfortunately always produce results. I'm sure you must have run across collaborative principals in your career that did not have the capacity to evaluate, motivate and train a teacher how to be better at his or her craft. That being said, I find it likely that more collaborative schools find a way to work with struggling teachers (be they new or veteran teachers), with the hope that students will benefit. Frankly, I would be surprised if all teachers didn't agree with the statement that they "share responsibility for the achievement of all students." So, my question to you would be, how could only 80% agree with that statement? Everyone knows that the key ingredient in a student's education is the teacher. I would argue that it's the most important ingredient and I know of many studies that would prove this point. Do 20% of teachers really think they don't even "share" responsibility for all students?

Unfortunately, one of the biggest issues I see in low-performing schools, especially in low-income areas, is one of low expectations for what students can achieve and a willingness to blame other issues: poverty, drugs, single-parent households, etc. There is no doubt that these issues make learning more challenging for students, but the best schools and the best teachers find ways to help kids learn, despite these challenges. I'm convinced that the only way to solve poverty is through education and we can't blame poverty for poor academic results of children. There are too many examples out there of successful schools working in high-poverty areas and those teachers are the reason I have hope for improved outcomes of disadvantaged kids.

What do you think? How is it that some teachers do not feel some share of responsibility for their students? Does this mean they have low expectations for their students?

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