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Something Wrong With The Logic

This article has been running around my head since breakfast and I’m not sure exactly how to express exactly what bothers me about it.

In this morning’s Post, Jay Mathews tries to make the case that schools with poor facilities don’t matter as long as they have good teachers and administrators.

Educators who have turned bad schools into good ones are patient with me, as they are with parents who put so much emphasis on everything looking nice. They nod when I ask about the bad impression left by a soiled restroom stall or a broken air conditioner. Then they repeat what they have said to me before: It is not the building, but the teaching, that makes a difference.

I agree. Well… sort of.

There’s something about this line of logic that just not right.

It’s the kind of either-or argument used by politicians and others to justify short-changing school programs of all kinds.

We can pay teachers less if they have good working conditions.

You can have high reading and math scores or teach music and art.

“We can get the money we need to fix the facilities, once everyone sees that those are schools worth repairing.”

I wish I could write a better explanation of why that thinking is so very wrong.

Anyone else care to give it a try?


  1. Bellringers

    Stories like this bother me too because people tend to latch on to these success stories and start playing the blame game with everyone else. These stories are anecdotal stories. They tend to be the exception, not the rule. I have worked in places where supplies were limited and we struggled and struggled and struggled. Were we still able to do great things? Yes, but were the kids able to do better, reach higher and achieve more when they had more? Absolutely.

    The old adage is true… You get what you pay for. Does that mean we need to be wasteful? No, but it doesn’t mean that children and teachers should have to struggle either, or that the public should rely on the goodwill of teachers to pick up the financial burden for basic supplies at the expense of their own families.

    I don’t think I explained this all well either. I just wish people would keep in mind that good teachers will do extraordinary things under adverse conditions because they feel they have a calling to teach and shape children. Just because we can, doesn’t mean it is right to leave those teachers and children under those conditions. Just a thought.

  2. Josh

    If you have quality individuals working in schools (starting with the leadership), you will put your resources to good use. The money and educational tools you are given are put in use so that they do the most good for the most students. In buildings, it starts with the principal. The type of person they are will be reflected in the building. That’s a lot of influence for one person.

  3. KarenR

    Since scientifically based research is so important in these NCLB days, let’s look at the research. Admittedly, I did not do a comprehensive search, but a study out of Tennessee reviews a variety of studies completed over the last 30 years that show a correlation between the adequacy of school facilities and student achievement. So, while there are heroic educators who are managing the impossible in horrible situations, their job would be made easier in a better facility. Here’s the link to the pdf: http://www.tennessee.gov/tacir/PDF_FILES/Education/SchFac.pdf

    But beyond the research, isn’t there just a feeling in your gut that every kid should be going to a first-class school?

  4. Mike

    It reinforces the mental model that many have about public schools; they can make do with what they have, they always do. Yes, the research is clear about the influence teachers and leadership have on achievement and there are many stories about heroic teachers and administrators overcoming huge obstacles to expereince success. The question that bothers us is, WHY?

    Why can’t those in positions of authority see the importance of safe and efficient physicall environments for ALL schools, not just those where the community and parents have the means to make them so? It’s about pride in our profession and the demeaning working conditions that some are forced to face daily. It should not have to be this way, it just makes us feel bad when we perhaps shoud be feeling anger and responding differently. Unfortunately, we don’t have much energy left for the fight becasue we give our hearts and energy to making it better for the kids and for our colleagues.

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