The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

‘They Are Not Allowed to Fail’

Posted on | January 5, 2014 | 15 Comments

Amanda Carpenter called attention to a letter a Maryland middle-school teacher wrote to the Washington Post‘s education writer:

I am paid to give out gold stars to everyone so that no one feels left out, to give everyone an A because they feel sad if they don’t have one. I take the perpetual, insane harassment from parents who insist that their child’s failings are solely my fault because I do not coddle them to the point of being unable to accept any sort of critique; if each student is not perfect and prepared for college and life by age twelve, then I must be wrong about the quality of their work. I lower my own standards so much that I have been thinking my grades were generous. After years of being harangued, I gave Bs to D-quality work, but that is never good enough. All I can do is field the various phone calls, meetings, and e-mails, to let myself be abused, slandered, spit at because that is my career, taking the fall for our country’s mistakes and skewed priorities. So if you want your child to get an education, then I’m afraid that as a teacher, I can’t help you, but feel free to stop by if you want a sticker and a C.

You should read the whole thing, because part of the blame belongs to the Bush administration’s “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) legislation, which was and is bad policy, directly opposite to the conservative critique of public education. Conservatives are against centralized bureaucracy and against an expanded role for the federal government in education. The invocation of “standards” as a magic word — Abracadabra! — seems to have deceived many Republicans into supporting NCLB, imagining that standardized testing would somehow solve problems. But the problems of public education are beyond reach of such “solutions”:

Eventually, the meeting came down to two quotes that I will forever remember as the defining slogans for public education:
“They are not allowed to fail.”
“If they have D’s or F’s, there is something that you are not doing for them.”
What am I not doing for them? . . . I was called down to the principal’s office many more times before I was broken, before I ended up assigning stupid assignments for large amounts of credit, ones I knew I could get students to do. Even then, I still had students failing, purely through their own refusal to put any sort of effort into anything, and I had lowered the bar so much that it took hardly anything to pass. According to the rubrics set forth by the county, if they wrote a single word on their paper, related or not to the assignment, I had to give them a 48 percent. Yet, students chose to do nothing. Why? Because we are forced to pass them. “They are not allowed to fail,” remember?

The teacher decided to quit:

I would love to teach, but I refuse to be led by a top-down hierarchy that is completely detached from the classrooms for which it is supposed to be responsible. . . .
I quit because I’m tired of being part of the problem, and as only one soul in the river Styx, it is impossible for me to be part of the solution.

Hear! Hear! More and more good, honest, decent, caring teachers are quitting the public school system. The deteriorating quality of faculty and administration is increasingly pervasive because no intelligent person would willingly submit themselves to such an oppressive bureaucratic yoke. The public education system is doomed beyond all hope of redemption, and the sooner Americans cease cooperating with the system — get your children out and support alternatives — the sooner its final collapse will arrive.




15 Responses to “‘They Are Not Allowed to Fail’”

  1. Political Rift » ‘They Are Not Allowed to Fail’
    January 5th, 2014 @ 10:41 am

    […] Robert Stacy McCain Amanda Carpenter called attention to a letter a Maryland middle-school teacher wrote to the […]

  2. Pat in Shreveport
    January 5th, 2014 @ 11:09 am

    I addressed something similar last week on SIGIS; I can tell you a thing or two about teacher morale.

  3. Shawny1
    January 5th, 2014 @ 11:21 am

    It gets worse. “No Fail” will also cost the lives of our young soldiers passed through without being strong enough or prepared enough to protect themselves or team mates.
    We Don’t Need Combat Troops Anymore — Right?
    What other possible excuse is there for this?

  4. ErikEssig
    January 5th, 2014 @ 12:09 pm

    I thought NCLB required the states to establish standards not the feds. Of course all that went out the window with the bribing of states into Common Core. To paraphrase John O’Sullivan, any policy idea not explicitly conservative will become liberal over time. NCLB had one foot firmly in the progressive camp to begin with and the other on a banana peel.

  5. DaveO
    January 5th, 2014 @ 12:13 pm

    Teachers are voting with their feet, which is the only recourse left to them. This will create a vacuum, and school districts will intentionally overlook criminal records and refuse to enforce morality clauses for the new teachers, and RSM won’t be able to cover the daily rapes of the student body. The whole prognazi bunch seek to control society by creating dumbed down serfs. They are succeeding. The good thing being Blue State businesses will flee to Red States just to find a workforce that knows how to operate a cash register or debug Windows.

  6. Quartermaster
    January 5th, 2014 @ 12:24 pm

    Bush wasn’t a conservative and NCLB is not a conservative law.

  7. goddessoftheclassroom
    January 5th, 2014 @ 12:31 pm

    I share these frustrations, but they haven’t broken me enough to quit. I can’t do anything about those students who choose not to work, but I pride myself on the success the students who do the work achieve. I am blessed that my district looks beyond the number of failing scores to the rate of growth and improvement. Last year, 66% of my students improved from “proficient” to “advanced” in reading. The complete failures, much like the poor, will always be with us, but taking those who will be strong members of our communities further than they imagined is much more important.

  8. richard mcenroe
    January 5th, 2014 @ 12:49 pm

    Of course they’re allowed to fail. But just as with the hundreds of transients hustled out of Hollywood each year so they won’t bother the Fabulous People getting out of their Fabulous Limousines to give each other Fabulous Gifts and Awards, we’re just not allowed to notice

  9. La Pucelle
    January 5th, 2014 @ 1:02 pm

    Even substitute teachers have noticed these problems, though what we’ve seen is only the tip of the iceberg. But I saw enough to make me change my mind about becoming a teacher.

    I’ve always said that if I had kids, I’d homeschool, but not because of low-quality teachers. The system is broken beyond repair, and it’s only going to get increasingly worse.

  10. Shawny1
    January 5th, 2014 @ 1:36 pm

    The blessing is also the problem. At least it seems they acknowledge the failures. “Looking beyond the number of failing scores” when they should be focusing on them does nothing to prepare those students for life outside of the “no fail” insulated bubble when they are forced to compete in the real world and find themselves unable to. We throw too much money and effort into educating our kids for the system to be this broken, to result in that high of a failure rate and for so many other nations to be surpassing us in academic achievement.

  11. ErikEssig
    January 5th, 2014 @ 2:06 pm

    that was my point.

  12. goddessoftheclassroom
    January 5th, 2014 @ 2:07 pm

    Real life needs to start in kindergarten:
    1. Your choices have consequences.
    2. Boys and girls are different, a fact to be celebrated, not punished or ignored.
    3. The only way to control bullying is to stand up to a bully.
    4. “Zero tolerance” means the leadership is too stupid to be trusted with discipline.
    5. “Equivalent” is more important than “Equal.” Equivalent means that an ER treats a broken arm, a deep cut, and a raging fever as needed; equal means everyone gets an aspirin.

  13. Shawny1
    January 5th, 2014 @ 2:18 pm

    Well said! I was blessed to have a few teachers with your common sense. And my daughters thankfully were as well.

  14. Quartermaster
    January 5th, 2014 @ 4:02 pm

    I know, but I wanted it explicitly stated that Bush is a Prog, not a conservative.

  15. Adjoran
    January 6th, 2014 @ 3:32 am

    About 15 years ago, the average HS senior’s SAT score was 1030. The average college grad with an education degree had scored 957.

    So when the teachers start out, they are already dumber than the average student. And we wonder why public education sucks?