Who’s Teaching Your Children? Why the Teacher Crisis Is Worse Than You Think and What Can Be Done About It
reviewed by William I. Mitchell - 2004
Title: Who’s Teaching Your Children? Why the Teacher Crisis Is Worse Than You Think and What Can Be Done About It
Author(s): Vivian Troen & Katherine C. Boles
Publisher: Yale University Press, New Haven
ISBN: 0300097417, Pages: 222, Year: 2003
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Who’s Teaching Your Children is one of the latest books in a genre stretching back 20 years that finds fault with public education. No surprise, the authors are a pair of education consultants who have the magic elixir to set things right. Troen and Boles are two elementary teachers who met in a public school in Massachusetts about 20 years ago and discovered that they were, “pretty good teachers who could get significantly better if we collaborated” (p. 5-6). They founded a consulting business, Trilemma Solutions, and now work in higher education. Boles is a Lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Troen works with professional development at
The authors’ thesis is that the current generation of teachers (unlike themselves) is bad and getting worse. The cause of this problem is what they refer to as the “Trilemma Disfunction.” This dysfunction is a vicious cycle in which teaching attracts academically deficient students who are trained by pedagogically deficient professors in colleges and universities and who then begin careers in public schools characterized by professionally deficient environments. Because of the latter, teaching is a poor career shunned by the best and brightest students. Troen and Boles’ solution is to restructure the elementary school into a professional development institution, which they call the
In the Millennium School, teachers will have a clearly specified career path with six levels. Beginning with Instructional Aide, the paths ascend through Teaching Intern to Associate Teacher to Teacher to Professional Teacher to the highest position, Chief Instructor. Better pay, responsibilities, and authority will characterize each level. Instruction is to be organized around teams consisting of one Chief Instructor, four Professional Teachers (two of which will be art and special education specialists), one Teacher, and two Teaching Interns. One media specialist will be assigned to every three teams. Each team will be assigned to teach 120 students. Supervisory duties will be the primary responsibility of the Chief Instructor, who is to hold National Board Certification.
Most of the authority and supervisory duties of the Chief Instructor are currently exercised by the Principal and Vice-Principal. In the
Accountability in the Millennium School will be based upon student progress. Academic progress will be measured through peer review, standardized tests, and student achievement of clearly specified instructional performance indicators. Pupils who fail to make satisfactory academic progress will receive individualized instruction programs.
In numerous ways, Troen and Boles’ book is a study in contradictions. It is carefully organized into six chapters, which thoroughly explain each of their proposals. Yet the authors do not delineate very well the role of the principal in their utopian scheme while totally ignoring the role of the central administration and Board of Education. The authors express long-standing essentialist attitudes against teachers and higher education’s teacher-training programs. In fact their invective is reminiscent of the arguments made by Arthur Bestor 50 years ago. Yet they do a very good job explaining why current conservative reform measures such as high stakes testing, vouchers, and charter schools must ultimately fail.
The authors do a very uneven job in handling research evidence to support their positions. Most of their arguments against teachers and teacher training are based upon anecdotal evidence that lacks validity. They do, however, do an excellent job using research data to support their arguments against current reform measures such as vouchers and charter schools.
Who’s Teaching Your Child? presents one of the best descriptions of teachers’ professional environment available. The authors’ combined 60 odd years of experience have clearly provided them with a rich understanding of the professional life experienced by teachers. However, Troen and Boles seem to have a very imperfect understanding of the roots of public schooling and the politics of education policy-making.
For example, the authors founded the Millennium School on the premise that the 1983 A Nation at Risk Report was a valid assessment of American public schooling. They seem to be totally unaware that the 1989 Sandia Laboratories Study repudiated the findings of the earlier study. They also seem to be ignorant of books such as Linda Symcox’s Whose History? that have been published by insiders of the national standards movement to chronicle the role of conservative foundations and think tanks such as The Olin Foundation and the Heritage Institute in deliberately discrediting public schools to promote the marketization and privatization of public education to its ultimate destruction.
The greatest contradiction is that Troen and Boles go to great lengths to discredit education consultants from colleges and universities who provide professional development for practicing teachers. Yet they are apparently former teachers who are now education consultants affiliated with higher education attempting to peddle professional development!
Who’s Teaching Your Child? appears to be a marketing tool for the authors’ consultation business. If the reader can look past the obvious faults of the book, it does contain worthwhile material relating to the professional environment of teaching and arguments as to why vouchers and charter schools must ultimately fail.
Bestor, A. (1953). Educational wastelands: The retreat from learning in our public schools. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
Symcox, L. (2002). Whose History? The struggle for national standards in American classrooms. New York: Teachers College Press.