President Obama Says School Year Should Be Longer; Bad Teachers Should Be Bounced

President Barack Obama
is calling for a longer school year to close America's achievement gap. He also wants teachers who do not perform well out of the classroom.

American students are falling behind the top-performing students in the world, especially when it comes to math and science, Obama said on the "Today" show. The AP writes:

U.S. schools through high school offer an average of 180 instruction days per year, according to the Education Commission of the States, compared to an average of 197 days for lower grades and 196 days for upper grades in countries with the best student achievement levels, including Japan, South Korea, Germany and New Zealand.

"That month makes a difference," the president said. "It means that kids are losing a lot of what they learn during the school year during the summer. It's especially severe for poorer kids who may not see as many books in the house during the summers, aren't getting as many educational opportunities.

"Whether jobs are created here, high-end jobs that support families and support the future of the American people, is going to depend on whether or not we can do something about these schools," Obama added.

The president also went on the attack against bad teachers. He said U.S. teachers' unions should not be resistant to change, especially when one-third of children are failing. He also called on teachers who fail after being given a second chance to be fired:

"We have got to identify teachers who are doing well. Teachers who are not doing well, we have got to give them the support and the training to do well. And if some teachers aren't doing a good job, they've got to go," Obama said.

Most of what the president says makes sense, but his attack on teachers is unfair.

Unfortunately, the myth of the bad teacher as the reason our schools are failing is being pushed too much in the popular media. I agree that there are teachers that need to be purged from the system. Some teachers are burned out and have nothing left to offer. Others simply aren't suited for the job.

I think the biggest problem that teachers face, however, is a lack of support from student's parents. I attended public schools in New York City and Texas for 12 years before graduating and heading to a pretty good college. The biggest factor in my success was that there was always a parent or adult there to help teachers hold me accountable.

When my fourth grade teacher didn't like the students I was hanging out with, my mother showed up in the classroom one afternoon to observe. We then sat down and discussed the issue. When I tried skipping school once in the ninth grade and got busted, my mom was at the school speaking with teachers. When I tried to drop the math classes I needed to go to college, my ninth-grade math teacher raised hell. My mom got involved and I ended up with a tutor.

There was constant pressure from the adults in my life to make sure I was doing well in school.

Teachers used to tell my single mom all the time that they were glad she came to parent teacher night but there were about 7 to 10 other kids whose parents they were desperate to see involved. Those were the students who were falling behind, who were disruptive in class and making it difficult for everyone to learn.

We have to face the fact that there are social issues affecting kids coming in to the classroom that make it difficult for teachers to teach and students to learn. We need to attack those problems if we want our schools and our students to be successful.

In addition, we have to ask ourselves if we are providing teachers with the right tools and environments to be successful. I have friends in the New York City school system who have 35 or 36 students in their classroom. How can a teacher focus on students who need help in a classroom of that size?

We have also become fascinated with the Hollywood depictions of teachers, where they risk their lives and are willing to work 19 hours a day with low pay and under poor conditions for the success of their students. In real life, teachers are human beings. They get stressed out, discouraged and would like to get home at a decent hour to see their spouses and kids. They need the support of parents to be successful.

"No one wants an incompetent teacher in the classroom," National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel told the AP. "It's in the hiring, and in those first three to five years, no teacher has the right to due process."

Did I have bad teachers? Yes. A few.

Overall, though, many were dedicated and concerned about my well-being and success. Those teachers had the power to help guide me, because they had the most powerful ally that they could have, a parent.

Jeff Mays