By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

A teaching moment

This, from the top story in today’s Boston Globe, is a very strange lede:

More than half the black and Hispanic applicants for teaching jobs in Massachusetts fail a state licensing exam, a trend that has created a major obstacle to greater diversity among public school faculty and stirred controversy over the fairness of the test.

Are diversity and fairness really the first things we ought to think about when we encounter such information? No, I didn’t think so.

Monday morning quarterbacking: An anonymous commenter thinks I’m being unfair to the Globe because the news hook was, in fact, a state investigation into why minority teaching candidates are faring so poorly on the test. A fair point, but in the main I disagree. In this case, the Globe shouldn’t have bought into the state’s notion of what’s newsworthy.

What’s news is that many teaching applicants are failing a basic state licensing test — and that, in the case of black and Latino applicants, at least some advocates are saying we should do away with the test. If all the questions are as easy as the two examples offered by the Globe, then blaming the test is ludicrous.

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  1. Rick

    Isn’t that like the old joke that if The end of the world was going to happen tomorrow the Globe Headline would be…End of world imminent Minorities to be hit hardest. I saw the race factor inserted by the Globe… But like Jeff Jacoby being Jeff Jacoby and Manny being Manny It’s just the Globe being the Globe What race the teachers are that fail to pass the exam is in my opinion irrelevant.The Globe can’t help itself it’s a compulsion they have.

  2. Rick in Duxbury

    Sorta like presuming that the rest of the world is obsessed with GLBT issues?

  3. Tony

    Interestingly, just the structure of that opening paragraph says a lot about the state of political correctness, affirmative action, diversity quotas, and everything else around those issues, in the world today or at least at the Boston Globe. Maybe, those students who flunked the test aren’t getting a good enough education in high school. If so, this would point to a failure of American schools to educate those students – not an unfair test. Maybe those people who flunked the tests – whites included – shouldn’t be educating our children, which is why the tests are there in the first place, correct? I’m often reminded, crassly, of the line from “Caddyshack” where the main character laments that he doesn’t have enough money to go to law school and Judge Smells, played by hilariously by the late Ted Knight, having a bad golf game, cracks, “Well, the world needs ditchdiggers, too.” You know, the world does need ditchdiggers too and they make a lot of money these days. I would be interested in seeing the economic background of the whites who flunked the test which, obviously, would be difficult to find out. But, I would bet almost anything that they come for lower middle class or poor backgrounds and did not receive the best educations either. This line also says a lot about the state of the world, from Sally Dias: “… word has gotten out that these tests are very difficult for them …” What? “Word has gotten out?” Are we supposed to believe that because one person didn’t do well on the test, he or she told their homies not to take it because the test – i.e., the man – is out to keep “them” from teaching our children? I mean, come on already. This is the most preposterous I’ve read in I don’t know how long. And coming from the VP of Emmanuel College? She clearly must have received a set aside to get that job because no one in their right mind would ever make such a foolish statement about the teacher test. [BTW, I easily figured out what was wrong with the two sample questions from the test which are posted online and I don’t have a college degree, never mind an education degree. And, if the questions are as easy as figuring out that Dow Jones needs to have CAPITAL letters because it is a proper name and you don’t know that, there is a real problem here that has nothing to do with race.]I guess I shouldn’t be too shocked that a reporter at the Boston Globe would immediately write such an introduction. Although, maybe an editor manipulated the introduction to make it a bit more controversial. I don’t know. I would give the reporter the benefit of the doubt.

  4. Anonymous

    Now that the secret’s out the Globe should check out similar situation for nurses.

  5. Mike from Norwell

    Dirty little secret time here Dan, and you can figure out whether you want to post this or not. Back in the 70s, I was in high school in the western suburbs. My Junior year we had a new chemistry teacher foisted upon us who it turned out was appointed by our then school superintendent as a “make good” from a bitter anti-apartheid dispute. Problem was that the school janitor had more knowledge about this particular subject than the appointee. All well and good to help people out, but if you can’t hack it, you’re not helping anyone out, including yourself. Feel bad about it, but this teacher (in a school catering to a lot of Harvard-MIT prof kids that rhymes with “Hincoln Dudsbury”) had no business being in the position that she found herself. At some point, you have to stand on your own two feet. Not a PC way to slant basic science, nor many other parts of ELHI education.

  6. Anonymous

    I see your point Dan, but it doesn’t seem like an outrageous lede to me — the state formed a task force to look at whether the test is flawed, and someone’s threatening a lawsuit over this. It would be useful to know whether other states have similar disparities. The Globe doesn’t tell us but it does note that a judge ruled a test in Alabama by the same company was biased in 1989. Should the Globe dismiss the possibility that the test is flawed?

  7. Anonymous

    Your point is spot-on. Also notice that the Globe again misuses the word “trend.” This isn’t one. A pattern, yes. But what they have is something that’s been true over a decade, without changing. That’s no trend.

  8. man who's fairly convinced that Boston is a racist town

    Speaking of racial divides, articles like this one in today’s Globe probably aren’t helping.I read it and the only thing I could think of was: “Oh no, all that horrible crime in Dorchester and Roxbury that us white folx never had to think about is now spreading into our ‘safe’ neighborhoods!!!”Tell me again why there’s an entire article about something that shouldn’t be anything more than a police blotter notation?

  9. Neil

    I took the exams last year. The Communications and Literacy exam is required of all teachers. I thought it should be renamed the “Exam to Exclude Non-Native Speakers of English.” It seemed plainly designed to that end. Many questions were easy enough of course but several were needlessly picayune and in my opinion indicated laziness on the part of the exam creators. It’s basically a copy of the English specialty exam, minus the questions about Emily Dickinson. Native speakers of English who haven’t paid much attention to their written skills should be able to pass it, with preparation. You only need a 70 to pass after all. It’s doubtless embarrassing though to have to prepare for an exam that’s testing your proficiency in your native language. So both native speakers that haven’t kept up, and non-native speakers have to participate in the cottage industry at night school that “teaches the test”. I imagine there’s some resentment among the English speakers, having to sit in what amounts to an ESL class with a bunch of damn foreigners, going over your who’s and whose, it’s and its, colons and semicolons.Here’s my complete bloviation, including a couple of links to Globe articles and letters. One is from a non-native English speaker rightly complaining about semicolons, and one is from a math teacher indignant that someone with his splendid credentials be required to prove it by means of an ick, standardized test. (Ah nostalgia, for those distant days when I kept up that blog!)

  10. Neil

    Some minority teachers have criticized the test for containing culturally biased questions such as readings about investing in the stock market and ancient literature that white, middle-class applicants and those with liberal arts college backgrounds more readily identify with.Stock market readings! The Great Gatsby, no doubt, comprehensible only to those privileged Buffies and Trents among us. And how the readings prattle on about yacht maintenance and lawn tennis and summer in the Hamptons–who can make sense of these things!The “ancient literature” is a reference to a passage from Gilgamesh, perhaps. Translated, after all. Instantly recognizable by most white folks of course, due to their routine exposure to cunieform, and their study-abroad years.The charge of cultural bias can be flung from both directions. It’s just as easy to claim that minority cultures place low priority on the kind of language skill the exam tests, even to the extent of sniping among minority kids that academic success is “white”, and failure at the exam is just the natural consequence.But that would be an irresponsible accusation! Bias isn’t the problem, it’s the excuse.

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