How ‘i lavatori forti’ of the fields and factories

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Italian immigrants and their families have long been regarded, in North America, as a hard-working ethnic group. Brought up hearing stories of ancestral struggles and hardships, Italian immigrants to North America embraced attributes for being fiercely motivated individuals, earning the nickname “i lavatori forti”, or “the hard workers”(Iacovetta, Pre). Regardless, their strong work ethic did not initially transcend into the classroom. Italians put the family and labor first, rather skeptical of what the North American school system would offer their children. Italian immigrants fought against the dominant ways of the school system, fearful of losing their cultural roots by embracing change. Consequently, Italian students were considered one of the lowest performing ethnic groups of the mid-1900s. Generational changes brought radical change to the upbringing of Italian-Americans and their performance in school.

Since social factors are the most important indicator in determining one’s academic achievement, an individual’s background has huge implications on learning in the classroom. With the rise of globalization, a large pool of immigrants has emerged in North America, which has been impacted by the North American way of life. Overtime, first generation Italian immigrants have had unique experiences in the U.S. school system, making huge strides in academia once they embraced aspects of North American culture. Since the early 20th century, their participation and approach to adopting and implementing aspects of American culture has increased. This behavior, apparent when Italians migrated to North America and combated much resentment for their way of life, did not transcend into the classroom initially. Over time, first and second generation Italians adapted to North American customs and cultures and with that, the school system. This transition throughout the mid to late 1900s and into the 20th century drastically increased the achievement of Italians, who originally performed poorly in the classroom. In this paper, I will observe how first and second generation Italian immigrants began to prioritize school over labor, and overall increased student achievement as an ethnic group by examining historical references, scholarly articles, and personal experiences. By doing so, Italians became Americanized and distanced themselves from the family. This paper discerns the changing experiences of first-generation Italian immigrants in New Haven, Toronto, and New York City within the last two centuries and studies the shift in Italian family and student behavior – from opposing the school system to succeeding within it.

The importance of the family

In the onset of immigration to North American, Italians, like many other ethnic groups, strived to keep the unspoken promise of clinging tightly to their culture living in a new country. To Italians, community was everything. They put a large emphasis on the towns they lived in, their “paesi”, where they lived and worked amongst each other and maintained a strong sense of community (Milione 1). As Dr. Vincenzo Milione, who studied the achievement of Italians since their migration to North American in the 1900’s states: “The fact that their role models did not go to work in a shirt and tie was less important to these youngsters than their ability to give their family a better than decent life style [sic] Papa owned a grocery store right on the block. It’ll be his son’s once he retires. The boy can work there, and learn the business…these possibilities and the fact that they were all respectable jobs were reasons enough why they didn’t consider the completion of high school a pressing necessity” (Milione 2). Social media was well played a large role in defining the Italian attitude toward community and school. Descendants of Italian immigrants and immigrants themselves took pride in the representations of characteristics in movies like “The Godfather”, where Italians, who found success outside of academia, were admired for their strong family ties, honor, and respect for the family. Such mentalities contributed to the 1990s a report by the New York City Board of Education depicts Italians as the ethnic group with the third highest dropout rate, where 1 in every 5 dropped out of high school (Milione 3). Italians were third to Hispanics and Blacks in high school dropout rates in 1988. Their attitude towards the family sets the stage for the low student achievement levels of Italian immigrants and their descendants in the school.

It is important to note that it was not solely the fear or stubbornness of Italians which provoked their reactions towards the North American school system. Rather, it was their inherent background that propelled them to negate the importance of schooling. Lassonde explains, “Given the contadino’s limited exposure to schooling in southern Italy, he could only have experienced the demands of the local schools as yet another manifestation of his cultural separateness – as the consequence of ethnic differences the marked off the host culture in which he dwelt as alien and hostile” (Lassonde 60). These Italian immigrants, the parents of soon-to-be Americanized children, could not conceptualize the kind of sacrifices that would be needed to comply with schooling in order for them to still maintain closeness to the family. The length of required years, the adoption of a new language and culture, and the independence and freedom it may bring their children were alive in the heads and hearts of Italians.

The family versus the school: Hardships faced

Stephen Lassonde’s account of schooling and family life of Italian immigrants in the 20th century, Learning to Forget, brings to life the way in which the school and the family often conflicted in values. Lassonde states: “Because schooling grated so against their conception of what children owed their parents, because Italian peasants customarily relied on their children’s earnings to meet expenses, and because schooling in the United States addressed subjects that appeared to usurp the rights of parents to inculcate in their children their own moral principles, they objected strenuously to these laws” (Lassonde 56). This stubborn attitude on the part of Italian families, which coincided with parental fear that the American school system would drastically alter and suppress their inherent culture, was expressed negatively on the part of Italian immigrant achievement levels. Lassonde particularly explores the reactions and experiences of Southern Italian families and students, claiming that they appeared “disinterested” in schooling altogether. Lassonde states: “…because most cared little about their children’s achievement in school, they did not insist on the use of English at home, as was characteristic of other immigrants who placed greater emphasis on schooling as a path to upward mobility” (Lassonde 58). In almost every form, schooling, for many Italian immigrant families, was a direct threat that impeded on the family’s’ ability to personally educate and instill certain values in their respective children.

Another Italian immigrant experience, the study and story of Leonard Covello and his family, represents the way in which the family and the North American school system were on opposite ends. Immigrants of New York, the Covello’s, like many other Italian immigrants, took pride in their name and the culture they brought with them. One evening, Leonard’s parents recognized his teacher had misspelled his last name on a report card. Instead of “Coviello”, the teacher had replaced his last name with “Covello”, because it would be easier to pronounce. What seemed like a trivial change, turned into an explosive argument between father and son. Leonard’s father was perplexed and insulted by the modification of their family name. A famous Italian proverb which Covello quotes in his own studies of his experiences and those of many other Italian immigrant families, best exemplifies the Italian sentiment toward embracing the North American way of life: “He who leaves the old way for the new knows what he leaves but knows not what he will find” (Lassonde 62).  Italian families, like the Covello’s, felt disrespected and attacked when their cultural practices and values were being faltered with.

Eventually, Leonard Covello became a teacher who worked to amend the broken system which had demeaned immigrant children. Shawn Weldon’s historical review on Leonard Covello describes his motivations for aspiring to create cultural plurism within the school system and stressing the importance of immigrant children in the school environment (Weldon 1). Covello’s numerous accomplishments that occurred in his adulthood include implementing a community centered school to integrate Italian and Puerto Rican children, serving as head of the Italian Department at DeWitt Clinton in 1920, teaching at various universities, and establishing a high school.  Identifying the struggle of Italian American children in the classroom, Weldon states that Covello “recognized that Italian American children were confronted by a dilemma in the public schools. They were expected to separate themselves from their native culture and language, including their families and communities, in order to meet the school’s expectations and to achieve academically. Covello sought means to ease the transition of immigrant school children into American life and to aid in their acculturation without separating them from their communities or native culture” (Weldon 1). Leonard Covello’s life serves to exemplify the level of achievements of Italian-American children who experienced first-hand the difficulties of assimilating to North American and schooling.

In Such Hardworking People, Franca Iacovetta writes of the hardships faced from Italian immigration in the mid1960s in Toronto, Canada. Italian children feared for their days in school due to the constant fights that broke out against the Canadian children. These reactions were in response to deep-seated hatred that surfaced because Canadian’s took Italian immigration as an event that rid the Canadians of their jobs (Iacovetta 109). The Italian worker was blamed for the lowered standard and wages in the workplace. On the other hand, Italians were disliked for their attitudes – indifferent to learning English and congregating in large groups together. For both cultural and economic reasons, Canadians maintained strong prejudices against Italians – a factor in the difficulty for Italians and their descendants to integrate.  

Cultural assimilation became a goal of the school system. School systems looked to transform the backward, stubborn children of immigrants, who were oftentimes ostracized for their behavior and attitudes. Referring to the cultural characteristics of Italians that led them to be scorned in Toronto, Iacovetta states, “North Americans made their prejudices clear by depicting Italians as ‘hot blooded’ and ‘culturally backward’ peasants” (Iacovetta 105). Resentment only grew as Italians, in their everyday lives, remained true to their customs and way of life, unwilling, for the larger part, to adapt to the North American way. For most Canadians, who held similar sentiments, schooling appeared to be the solution to rear Italian children to behave like Canadians and slowly distance themselves from the culture and customs they brought with them across the Atlantic.

Choosing sides

When student achievement for Italian immigrants sunk so low that it began to stun many, educators and policy makers concluded that a greater collaboration between the education system and Italian communities was in order. Such programs developed from “The Sons of Italy” organization which launched a nation-wide campaign to represent Italian-Americans in the best light by focusing on their achievements. Similarly, the Calandra Institute’s tutoring program, AMICI was launched. Milione articulates this by urging that this continue to be improved: “There must be mentoring programs that make our students aware of the necessity of advanced degrees and pointing them in those directions that will help them effectively understand the need and advantages of a post graduate degree (Milione 11). Similarly, Covello emphasizes this need for collaboration between family and school in his book The Social Background of the Italo-American School Child. Covello stresses the realities that Italian-American children faced in the classroom, constantly battling between their two cultures, which leads to issues with the school system: “because of the cultural duality of the child, the possibility that he may react violently against either the parental cultural or the American cultural or, what is very likely, against both simultaneously, is overlooked owing to lack of comprehension of, or even disregard of, difficulties of Italian school children in America” (Covello 331). For such children, attempting to be all American or all Italian had its downfalls – schools upset with children who would not conform and parents distraught at children who would not hold on to their Italian values. Eventually, it became clear that acculturation was necessary for Italian-American students to succeed both in and out of the classroom.

Embracing change brings achievement: A conclusion

            In the 1980s, Italian dropout rates peaked, bringing the ethnic group to third for highest dropout rates. Within a decade, significant changes took place, which have continued to occur in bringing student achievement to a high. Milione articulate this shift in stating: “as the parents became better educated, their views regarding where they wanted their children to be in the new millennium changed and with them the shifting of traditional perceptions regarding their children’s future as it pertained to education. Their children realize that it’s only through a solid formal education that they will reap the rewards our system affords those who can compete and create” (Milione 12). While Italians today are still not at the top of their classes, as an ethnic group, they have made significant improvements.

Today, first and second generation immigrant student achievement has soared in comparison to American-born students which puts a remarkable spin on the history of Italian-American students whose ancestors did not initially succeed in the classroom. An NBCLatino study by Sandra Lilley references data that states the inherent differences between immigrant children and their American-born peers which lead them to perform better in the classroom. A sociology professor at Johns Hopkins University, Dr. Hao, who is cited in her article, clarifies the attributes of immigrant children which become the difference makers: “Immigrants who come to the U.S. are self-selective; they overcome difficulties to create a better life, and foreign-born immigrant parents transmit this motivation, values and expectations to their children” (Lilley 1). While the values that Italian immigrants transcended on their children did not initially transcend into the classroom, with time, the essence of working hard to provide for the family, maintain strong relationships, and hold on to cultural values became working hard to succeed in the school system and realize the American Dream. It is these attributes that contributed to the mentality of “i lavatori forti”. When the descendants of these Italian immigrants were able to embrace the values and purpose of the North American school system, Italian student achievement soared. Instead of experiencing the school system as a waste of time that would pull children away from obligations of the family, over time, Italians were able to see the importance of schooling, and with that the opportunities it would give rise to. They were more than barbershop owners, bakery men, and housewives. They too, could aspire to more than their parents, grandparents, and extended family members had ever been.

This story of Italian achievement resembles the condition and circumstance in which I was brought up in. Born and raised in a purely Italian home, where my closest relatives, aside from my intermediate family, were an eight hour plan ride away, my expectations to maintain my Italian culture alive were high. The summers I spent in Italy with aunts, uncles, grandparents, and older cousins were spent explaining my experiences in the U.S. school system: long days spent studying, weekends prepping for exams and standardized tests, retreats, internships, programs to prepare me for college, college tours in excess. My grandparents especially, were never quite able to understand why I devoted so much time to things they had never worried about or come to know as routine as I had. “Do you help your mother clean the house?” “Are you learning how to be a good Italian woman?” These were the questions I was being asked, and my drawn-out answers about being too busy with school resulted in skeptical and unforgiving facial expressions. The stakes for me were high. Unlike the way it was for my parents, I would not be joining them in the workforce once I was of age. Unlike them, I would not be the child of parents who owned a restaurant. I valued the long hours I spent educating myself, but it was giving me a mentality much different from that of my family members back in Italy. Because they could not quite grasp the purpose of it, they have ultimately been unable to see the value in my education, regardless of all of the opportunities it has given me and the achievements I have made within it.

Ultimately, Italian student achievement was able to grow once Italian families embraced the systemic unit of the school as one that would bring prosperity and success to their children and further descendants. When the North American school system became a source of affluence and upward mobility, it was given more attention and care; this led students themselves to recognize its importance and to strive to achieve greater than they ever had before.


 Works Cited:

Covello, Leonard, and Francesco Cordasco. The Social Background of the Italo-American School Child. A Study of the Southern Italian Family Mores and Their Effect on the School Situation in Italy and America. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1967. Print.

Iacovetta, Franca. Such Hardworking People: Immigrants in Postwar Toronto. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s UP, 1992. Print.

Milione, Vincenzo. Italian American Youth and Educational Achievement levels: How are we doing? New York.

Lilley, Sandra. “Study: First Generation Immigrant Children Do Better in School than US-born kids.” NBC Latino. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Apr. 2014.

 Lassonde, Stephen. Learning to Forget: Schooling and Family Life in New Haven’s Working Class, 1870-1940. 2005. Yale University Press. Print.

 Weldon, Shawn. Leonard Covello 1907-1974. 1982


Research Proposal 2014

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Research Question:

How have educators over time explored the importance and success of first generation students in the United States, and how has this had an impact on their achievement compared to students who are also multilingual but have not grown up under these favorable conditions?



Recent evidence shows that first generation students have a significant advantage in achievement because their parents transmit values of motivation which lead them to perform better academically. At the same time, many first generation students, particularly in poor, urban areas may be disadvantaged simply because of their family background brings forth many setbacks in academia.

I first became interested in this topic early in the semester when learning in Education Reform: Past & Present how prominent one’s home life is in deciding one’s success. I grew up in a small town in Connecticut, raised by two Italian parents who immigrated to the United States 26 years ago. I began speaking Italian when I was born, and still hear stories today about how I walked into Pre-K and spent the first week trying to engage in conversation in Italian with other children, all the while receiving many blank stares. I think for a long time there has been a stigma associated with first generation students, or immigrant students in general – one that elicits they will be at a disadvantage because they may have to work twice as hard to do as well as a U.S.-born student. However, while my parents were never able to teach me proper English as they have never taken an English class, I lived each day knowing that the sacrifices they made to stay in the U.S. were for my sister and me. I was taught to put everything into what I did and to be strong in the face of defeat. I learned these values- bravery, courage, a strong work ethic – because I watched my parents exemplify them before my eyes as I watched them lived in a country they still, at times, find to be foreign. These principles transcended into my life in academia – I learned to put 100% into all I do, and thus, while never having the kind of parents who knew about the college process, understood the United States schooling system, or were able to help me with my schoolwork, I did well because I knew that I was being supported by them in other ways, because they had taught me through their actions how striving for greatness can pay off.

I believe this situation is not only limited to my own experience, but also showcased in the experiences of many other first generation students who have been exposed and surrounded by a different culture, way of life, and a myriad of motivation from the sacrifices and efforts of their parents. These social factors that are embedded in the home of most of these first generation students truly can drive them to work harder in school and ultimately succeed more than U.S.-born students because they have that additional weight on their shoulders. Dr. Hao, who was interviewed for an article in NBCLatino which studied this phenomenon, stated: “Immigrants who come to the U.S. are self-selective; they overcome difficulties to create a better life, and foreign-born immigrant parents transmit this motivation, values and expectations to their children,” she explains. Children absorb these expectations and their actions demonstrate a ‘mom and dad made all this sacrifice for me, I better do okay’ type of behavior” (Lilley 1). This subject, commonly referred to as the “immigrant paradox”, should be studied further because over a quarter of U.S. students are first generation Americans, and they account for some of the most successful of students who have left academia and gone into the workforce to become leaders in the world. Their contributions to the U.S. labor force help to boost the economy and ultimately benefit the nation as a whole.

This being said, it would be a mistake to assume that all first generation students succeed more in education than their American peers. There are many who, because of their family background or their location, success is not in the cards. This exemplifies the other side of the story, one where students may experience setbacks because they were not brought up in an environment that was conducive to the American way. Over time, programs have been put in place to branch out to these students to assist them in school.


Research Strategy:

Once I had examined my own experience with the theory I’m looking to test, I did a simple Google search to see what I could find. The first article I read was published by NBC Latino which performed the first study to prove that first generation immigrants normally do better than U.S.-born children. I then researched a number of journals and reports that furthered and broadened my subject matter. I came across studies that explained the correlation between success and first generation youth that delved into the complexities of family life.

My plan in continuing to research this topic is to find articles and reports that rebut the notion that first generation students tend to succeed by expressing the ways that some of these success stories are not typically found in urban areas where poverty is great and success is rare as well as to observe the way educations have looked at first generation students. I will research for reports that express the way first generation students have been treated in schools over time and the ways in which the assimilation of culture affects not only the first generation student, but the rest of the classroom itself.

I will look back into Paul Tough’s Whatever it Takes and use some of his examples of addressing how the home truly is the number one factor in deciding one’s success in education and life. Ultimately, I would like to look at how over time these two competing points have transformed to show how the multilingualism of a person, their experiences, and immigrant parents have a significant affect, both good and bad, on students.



  1. Christensen, Gayle, and Petra Stanat. Language, Policies and Practices for Helping Immigrants and Second-generation Students Succeed. Rep. N.p.: NALDIC, 2007. Web. 3 Apr. 2014.

  • This report will strengthen the second theory I am looking at – one that sees the negatives that evolve in education in the lives of first generation students. It gives a great historical analysis to express the challenges first generation students face.


2. Kao, Grace, and Marta Tienda. “Optimism and Achievement: The Educational Performance of Immigrant Youth.” (1995): n. pag. University of Pennslyvania SelectedWorks. Web. 3 Apr. 2014.

  • This article took my research one step further by explaining in depth what the NCBLatino article tested. It gives a lot of detail by articulating the differences between immigrant families and American families. It also explains the reasoning behind how first generation youth succeed over some of their other peers.


3. Lilley, Sandra. “Study: First Generation Immigrant Children Do Better in School than US-born kids.” NBC Latino. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Apr. 2014.

  • This short article and study initially sparked my interest in studying this topic further. It gives statistics on the number of first generation immigrants in the U.S. and discussing the study that was done to prove how the “immigrant mentality” has helped to further the lives of first generation students in education.


  4. Tough, Paul.  Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and AmericaBoston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, Co. Print. 

  • I will use Tough’s book to bring out the theories that prove how significant home life is in deciding one’s achievement in education.

Few Carrots for the Most Important In-School Factor

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When an Alabama Education Administrator, Tony Thacker, spoke on behalf of the significance of teachers, he said adamantly, “there are two sets of adults: classroom teachers who ensure the future of our students, and everyone else” (00:3:17). The 2011 documentary, American Teacher, strives to validate his notion of teaching as an important and powerful profession and destroy the stereotype that the job of a teacher is trivial and undemanding. Teachers provide the knowledge and skills necessary to empower children, but their role in the classroom and in the lives of students has been historically belittled. Unfair policies pay teachers little and provide them with few benefits; likewise, social misunderstandings of teaching devalue the profession. Thus, teachers go underpaid and unappreciated. With complaints of low salaries, lack of prestige, and long hours, it is no wonder why highly skilled people rarely become teachers, and why many others quit teaching. American Teacher, directed by Vanessa Roth and Brian McGinn, looks to eliminate preconceived notions of teaching by combining the diverse experiences of American public school teachers, with illustrations of the problems in education policy by leaders in education reform. In doing so, the documentary sheds light on the difficulties and injustices found in a profession immensely responsible for individual and nationally success.

Research has proven that teachers are the most significant in-school factor in providing students with the ability to succeed. Education historians like Diane Ravitch, billionaire philanthropists such as Bill Gates, and political leaders like President Barrack Obama, have conceded that a teacher’s role in academia is vital. If this is true, why are few top college graduates pursuing teaching, and why do hundreds of teachers leave the classroom after only a few years? (00:03:03). American society undermines the important role that teachers play in the lives of students, and this directly explains the lack of cultural respect for teaching as well as their poor salary rates. These injustices in the workforce prompted the creation of The Teacher Salary Project, a non-profit organization that advocates for improving teacher conditions, such as creating competitive salaries. The project is comprised of national campaigns, an online resource site, and the documentary, American Teacher. Their website states: “The film’s narrative balances the personal stories of each character with a mixture of interviews and animated facts and statistics by Stefan Nadelman, each highlighting the big sacrifices made by our nation’s teachers, and how these demanding costs force many of our greatest teachers out of the profession” (About the Project). The Teacher Salary Project aspires to make teaching a respected and desired career path by instilling excitement in the career and promoting financial sustainability. American Teacher has been reviewed by newspapers like The LA Times which characterized the documentary as “unsettling” (Turan 1), and The New York Times, which called it “heartfelt”, but criticized it for treating “pay as if it’s the only factor in educational dysfunction” and assuming “teaching is the most vital of the undercompensated jobs” (Genzlinger 1) Regardless of The New York Times critique, I believe American Teacher brings to life two important realities in the education system: we cannot expect success in classrooms if our teachers lack the financial ability to provide it and the cultural respect they need to ensure it.

American Teacher embraces the stories of teachers like Jamie Fiddler, Amanda Lueck, Erik Benner, Rhena Jasey and Jonathon Dearmon who endeavor to provide their students with the best means to succeed in an environment that offers them little to no assistance or compensation. For a profession capable with impacting the future of so many, the circumstances of such teachers have never been more unacceptable. Their paychecks, unions, credentials, and teaching styles have long been criticized. Misnomers have blinded policymakers and political leaders from being able to make the profession of a teacher both reputable and obtainable. American Teacher aims to finally clarify what it means to teach.

Senior V.P. of Fox News Channel, Neil Cavuto, claims teachers’ desire for
higher salaries and better conditions is out of

To begin, inefficiency is common in the public school system; many lack the proper resources for teachers and students, inevitably putting teachers in unfair positions. One teacher, Jamie Fiddler, of Brooklyn, New York, is victim to many of these financial burdens that go unrecognized. In her first year of teaching, Fiddler spent over $3,000 dollars of her own money on essential school supplies, and she isn’t alone. A shocking 90% of public school teachers pay for materials like markers and books out of their own pocket (00:07:11). Another teacher, Amanda Luek of Horace Mann Middle School in Denver, Colorado, describes the job of a teacher as a tiring lifestyle. There are constantly lesson plans to be made, homework to be graded, and classrooms to be reorganized. Luek’s classroom is too small for the number of students she has; consequently, some of her students have to sit on the counters. “There’s always more to do” says Luek, after another eleven hour work-day, and “it never feels like enough” (00:8:47). These two examples opened my eyes to aspects of teaching that go unnoticed and that are masked by politicians and policymakers who claim teaching is an easy and unimportant profession. Rather, teachers are responsible for more than they are given credit for. They do so much voluntarily simply to provide the bare minimum for their students.

View of Teacher Amanda Luek’s small classroom for her 40 students.


The financial demands of teaching are highly consequential in the long run. Erik Benner, a former history teacher and athletic coach at a Texas public school, was a popular teacher among students and faculty for his strong commitment to teaching and personable character. Benner, who instilled in his students a sense of commitment to learning, was dedicated to building a strong rapport with each student he taught. Nevertheless, with a teaching salary of $27,000, Benner was obligated to pick up a second job at a hardware store – a stress-inducing decision that lessened his time with his family and students (00:37:13). Eventually, when he was laid off from his second job, he was forced to quit teaching. His lack of sustainable income caused his house to go in foreclosure and years of financial tensions prompted a split in his marriage. Approximately 31%-62% of teachers must take on a second job. The low level of teacher salaries simply leave many with no other choice (00:41:09).

circuit city

Teacher, Erik Benner, working his second job at Circuit City



While the lack of respectable salary deters many from beginning or continuing to teach, the absence of prestige in the profession also suggests a shortage in the quality of teachers. Rhena Jasey, a Harvard graduate and former New Jersey school teacher, is one of the few top-college graduates to become a teacher. When she told her friends she wanted to teach, she paraphrased their replies in saying: “Anyone can teach. You went to Harvard. You should be a doctor or a lawyer. You should make money” (00:17:56). For her, teaching provides a dynamic, comprehensive role in the lives of students. Teachers constantly make decisions for their students that go far beyond the role of teaching. Thus, the complexity in the role of a teacher is significantly more challenging than it is portrayed to be. Jasey believes a teacher is simultaneously a counselor, parent, friend, and social worker. These many roles, however, go unrewarded, and Jasey’s former $40,000 salary showed it. No one would question the salary level for another profession, but because many do not believe a high skill set is necessary to be a teacher, few believe the state of teacher salaries is an issue. This, in itself, is alarming. If many talented, top-college graduates do not see teaching as a sustainable career because the profession lacks a strong reputation in relation to other degrees, whilst providing poor salaries, American students will continue to pale in comparison to the students in other countries and will not be able to fully meet their highest potential. Similarly, if our nation does not recognize that a high skill set is necessary in teaching, many will not see the hidden injustices in teacher salaries. The inability to attract bright graduates to the teaching profession is frightening. Without quality teachers, how can we expect quality students? Rhena’s credentials and character embody what the teaching workforce needs. “You don’t want your kids being taught by someone who went to Harvard?” she’d tell her family and friends (00:18:27). The social belief that bright professionals should not become teachers directly relates to why student achievement in America is low.


Teacher Rhena Jasey discusses the reputation of teaching

The reputation associated with teaching significantly decreases teacher quality and thus, student learning. There are far too many teachers unable to make ends meet, who work hours far above the presumed six hour work-day, that lack both financial and reputational compensation for all they do. Just as well, there are teachers, fatigued and frustrated, unwilling to continue in a profession that desperately needs talented people. Statistically, 20% of teachers in urban environments leave teaching every year, and 46% quit before their fifth year of teaching (00:47:36). The use of statistics like these in the documentary made it apparent how crucial it is that we re-examine the treatment of our teachers. This data provides a caveat to policymakers and reformers everywhere. When strong teachers leave the profession, children everywhere are negatively affected: an unacceptable and dismaying truth.

When teacher Jonathon Dearmon left the profession due to financial reasons, his students filled his chalkboard with notes to express their appreciation for him.dearmon

A 2011 study by the Hoover Institution indicates that an effective teacher has the capacity to give a year and half of learning in one year, demonstrating that the quality of the teacher can either drive up achievement levels or negatively impact the success of students. Hanushek states this by relating student achievement to the labor market: “For the average American entering the labor force, the value of lifetime earnings for full-time work is currently $1.16 million. Thus, an increase in the level of achievement in high school of a standard deviation yields an average increase of between $110,000 and $230,000 in lifetime earnings” (Hanushek 2). The standard deviation illustrates the amount of deviation that exists from the average. Similarly, Hanushek’s studies present a correlation between national economic success and effective teachers. They recognize that an effective teacher can drive up student achievement, improving American students as a whole and increasing the gross national product. However, if policymakers fail to recognize these very real correlations, the important variable of the teacher will never be truly acknowledged.


Some institutions have realized the importance of recruiting and maintaining quality teachers into the profession. Projects like The Equity Project Charter School, or TEP, pioneered by Zeke Vanderhoek, have started to change the perceptions of teaching by endeavoring to treat teachers with the respect and prestige they deserve. TEP starts teachers at a base salary of $125,000, made possible through public funds. One of the teachers hired was Harvard alum, Rhena Jasey. TEP’s website articulates their philosophy: “student achievement is maximized when teachers have the time and support to constantly improve their craft” (Philosophy). While many factors are comprised in evaluating student achievement, improving the standards and conditions for teachers substantially improves student performance.


teachersData proves that the countries with top performing schools and education programs, Finland, Singapore, and South Korea, also hold teaching to a high esteem.


Still, there is much to be done to reform teaching today. When discussing the unacceptable circumstances teachers encounter, Mark Bounds, the Deputy Superintendent for Educator Quality in South Carolina shares: “They’re not asking to make hundreds of thousands of dollars. They’re asking to be able to buy a house, to have a descent car, to live in a nice neighborhood, to have some comforts” (00:52:40). Ultimately, the battles that teachers face are not only policy problems, but also, social problems. The countries in the world with top-performing students and academic programs, Finland, Singapore, and South Korea, not only have funded teacher training, competitive salaries, and professional working environments, but they also culturally respect the role of a teacher – an occupation that outweighs the reputation of lawyers and doctors (01:06:02). If we are to see the true value of teachers, we must increase the incentives to teach, raising it to the same standards of other professions and socially recognizing that the job of a teacher is monumentally important in defining our nation.

In Chapter Seven of her book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, titled “What Would Mrs. Ratliff Do?”, historian Diane Ravitch speaks of the problems teachers have faced for years. Many have criticized their tenure, unions, and methods that go beyond teaching to the test. Rather, Ravitch defends teachers in saying that union contracts and tenure protect the rights of teachers, ensuring that their salaries are based off their credentials and seniority, not the results of student tests (Ravitch 171). Ravitch reminisces about her high school teacher, Mrs. Ratliff, who instilled in her students a passion for literature and learning. Mrs. Ratliff was demanding, caring, and did not teach based on a test. Great teachers like Mrs. Ratliff are lacking today in our society because the career lacks incentives, like reputable salaries and because teachers are being forced to teach to the test. Therefore, our society must make a decision. Ravitch ponders this policy and social dilemma in stating, “as we expand the rewards and compensation for teachers who boost scores in basic skills, will we honor those teachers who awaken in their students a passionate interest….? If we fail to attract and retain teachers like Ruby Ratliff, will we produce a better-educated citizenry” (Ravitch 194)? It is in how policymakers and society answer these questions that will change the face of American education.

In the end, we must be aware that the effort needed to change teacher conditions concerns us all and that the lack of carrots for teachers is a true problem. To paraphrase Sabrina Laine, the Vice President for Educator Quality at the American Institute for Research, there are many benevolent aspects ingrained in teaching, but that does not justify their low salaries. Teaching isn’t about money, but that doesn’t mean teachers should be poorly paid (00:35:40). As the two film producers for American Teacher, Eggers and Calegari, declared in their New York Times Op-ed piece: “When we don’t get the results we want in our military endeavors, we don’t blame the soldiers. We don’t say, ‘It’s these lazy soldiers and their bloated benefit plans! That’s why we haven’t done better in Afghanistan!’ No, if the results aren’t there we blame the planners…. No one contemplates blaming the men and women fighting every day in the trenches for little pay and scant recognition” (Eggers, Calegari 1). The same goes for teachers. If we expect American students to succeed, we must open our eyes to the way we are treating their educators. Only then, will we better improve the lives of school children and America altogether.

nationsThe low salaries and reduced conditions of teachers are directly correlated to decrease in student achievement in American schools



Works Cited:

“About the Project .” Teacher Salary Project. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Feb 2014. .

American Teacher. Dir. Vanessa Roth, Brian McGinn. Prod. Ninive Calegari and Dave Eggers. Perf. Erik Benner, Neil Cavuto, Matt Damon. 2011. Documentary.

Eggers, Dave, and Nínive Clements Calegari. “The High Cost of Low Teacher Salaries.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 30 Apr. 2011. Web. 22 Feb. 2014.

Genzlinger, Neil. “What’s a Teacher Worth?” The New York Times. The New York Times, 29 Sept. 2011. Web. 23 Feb. 2014.

Hanushek, Eric A. “Valuing Teachers: How Much Is a Good Teacher Worth?” Hoover Institution: Stanford University. Education Next, 2011. Web. 04 Mar. 2014.

“Philosophy.” TEP Charter – Philosophy. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2014.

Ravitch, Diane. The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education. New York: Basic, 2010. Print.

Turan, Kenneth. “What the ‘American Teacher’ Has to Teach Us.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 30 Sept. 2011. Web. 23 Feb. 2014.

Avoiding Plagiarism 2014

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Step 1: A teacher who gets a particular ranking in year one is likely to get a different ranking the next year. There will always be instability in these rankings, some of which will reflect “real” performance changes.

Step 2: A teacher with one ranking could get a different one next year. Instability with always exist in these rankings, although some will reflect “real” performance changes.

Step 3: Even though a teacher may receive one ranking on year, he or she is likely to get a different ranking the next year. Rankings will always have instability as some of these will reflect “real” performance changes (Ravitch 270-271).

Step 4: The ranking received by a teacher may not be consistent over the years. These rankings are inherently unsound as they are adjusted yearly to express changes in performance (Ravitch 270-271).

Step 5: A teacher’s ranking is subject to change yearly. As Ravitch articulates, “There will always be instability in these rankings” as some will exhibit performance changes that skew the rankings (Ravitch 270-271).

Works Cited:
Ravitch, Diane. “Epilogue: School and Society.” The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. New York: Basic, 2010. 270-71. Print.

Learning Goals

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In this class, I’m looking to learn specifically about the way education policy has made an impact over time and the way it has changed. I’m also interested in learning about the way public and private institutions are impacted by policy and about the role of gender in education. In addition, I’m curious to learn about education in urban environments as opposed to rural areas.