A Lesson In How Teachers Became 'Resented And Idealized' In The Teacher Wars, Dana Goldstein chronicles the history of the profession and current topics like tenure. She says the idea that teachers can help fight poverty has existed since the 19th century.
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A Lesson In How Teachers Became 'Resented And Idealized'

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A Lesson In How Teachers Became 'Resented And Idealized'

A Lesson In How Teachers Became 'Resented And Idealized'

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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Now that students are returning to school you can expect the volume to get louder on controversies surrounding teacher tenure, salaries, the core curriculum, testing and teacher competence. In the new book "The Teacher Wars: A History Of America's Most Embattled Profession," my guest Dana Goldstein writes about how teaching became the most controversial profession in America and how teachers have both become resented and idealized. In a review of the book in The New York Times, Alexander Nesarian described it as meticulously fair and disarmingly balanced.

Although the book is largely a history, it also draws on Goldstein's reporting on recent controversies surrounding teaching. She's reported on education for several years in such places as The Atlantic and The Daily Beast. She received a Spencer Fellowship in education journalism from Columbia University. Her father was a public school teacher.

Dana Goldstein, welcome to FRESH AIR. So the subtitle of your book is "A History Of America's Most Embattled Profession," and your book starts with the observation that public school teaching has become the most controversial profession in America. What are the most controversial parts of teaching now?

DANA GOLDSTEIN: Well, I've been covering education as a journalist since 2007. And one of the things I noticed, especially after the recession hit in 2008 and coming into President Obama's administration, was we were having a big conversation about inequality. And teaching was something that was discussed again and again as a potential fix - a fix for inequality. Something that could, you know, help poor children achieve like middle-class children and close these socioeconomic gaps that we're so concerned about as a nation. And I think because our expectations on teachers are so high we are constantly disappointed. And this is the crux of why it is controversial and embattled profession.

GROSS: So what you're saying is teachers are expected to fix societies cultural and economic problems and that's a hard job?

GOLDSTEIN: Yes, it is. And, you know, we have a relatively weak social, safety-net outside our schools compared to other Western countries. And, you know, what surprised me and was so interesting about doing research on 200 years of teaching in America was that we have always had these high expectations. This idea that teachers have a role to play in fighting poverty and inequality has been with us since the early 19th century.

GROSS: Let's go back to the 1800s and talk a little bit about how the teaching profession developed into what it is today. When I went to public schools in the late 1950s and the 1960s my teachers, most of them, were women. I had a few men, but certainly my elementary school - I think there was one man teacher - but he wasn't there the whole time that I was in school. And in junior high mostly women, high school more of a mix. And you go back to the 1820s, I think all of this explains how teaching became a kind of low-paid profession.

GOLDSTEIN: Yes.

GROSS: Because it was women so you could get away with that?

GOLDSTEIN: Yes. So a lot of people are surprised to learn that back in 1800, 90 percent of American teachers were actually male. And today we know that 76 percent of teachers are female. So how did this huge flip happen? The thunder dynamic that you experienced, Terry, and that most of us did. And the answer is that as school reformers began to realize in the 1820s that schooling should be compulsory, that parents should be forced to send their kids to school and public education should be universal, they had to come up with a way to do this basically in an affordable manner because raising taxes was just about as unpopular back then as it is now. So what we see as a sort of alliance between politicians and education reformers in the early 19th century to redefine teaching as a female profession. And they do this in a couple ways. First they argue that women are more moral in a Christian sense than men. And they depict men as sort of alcoholic, intemperate, sort of lash-wielding, horrible teachers who are abusive to children. And they make this argument that women can do a better job because they're more naturally suited to spend time with kids - almost on a biological level. And then there quite explicit about the fact that, hey, we can pay women about 50 percent as much and this is going to be a great thing for the taxpayer.

GROSS: Yeah. Well, in terms of this kind of women are more moral and more equipped to teach, I want to quote something that you reprint in your book this is a statement by Horace Mann who founded the movement that kind of turned into the public school movement.

GOLDSTEIN: Yeah. The common schools movement.

GROSS: And he was one of the people who thought that women were more suited by nature and temperament to teaching. And he writes - as a teacher of schools how divinely does she come, her head encircled with a halo of heavenly light, her feet sweetening the earth on which she treads. And the celestial radiance of her benigninity - benignity? I don't even know what that means - making vice begin its work of repentant through the very envy of the beauty of virtue. My goodness.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Wow. That's why women should teach? Because they have halos?

GOLDSTEIN: Yes. And all of these early school reformers were reading these romantic novels and you can see that in this sort of overwrought paragraph written by Horace Mann.

GROSS: And Horace Mann is one of, like, the founders of the modern education movement. This wasn't just, like, a kook right?

GOLDSTEIN: No. He was not a kook, although he had some kooky ideas. For example he believed in phrenology which was this strange pseudoscience that you could tell a child's sort of moral and intellectual nature by the bumps on their heads. And he used this to argue for education saying, like, oh, we can take these children that are born corrupt and we can improve them with these angelic female teachers.

GROSS: So Catharine Beecher was also one of the leaders of the women should be teacher's movement in the 1820s. And she thought that teaching was the one profession in which a woman could gain influence, respectability and independence without, quote, "venturing outside the prescribed boundaries of feminine modesty." On the other hand she was hardly a feminist. She opposed women's suffrage. Can you talk about that seemingly odd mix of beliefs?

GOLDSTEIN: Yeah. So she's a very interesting figure. She of course is the sister of Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of "Uncle Tom's Cabin." And she is the daughter of Lyman Beecher who is a famous sort of fire and brimstone minister. And, you know, he had some conservative religious beliefs that Catharine was brought up with, but they were also a family that was also interested in abolition and other social causes. What happens to her is that she's engaged to be married to a wonderful man in her early 20s and he dies very tragically in a shipwreck and drowns. And she has to figure out what she's going to do with her life. And what she comes to believe is that teaching is this alternative to marriage for young women like herself. It's a way to be socially useful. So she's looking for something she can do which will sort of satisfy a conservative impulse to be feminine and be womanly, but she would like to have an influence on the larger world. And she doesn't want to have to get married to someone she doesn't love to do that.

GROSS: So she really opens schools to women. She sends women out to frontier schools. Those are women that we see in all the westerns where, like, the school mom comes to town to civilize the men?

GOLDSTEIN: Yeah, that's them. So she recruits these sort of well-bred, East Coast Protestant girls and she wants to send them out into the frontier to open one room school houses. And she also expects them to teach Sunday school and to minister in a Christian sense to these children and it's very much a proto sort of Teach For America. She gives the girls a couple weeks of training over the summer and then she sends them out. And they live under very difficult conditions. They usually board with the families, they usually share a room with a child and they have just candlelight, there's no running water. It's a very difficult life.

GROSS: So women are basically underpaid, they're doing this in part because it's believed to be an almost like missionary calling.

GOLDSTEIN: Yes.

GROSS: So you write teaching was understood less as a career than as a philanthropic vocation or a romantic calling. Susan B. Anthony is one of the people who objects to that. And she thinks women are being exploited as teachers. Can you talk about the conflict between Susan B. Anthony and Catharine Beecher?

GOLDSTEIN: Sure. So Susan B. Anthony becomes a teacher, like Catharine Beecher, in her early 20s and she's quite ambitious and she really loves teaching. And what happens to her is that she sees a 19-year-old man promoted above her when she's in her late 20s to be the principal of the school where she's working. And the reason why is because it would be considered unthinkable that a woman would have men report to her. She's kind of stuck. She can only be a teacher she can't ascend. And what she realizes is, like, this really is an unjust education system we've built. It's built on the idea that you have these low-paid female teachers, men are the principals and this is holding back women in terms of their ability to be breadwinners and it's also holding back students. So she starts traveling all across New York state organizing women to protest these conditions, this fact that women can be paid less as teachers. And one of the arguments she is making is that in order for women to demand higher pay they have to be better educated. And women teachers should be educated at colleges at universities. This is really radical in the 1840s and 1850s when she's making this argument because colleges were generally closed to women at that time. And she meets Catharine Beecher, and Catharine Beecher, she just doesn't see the problem with this. I mean, she has no problem with teaching being a profession in which women are prepared sort of in a segregated fashion to do this job. She doesn't see what Susan B. Anthony sees which is that women will never get respect and education itself will not get respect if teachers - women teachers - are paid less and educated separately from other professionals.

GROSS: Does Susan B. Anthony win any victories?

GOLDSTEIN: She wins a few small victories. She convinces the New York State Teachers Association, which was a sort of proto-union - she convinces them to pass a resolution in opposition to gender-based pay - in opposition to the fact that women teachers earn less. But this doesn't really have any political ramifications at that time.

GROSS: And she becomes - Susan B. Anthony becomes more of an activist for women's suffrage than for education reform?

GOLDSTEIN: Right. She really shifts into a suffrage activist after the Civil War.

GROSS: So we've been talking about how, historically, teaching became a women's profession and therefore, a low-paid profession. In the African-American community, after the Civil War, after the end of slavery, what does teaching represent for working African-Americans? Is it strictly a women's profession, in the way it had been in white schools? 'Cause we're talking about an era where there's still segregation, so certainly in the south, there's black schools, and there's white schools. So what did teaching represent?

GOLDSTEIN: Teaching represents everything to the African-American community after the Civil War. It is the means by which the children and grandchildren of slaves are going to be able to better themselves. And the phrase that often use is to uplift the race. Teachers will uplift the race through their work.

And because there was so much discrimination against African-Americans in the broader job market, you see that both African-American men and women - the most educated blacks do want to teach. And it is a missionary job for them, as well, but it's much more gender-neutral. And it really carries with it a huge significance for what we really today would think of as closing achievement gaps.

GROSS: What's the legacy today of how teaching was a very important mission for African-Americans and how it was gender-neutral, unlike historically white schools?

GOLDSTEIN: One of the wonderful surprises in researching this book was so much of today's education reform conversation is actually borrowed directly from the African-American educational theorists who were writing as early as the Civil War about the power of education.

These people - folks like Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, Anna Julia Cooper Charlotte Forten - these teachers - these educators truly believed that education could close socioeconomic gaps between blacks and whites.

And they were holding black students to rigorous standards. What that meant differed from person to person. For W.E.B. Du Bois, it was really a college preparation curriculum that he was interested in. We know that Booker T. Washington had some different ideas. He was interested in the moral education and one that was more vocational in nature. But regardless, these different black educators really felt that the role of the teacher was to uplift poor children. And that is something that has truly stuck with us today.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, we're talking about teaching and how it became America's most embattled profession. My guest is Dana Goldstein, the author of the new book "The Teacher Wars." Let's take a short break, then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.

(MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is Dana Goldstein. We're talking about her new book "The Teacher Wars: A History Of America's Most Embattled Profession." Let's talk a little bit about the history of teachers' unions. When do teachers first organize into a union?

GOLDSTEIN: So the teachers' union movement dates back to about 1897. And it is born in Chicago. And what we see at the time is 97 percent of Chicago teachers are female. And yet we have a reform community in the city of Chicago that's led by William Rainey Harper, the president of the University of Chicago, that is very concerned with bringing more male educators into the profession. So first in the early 19th century, we had this push to make teaching a female profession.

A hundred years later, reformers are saying, maybe this was not such a good idea. We have all these uneducated women teaching. They're not tough enough to do the job. We have 60-student classrooms. Do women really have the starch? Do they have the guts necessary to deal with these big classrooms full of immigrant kids? And so what they decide to do is lower women teacher salaries in Chicago in order to attract more men and pay men more. And the female teachers organized. They launched the Chicago Teachers Federation, and they say, this is just simply not fair. We're not going to stand for this.

GROSS: So teachers don't get the right to collective bargain until the 1960s. So what happened to the union that it became strong enough to get that?

GOLDSTEIN: Well, public-sector unionization happened. And laws were passed that allowed collective bargaining in the public sector. So that was the really big thing.

GROSS: So there's a dispute between the American Federation of Teachers - the big teachers' union - and a community of activists and parents in a predominantly African-American neighborhood in Brooklyn, called Ocean Hill-Brownsville. And that conflict actually sets the stage, you write, for a lot of conflicts that came after. So tell us the important points of that conflict that will help us understand some of the things happening today in education.

GOLDSTEIN: Sure. So Ocean Hill-Brownsville is a very segregated part of Central Brooklyn. It's a community that's over 95 percent black and Latino. And the teachers' union at the time knew that this was a pretty bad school. We see the kids in this particular district, a number of schools in the district, wandering the hallways. They're not necessarily in class. Most of the teachers in the school are very inexperienced, one or two years in the classroom.

And the parents are saying, look, this isn't working for our kids. We had hoped that the schools would desegregate. We had hoped that our kids would be able to attend better schools, would maybe be bussed out of the district to attend better schools. And then the New York City school board really didn't allow that to happen at any large scale. So what we're going to do as parents, as activists is we're going to take over this school. And they had support from the Ford Foundation, financial and advocacy support - to do that. And the mayor of New York at the time, John Lindsay, ended up embracing this, quote-unquote, "community control movement."

And the movement really had a lot to do with black power, which was gaining strength in the late '60s and early '70s, and the idea that African Americans were asking to be in charge of their own institutions. And this was highly problematic for the teachers' union in New York City, the United Federation of Teachers, led at the time, of course, by Al Shanker, who is such a famous and infamous figure. And two-thirds of the teachers at the school were white and Jewish, and the principal who came in - the African-American principal - who was selected by the community, he started firing people. And this led to the largest teacher strike in American history.

GROSS: What did the teachers want compared to what the community members wanted?

GOLDSTEIN: The teachers wanted a few things. They wanted to be in charge of the curriculum of the schools. That was one big thing. They also wanted the right at the time to eject unruly or misbehaving students from the classroom. And this had actually been an issue back in the late 19th century. When the female teachers in Chicago first organized, they also asked for this right. If a kid is misbehaving, I want to toss that kid from my class so I can focus with the rest of the children on the lesson. And this is very controversial. Of course when you toss a child from class, they're not learning anything anymore.

And by the time the late 1960s rolls around, black and Hispanic parents are saying, why is it always our kids that are the ones that get thrown out? Maybe these white teachers don't have an effective discipline strategy with our children, and if we're in charge of the school and we select the principal and we choose the teachers, we can show them how to discipline our kids. So the parents are asking for something very different.

The parents also want to focus more on basics in this particular community. They want a lot of effort made to really get the kids up to speed, up to grade level, in reading and math. And these are things that the teachers' union is not focused on. The teachers' union has other ideas about how to improve schools. They're pushing at the city level for pre-K, which we know historically is a great idea. So they had ideas, too, but they were just a little bit different.

GROSS: What do you think the legacy of this dispute is?

GOLDSTEIN: Yeah. So the teachers' union pretty much wins this fight. The experimenting community control ends after the strike. The mayor just becomes completely exhausted by the fact that the teachers are out of work, the kids are missing school. It becomes a huge national scandal. So the teachers' unions win.

And what happens in subsequent years is that they gain a huge political advantage. We see teachers having some pay raises in this time. Their pensions are quite generous. They're very effective at organizing politically, especially within the Democratic Party and in urban politics. And we see a resentment building around this. Even though we know that things like higher teacher pay are sometimes associated with better outcomes for children, we see the public and we see parents beginning to question if teachers' unions have kids interests at heart. And this is a political movement and a political question that continues to gather steam in the coming decades.

GROSS: Dana Goldstein will be back in the second half of the show. Her new book is called "The Teacher Wars: A History Of America's Most Embattled Profession." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(MUSIC)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross, back with journalist Dana Goldstein, author of the new book "The Teacher Wars: A History Of America's Most Embattled Profession." The book traces the history of public school teaching in America and also reports on some of the controversies surrounding teaching today.

GROSS: One of the most controversial issues in education today is the standards and accountability movement - the increase in the number of standardized tests that students have to take, how teachers are evaluated based on the results of those tests, how schools are evaluated based on the results of these tests. You trace that movement back to President Reagan. What does he initiate that starts off that movement?

GOLDSTEIN: So President Reagan appointed a guy named Terrel Bell to be his secretary of education. And Terrel Bell appoints a commission that writes a report called "A Nation At Risk." And "A Nation At Risk" says that American schools are failing - that the Japanese and the Russians and the Chinese are overtaking us, especially in math and science. And they blame quite a bit of this on teachers - the idea that teachers are not well educated enough - that they don't have high enough SAT scores. And they call for some big changes.

GROSS: What changes?

GOLDSTEIN: Well, they ask states to institute standardized testing programs, so that we can really see how the states and how the children are doing. And we see most of the states respond and start these big standardized testing pushes. And with all this data that comes in - all these kids' test scores - we see this education reform push in this panic about achievement gaps gather steam.

And it is all this data that people start to use to ask the question - hey, can we look at kids test scores and use that to judge teachers? And from this we see the development of what today is called value-added measurement of teachers, which is the practice developed by economists of taking kids test scores and using that to draw conclusions about the individual classroom teacher.

GROSS: So if you're a teacher today in a public school, what kind of standardized testing do you have to keep up with?

GOLDSTEIN: No Child Left Behind, which was President George W. Bush's policy, required annual testing in reading and math in third through eighth grades, as well as in high school. So this was sort of the first time that the federal government asked states to test kids every single year. And immediately, teachers felt a lot more pressure around these test scores than they ever had before.

President Obama has taken that a step further. With his No Child Left Behind tweaks and his reform program Race to the Top, he has asked states if they want federal funding to grade every single teacher who is working based on whether or not they improve student performance. And what most schools and states have decided to do in order to get that money is to institute more testing, so that they can measure teachers work.

So we see what I really believe and what I write about in the book is the moment in American mystery that is more obsessed with standardized testing than any other. And even though there was a big testing push during the 1920s, I really, truly believe that we have more focus on tests today than ever before.

GROSS: What are some of the arguments for and against this emphasis on standardized testing to measure not only the performance of students but the performance of teachers and schools?

GOLDSTEIN: Well, I think the biggest argument for testing is that it allows us to see achievement gaps. So for example, because of No Child Left Behind, we can really see for the first time, like - how are our African-American children performing compared to white kids? How are poor children performing compared to middle-class kids? What about our special ed. kids? What about our immigrant children who are still learning English? It's very important to have research and data on important questions like this, so I support gathering this data from a research perspective.

I think the big argument against testing is that when you incentivize adults to raise student test scores, you see a number of effects on kids that don't get talked about probably as much as they should. You see the curriculum kind of narrowing. So on those things that we don't test, we don't focus on them because the adults are so focused on getting the kids to score better on the test. And especially in high poverty schools, you see test prep become the de facto curriculum.

And, you know, even recently the secretary of education, Arne Duncan, has said, this testing push is sucking the oxygen out of the room in many schools. That is the phrase he used. And it was really astounding because since 2009, the Obama administration has been pushing this testing stuff. And for Arne Duncan to now be coming in and saying, let's slow down - I admit that there's unintended consequences - it's pretty astounding. And it certainly reflects what I saw around the country when I was reporting the chapters of this book that takes place in the present day.

GROSS: What are some of the frustrations you see teachers having, faced with these standardized tests?

GOLDSTEIN: They don't like what it's doing to the curriculum. So a teacher that I interviewed in Colorado, for example - she teaches elementary school art. And she would like to be creating art with her kids - painting and drawing and sculpture. But instead she's actually lecturing them to prepare them for a multiple-choice test in art that they're going to take, which asks questions like - what colors do you see up on the blackboard? And, you know, what are the qualities of a line? And she said to me, you know, some of those things are good things to teach kids. But when they come into class, and I say, you're going to be taking a multiple-choice test today or preparing for a multiple-choice test today instead of creating art - she just really worries about what's that doing to their passion for her subject - whether they like coming to school. And you see that kids are having 25, 30 standardized testing days per year. This is a big chunk of the time kids are spending in school.

GROSS: How does the Common Core standards figure into the testing?

GOLDSTEIN: So the Common Core standards are just in English and math, primarily. And there's going to be new tests that are attached to these higher standards, and those tests are going to be used to evaluate teachers. And what's going on now is that Arne Duncan is saying, let's hold off on that a year for states that don't feel that they're ready for that, because what we did is we created new, higher standards and asked teachers to meet them. And we didn't really give them any time to learn the new standards before we started judging them on how well they were doing. So Arne Dennis is saying, let's hold off on the accountability side of this for at least a year while we give teachers the opportunity to learn this new set of standards for learning.

GROSS: So you describe the new Common Core standards as being driven by governments, philanthropists and the teacher's union. And you say, it became the first politically viable, nationwide curricular reform in American history. So just describe the basics of what the Common Core standards is.

GOLDSTEIN: So what we saw is that the teacher's unions, the philanthropists who fund education, like the Gates Foundation, and a lot of education advocates all came together. And they saw that with No Child Left Behind, we had asked states to create tests, but we hadn't put any standards on what those tests were.

So you saw states like Alabama and Mississippi creating pretty easy tests - easy tests to pass. So what a child knows in Mississippi if they get an 80 percent on the test is totally different from what a child knows in Massachusetts if they get 80 percent on the test. So the Common Core was an attempt to kind of standardize this nationwide.

And these advocates and the unions and the philanthropists all came together. They created the set of standards in English and math. I think the standards are quite good. And then they went around the country, asking state legislatures, will you pass a law saying that says your schools have to use these standards? And most of the states initially did agree to that.

GROSS: Another issue you raised in your book is that as a result of standardized testing and perhaps the Core Curriculum, as well, there's a lot more paperwork that both teachers and principals are responsible for. Can you tackle a bit about that and about the complaints that you've heard in your reporting from teachers and principals?

GOLDSTEIN: I'm so glad you asked about this because it's such a banal-sounding topic - paperwork. But actually, it's a really big deal. What we see is that Race to the Top asks states to evaluate teachers every single year - every single teacher, every single year.

GROSS: And this is an Obama administration program?

GOLDSTEIN: Yes, it is. And it's a big burden on principals, especially because when you look at these evaluation systems that have become so popular, they sometimes have 22, 42, 62 different standards that teachers have to meet.

So when the principal's going into the classroom to observe the teacher's lesson, he may have to look at 60 different activities that the teacher's supposed to be doing during that time and fill out, you know, a long spreadsheet on what the teacher does and then conference with the teacher after this and file all this paperwork. And they have to maybe do this three times per year for some teachers, especially novice teachers. So this is a huge administrative burden

And one of the words I hear again and again is impossible. Actually, for principals, this is impossible, especially because an assistant principal or a principal may have up to 30 teachers that they supervise. It's very difficult.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Dana Goldstein. She's the author of the new book "The Teacher Wars: A History Of America's Most Embattled Profession." Let's take a short break, then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.

(MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is Dana Goldstein. We're talking about her new book "The Teacher Wars: A History Of America's Most Embattled Profession." Let's talk about another very controversial aspect of teaching today, which is tenure. Why is tenure so controversial today?

GOLDSTEIN: Well, tenure is so controversial because it provides greater job security than almost any other American who's not a teacher has. And when I interviewed Randi Weingarten, who's the head of the national teachers' union, the American Federation of Teachers, about this, she said, oh, yeah, I mean, we are so privileged compared to most workers. I mean, she totally just admits that.

And so this is why tenure is controversial. People say, I don't have this sort of protection, you know, if my boss wants to fire me, he can just come in on Monday and just fire me. Why should teachers deserve more than that? And I do think there's some good arguments why, but often the conversation gets boiled down to something very simplistic.

GROSS: Why does tenure exist? What are the roots of tenure?

GOLDSTEIN: Tenure dates back to 1909. And at the time, it was something that school reformers and teachers' unions actually agreed about. They looked over at the Prussian, the German education system, which was very admired in the United States at the time, and they noticed that teachers there had more job security and that the sort of low pay that teachers earned was offset by the promise that you could hold onto your job for a long time and that you would get a pension at the end when you retired. So school reformers and unions wanted to bring this system to the United States, especially because at the time it was not unusual for teachers to be laid off or fired for very bad reasons, such as they were pregnant, they were black, they didn't get along with the mayor. These were all very typical occurrences back then.

GROSS: Can we add to that list having unpopular political views?

GOLDSTEIN: Yes, absolutely. This happened all the time. And teachers who opposed standardized testing or IQ testing, which was very popular at that time, were often retaliated against.

GROSS: So where do you see tenure heading now? Are there compromises that people are talking about between the current system and ending tenure altogether?

GOLDSTEIN: Well, two-thirds of the states have weakened their tenure laws in response to President Obama's Race To The Top program. So tenure as it existed back then, it doesn't hardly exist anymore. We see states passing laws that say, if a teacher gets two bad evaluations in a row, this teacher loses their tenure protection. So this is the status quo in many states, and it's becoming more and more the status quo.

So there is a national push right now to sue to make tenure totally illegal. We saw that in California with the Vergara case that was ruled in June. Now we see two copycat lawsuits in New York that advocates are saying they're going to bring this across the country. And what I keep saying is, well, we're in this national sort of slower-moving collaborative process in which teachers' unions are coming to the table to reassess tenure. Is everyone going to sort of go back into the corner and get scared because it's now becoming this aggressive fight in the courts?

GROSS: I want (loss of audio) which are very controversial now. What was the initial ideal of a charter school?

GOLDSTEIN: The initial idea of the charter school, which was fully supported by Al Shanker, the national teachers' union head back in the 1980s, was that it would be a teacher-led school. So teams of teachers would start an innovative new school that was freed from a lot of intervention from government to try new ideas. And when they tried these new ideas, other schools would look and see and would adopt those best practices. That was the original idea. It didn't really turn out that way.

GROSS: So compare that to the charter school movement now.

GOLDSTEIN: The charter school movement is now dominated by nonunionized schools. The people who start charter schools tend not to be teams of teachers, but to be sort of reformers who come into it from an administrative perspective with a much more top-down vision. We see big networks, like the KIPP network, Achievement First, launching national charter school chains. These are mostly nonprofits, but some are for-profit schools.

One other thing that's important to note about charter schools is a lot of them have adopted a pedagogical stance called No Excuses. And this combines a sort of back-to-basic curriculum, a lot of focus on standardized test prep in many of these schools and strict discipline - sometimes uniforms for kids. So not all charter schools are that way. There are some very progressive charter schools. But the sort of popular image of a charter school is very much in this no excuses, nonunionized vein.

GROSS: So a lot of charter schools are funded by foundations. The Gates Foundation, which is the foundation started by Bill and Melinda Gates, is very active in funding schools - funding charter schools - can you talk about the changing role of private foundations now in American schools?

GOLDSTEIN: Yeah. One of the interesting things about the Gates Foundation is that a lot of their interests in education have been replicated in President Obama's policies. He's interested in data-driven reforms, which is not surprising. He's a corporate leader, and he's always believed that with numbers, you can make better decisions. And the way that this transferred over to his educational priorities is that he became very interested in value-added measurement - the use of students' test scores to evaluate teachers and schools. And he put a lot of funding into incentivizing schools to do that.

He also put a lot of funding into the No Excuses charter school sector because these were run by principals and administrators who believed in this data-driven vision. And what we see with President Obama is that he has followed in the Gates steps in terms of determining where federal dollars go. So there's this convergence of national government dollars and philanthropic money.

GROSS: Are the foundations in conflict with the teachers union? Do they have a different set of goals?

GOLDSTEIN: Well, Bill Gates and the national union leader Randi Weingarten would say that they get along better now than they did in the past. I think that's in part because as Bill Gates saw his policies rolling out in schools, he actually came to admit that there were some negative consequences of all of this push on standardized testing.

I mean, I asked him about the state of Florida, which plans to test kids in music and art, and he told me - which I report in my book - that sounds like too much. That sounds like too much too fast, it's ridiculous. We need to slow some of this down. So the unions have watched him evolve with great pleasure because they predicted some of these negative consequences. What I think is lagging now is the national and the state level response.

GROSS: A recommendation that you make at the end of your book - you say make teaching an attractive, challenging job that intelligent, creative and ambitious people will gravitate toward. Is there something that you think is holding back many intelligent, creative and ambitious people from becoming teachers?

GOLDSTEIN: Yes. The profession is very flat in two senses. First, it's flat in terms of pay. So for example, over the first five years of a teacher's career here in New York City, you can earn about a $5,000 raise. In North Carolina, it takes 15 years to jump from $30,000 to $40,000. And this is pretty astounding.

In most other professions over the course of your 20s and 30s, you can make some big leaps in terms of your salary. We're asking teachers to wait many, many decades to achieve that upper-middle-class salary. So the flat pay, especially early in the career, that's something that we need to deal with.

Secondly, it's flat in terms of opportunities for advancement. We don't give teachers the opportunity to grow their level of responsibility without becoming, say, a principal. So I've been talking a little bit about teachers mentoring one another. And that's one really important thing we can do. We need to offer teachers the opportunity to be recognized as leaders while them remaining in the classroom working with kids, working with other adults as well.

GROSS: Anything else you would really like to see, any other reforms you would really like to see in the school system?

GOLDSTEIN: Well, I think something that's very important to talk about and doesn't get talked about these days as much as it should is the fact that our school system is so deeply segregated. So we have almost half of black and Latino children in deeply segregated schools. And we know these schools experience the most turnover in terms of teachers and administrators. They struggle very much retaining staff.

And there are good models for integrating our schools. It has to come from a combination of housing policy - making sure that low-income housing is dispersed throughout cities and throughout regions and not clustered. And it can also come through things like charter schools and magnet schools, schools that draw their student populations from a broader area as opposed to just one neighborhood.

When these two sort of things, education and housing policy, work together, we can do more to create socioeconomically and racially integrated schools through choice. And this is really important because the mid-century desegregation movement in the United States really got tripped up on busing and the fact that people were being bused who did not want to be bussed. And there are better models these days and I think it's very important that we look at those.

GROSS: Dana Goldstein, thank you so much for talking with us.

GOLDSTEIN: Thank you so much.

GROSS: Dana Goldstein is the author of the new book "The Teacher Wars: The History Of America's Most Embattled Profession." Coming up, tech contributor Alexis Madrigal considers how apps and websites are changing how we make restaurant reservations - for better or worse. This is FRESH AIR.

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