An important element to getting kids to love reading is parents reading to them and with them at home. Here two sisters read books they recently checked out of the library with their grandmother. 

Are we asking teachers to provide parenting and upbringing only families can provide?

Teacher says schools alone can’t fend off cultural changes that devalue reading

Atlanta native Zach Etheridge has been a teacher for more than 30 years, 11 of those as a public school teacher at Lovejoy High School. He was Clayton County Teacher of the Year in 2017. 

Etheridge sent me a note about my piece on the decline in 2019 NAEP reading scores and Betsy DeVos’ contention that the scores affirm the urgent need for school choice. 

“If we embrace education freedom, American students can achieve, American students can compete, American students will lead, and America will win,” she said.

In his comments, Etheridge made a point that merits discussion: We blame our schools for not raising our children better than we do ourselves, and we decry the quality of the teachers we hire to do that job while we refuse to pay for the quality we want. 

I felt his commentary was worth sharing. With his permission, here it is.

By Zach Etheridge

Funny thing isn’t it, how so many people reflexively blame schools for not providing the kind of parenting and upbringing that only families can provide. How are schools supposed to inculcate a love of reading when no one at home models it? 

In poor districts, it’s easy to understand that a kid coming from a home with no books has an excuse for not being an avid reader, but the problem your column describes is not limited to impoverished populations. 

When middle-and upper-class kids all over the country aren’t reading at grade level, the problem clearly is a societal one, not just an issue for one limited demographic or another. 

Zach Etheridge

The way a whole society behaves is called culture, and American culture is changing significantly, not always clearly for the better. Blaming schools for what we don’t like about the way our culture is changing is a cheap out, and an abject failure to confront the real issues in all their breadth and complexity. 

One solution U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos didn’t endorse was more investment in our schools. “It’s way past time we dispense with the idea that more money for school buildings buys better achievement for school students,” she said. 

Her idea of more money for schools seems to extend no further than physical plant (and indeed, some school boards do seem to feel that the more expensive the professional learning building, the better the education teachers will deliver.) It’s odd that DeVos complains of inadequate teacher quality and then advocates no budget increases for teachers; does she really think there’s no correlation? 

Teaching remains a generally respected profession, so poor image isn’t the reason average teachers in my area come from the bottom third of their college class. 

No, the reason is that most people with a good college record and a modicum of ambition readily can earn more than a teacher’s starting salary without the 60- to 80-hour weeks and the stress of constant combat with disruptive students. 

It’s perfectly all right to feel that teaching is noble and those involved should be willing to sacrifice (as they do), but even if you were such an idealist, would you choose edge-of-poverty income when you could do better for your family? 

So, we blame our schools for not raising our children better than we do ourselves, and we decry the quality of the teachers we hire to do that job while we refuse to pay for the quality we want. 

Doesn’t sound like a formula for success, does it?

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About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.
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