Mello: Teachers unfair targets at underperforming schools

About 13 years ago I was finishing up my teacher credential courses at California State University, Stanislaus, anxious to start teaching and begin my career in education. Upon graduating, my colleagues and I applied for jobs within Modesto City Schools and in surrounding districts.

I applied at only two schools -- Franklin Elementary and Tuolumne Elementary, both where I'd done my student teaching under exemplary master teachers, and both within the Modesto City Schools district.

The first school I interviewed at was Tuolumne, and the day after the interview I was graciously offered a job teaching third grade. I accepted. In fact, I didn't even interview at Franklin. I was 23, excited to be starting my career, and honored to be a teacher.

I'm still at Tuolumne, and for the record, I'm still honored.

Tuolumne Elementary does have its share of baggage, however, don't get me wrong. Its students are predominantly second-language learners; parental support is sometimes low because parent education is low; and it's in an area plagued by gang violence. I, like everyone else who teaches there, knew these things going in, but didn't care.

I still don't care, really. Nobody there does. In fact, if you ask any staff member why they continue to teach at Tuolumne, the answer would be the same.

It's because of the kids.

Tuolumne's not the only school with these kinds of demographics. We share these commonalities with several other Modesto schools, such as Fairview, Bret Harte, Burbank, Marshall, Shackelford, Franklin, Orville Wright and Robertson Road Elementary.

Actually there's one other important thing our schools share -- low standardized test scores.

However, despite the lofty, unrealistic goals set forth under the No Child Left Behind legislation, we at these schools see the current state of education without rose-colored glasses and know that despite consistent annual growth on our standardized tests, it's ridiculous to assume every child in the country can be proficient by the year 2014, as the act mandates. Language and social barriers like the ones our schools face make it an impossible task, and it's an insult to intelligence to think otherwise.

But what about the other folks with whom I graduated 13 years ago? Some took positions at more affluent schools in Modesto. Are they more effective educators because their students do better on standardized tests? Of course not.

But that's not what we're being led to believe with the threat of government sanctions like those faced by teachers at Robertson Road Elementary. Quite the contrary. Such threats have crystal-clear implications in the eyes of the public: Replace failing administrators and replace failing teachers or shut down.

Do we, as a society, really believe that it's teacher/

administrator ineptitude that's to blame for lack of sufficient growth on standardized tests, and that it has nothing to do with the capabilities and backgrounds of our students?

How dare anyone suggest that the teachers at Robertson Road, or anywhere else for that matter, are less effective than teachers who teach at more affluent schools -- teachers who may have sat right next to me in the very same classes in the very same credential program! It makes no sense at all.

What's happening to the teachers at Robertson Road is a travesty. It's time that the public understands the differences between the different school populations and both the attributes and obstacles that each faces with regard to learning. Maybe then we'd all be a little more outraged at how our government is making teachers into scapegoats for their unrealistic ideals.

Mello is a Modesto teacher who was a visiting editor with The Bee in 2005. E-mail him at