The Teacher-Tenure Debate

I wrote in my last Editor’s letter (“Honor Thy Teacher,” Nov. 3) about the vital role teachers play. Recognizing and rewarding great teachers should be a national priority. Union leaders, however, are charging that by writing about legal efforts to remove bad teachers from classrooms, with the cover line “Rotten Apples,” TIME has insulted all teachers; some of them have launched protests and petition drives. In fact, TIME has nothing but admiration for America’s dedicated teachers and their commitment to excellence. We view education as crucial to America’s success, and it concerns me if teachers who have not had a chance to read our coverage have heard it mischaracterized.

Our mission is to spur discussion of important issues, and in the interest of an informed debate, I am making the story free for all readers on TIME.com, (time.com/teachers), so everyone can judge for themselves. I also invited union leaders, students, parents, teachers and administrators to share their views. Many factors play a role in student success, which ensures that there are many views and agendas at play in the debate over school reform. Visit time.com/teachertenure to read their responses.

Nancy Gibbs, EDITOR



Honor Thy Teacher

Mrs. Flanagan. Miss Raymond. Mr. Schwartz. Those are mine, but if you’re lucky you have them too, the teachers who seeded our imaginations and shaped our characters. Years later, nothing makes me more grateful as a parent than my daughters’ encounters with classroom wizards.

Teachers matter: one Texas study found that cutting class size by 10 students was not as beneficial as even modest improvement in the teacher. A McKinsey survey of the world’s best schools–in Finland, South Korea, Singapore–found that they consistently draw 100% of their teachers from the top third of graduates; in the U.S., almost half come from the bottom third. That may explain why our kids’ performance falls below that of students in Estonia and why one-third of those who make it to college in the U.S. need remedial education.

In her cover story, Haley Sweetland Edwards tracks a crusade led by some deep-pocketed education reformers. Rather than working incrementally through traditional channels, they have gone to court: Is a bad teacher a violation of a student’s civil rights? And if so, are tenure rules that keep bad teachers in classrooms unconstitutional?

Edwards was struck in her reporting by the messiness of education politics. “In most cases, if you know that someone is a Democrat or a Republican, you pretty much know how they stand on a given policy question,” she observes. “In education, all bets are off. That’s compounded by the strange politics of Silicon Valley, where liberal libertarianism is in the drinking water.” Edwards joined TIME last spring in our Washington bureau, and this is her first cover story. As the daughter of a former California public-school teacher and the wife of a Washington, D.C., charter-school teacher, she has now ensured that Thanksgiving dinner will be especially lively this year.

Nancy Gibbs, EDITOR


As TIME’s White House photographer for 20 years, Diana Walker covered Presidents Reagan, Bush and Clinton. But the range of formal and behind-the-scenes images of Hillary Clinton (shown here before a 2008 Late Show appearance) that fill her new 212-page book, Hillary, have won her some of the widest acclaim. In a new TIME video, Walker talks about a few of her favorite images, including one of a beaming First Lady, with her husband at a Philadelphia event, wearing a baseball cap. “The baseball cap is usually saved for the President,” she says. Watch the video at time.com/walker.


Searching for the bottom line on dubious foods can drive you bananas. In “Should I Eat This?”–a new feature that polls five experts on a different food each week–TIME synthesizes the best available information to answer your gnawing questions. Here, a preview of the full series, available at time.com/eat


The great breakfast conundrum was a hit with 4 out of 5 experts, who love eggs for their vitamins, luscious neon yolks and even their healthy effect on cholesterol.


Experts go weak in the knees for cheese. All waxed on about the taste–“Pleasure is good for health,” said one–but cheese has real perks too, like calcium and beneficial bacteria.


America’s most popular seafood is served with a big side of ecological baggage, but do health benefits outweigh risks? Stay tuned to find out whether or not shrimp is on the hook.

TIME Education

TIME For Kids Releases New Classroom App

We are excited to share a dynamic teaching tool that combines current events with multimedia content

Can your 5-year-old distinguish between information provided by pictures and information provided by words? Is your 9-year-old able to explain how an author uses evidence to support a claim? Can your 12-year-old analyze the strength of a persuasive debate? These are just a few of the skills students are expected to master in today’s classrooms. It’s a challenging time for teachers, students, and parents. That is why we are thrilled to announce the launch of the TIME For Kids Classroom App. The app is a dynamic teaching tool that combines current events with multimedia content. It helps students in kindergarten through sixth grade acquire literacy skills and gives teachers the resources they need to help students achieve their goals.

This app is two years in the making: In research sessions and classroom visits, teachers told us they needed a tablet app that could deliver a wide range of tools and resources. They told us that

* The app had to provide authentic, informational text to accommodate learners at different skill levels, giving students a window on the world while building knowledge and vocabulary and complementing curriculum;

* Activities, maps, and charts had to be interactive, grabbing and holding kids’ attention;

* Features needed to encourage critical thinking. Text and videos had to spark class discussions and debate, and allow students to interact with their peers;

* The app had to supply teachers with resources, including planning guides and standards-aligned lessons;

* And teachers also needed an easy-to-access assessment tool to allow them to track student progress and pinpoint student needs.

One more thing: teachers insisted the app be fun, tapping into students’ curiosity and love of technology.

Our innovative solution to their requests is an app that has two separate views for each grade level‑one for teachers and the other for students. In the teacher view, Extra Teacher Content and Common Core State Standard tabs provide educators with top-notch reporting and photographs from time.com, standards-aligned lessons and assessment questions, easy access to student quiz results and progress reports. (Because we are committed to safeguarding student and educator privacy, TIME For Kids will not collect any personal information about students. Instead, we have devised a system that gives each teacher control of student pins and IDs. At the end of every school year, student assessment results will be deleted.)

In the student view, a variety of engaging stories explain complex issues, introduce real-world concerns, and explore topics that kids care about. For example, in this week’s app for grades 5 and 6, we informed readers about Malala Yousafzai’s Nobel Peace Prize, explained why volcanoes erupt, and presented a TFK Kid Reporter interview of student favorite, author Rick Riordan. Each week, students are presented with a debate issue or poll question. They can cast a vote and immediately see how other kids around the country feel about a topic. A recent example: 74% of students polled think kids should be allowed to bring their own devices to school, but fewer than 12% think 8-year-olds should own cell phones. Quizzes embedded in the app allow students to gain confidence by exploring the text and multimedia features for answers. The app has a read-aloud feature for the main story and for a lower-level version of that story. It also includes a Spanish-language translation. Most important: Every step of the way, students are encouraged to engage with each other and to enjoy reading, viewing, listening, participating, and learning.

We are committed to helping students become discerning, lifelong readers and to giving them a deeper, richer understanding of our country and the world. Much is asked of kids today. Much more will be demanded of them as they move on to college and the workforce. We hope the Time For Kids weekly classroom app will help smooth the way. The app is available free through December. We hope you will take a look at the samples of it in the iTunes education store and then encourage your children’s teachers to sign up for it at timeforkids.com/tfkapp.


A Risky Business

In her years as Time’s Bureau chief in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Middle East, Aryn Baker, who now covers Africa, has embedded with U.S. soldiers and covered their hazardous missions–but even that did not fully prepare her for the risks of reporting from Liberia on the war against Ebola. News of the first confirmed case in the U.S. underscores what her reporting shows: unless much more is done much more quickly, the toll of the disease in West Africa could grow exponentially, destabilizing whole parts of the continent and, in the most dire CDC projection, striking as many as 1.4 million people by January.

The challenge in covering this story is physical, certainly, but it is more than that. Putting on the required protective gear is relatively easy: Tyvek bodysuit, hood, goggles, face mask, rain boots with booties over them, one pair of gloves taped to her sleeves, then another on top of them, so not an inch of skin shows. “It doesn’t take long for the whole contraption to start fogging up with sweat, heat and humidity,” Aryn says, “so it’s helpful to be taking video on my iPad–that way I can review the footage later, when I’m not peering through a foggy mask.”

The dangerous part is getting out of the suit, making sure that the outside layers, which are potentially contaminated, don’t make contact with the inside layers. This means being sprayed down with a chlorine solution, leaning forward to take off the goggles, making sure no sweat runs down into her eyes. More chlorine, then a gradual removal of layers, more spraying, until she bundles up all her protective gear and throws it in a garbage bag to be incinerated. “The process takes about 10 minutes, but it feels like much longer because I am concentrating all the time on not making any mistakes,” she says. “When I’m out with the body-collecting team or the ambulance team, I will do this five or six times in a day.”

“At night I sometimes wake up in a panic, thinking about the time I touched my face with my gloves by accident, or how I leaned against a wall to steady the camera,” she adds. She keeps a thermometer by her bed, so she can check her temperature to make sure she is not running a fever.

It is strange to be in a place where you can’t touch anything: no shaking hands, no comforting a woman whose mother has just died, no tap on the back when she wants to get someone’s attention. “I never thought before how much touching is a part of how we communicate,” Aryn says. “I saw a little girl the same age as my daughter fall down in the street the other day, and it went against every instinct I have as a mother not to rush in and pick her up. One of the nurses at the temporary orphanage I visited told me that sometimes she puts on a protective suit just so she could hug a crying child in need of comfort.”

Aryn has become used to the sight of death, even people left to die in the streets because there is no place for them to go. But every day also brings examples of a deep and abiding compassion and courage on the part of caregivers: the Liberian nurse who spent three times the recommended time in her moon suit so she could meet each patient’s needs; the American educator who has turned her school into a short-term orphanage for children whose parents have died of Ebola and whose relatives won’t take them in for fear they also carry the disease.

That, too, is a part of this story: when the worst that nature throws at us uncovers the best that human nature affords.

Nancy Gibbs, EDITOR


The Highest Sacrifice

The observation that truth is the first casualty of war has been variously attributed to Aeschylus 2,500 years ago and to Senator Hiram Johnson during World War I, but it is no less true today. In modern warfare, journalists are among the first responders, seeking out truth in the turmoil and wreckage, wherever it takes them.

This has always been dangerous, difficult work; it requires courage, certainly, but also judgment, subtlety, discipline, humanity. Twenty-first century war adds new risks: more and more often there are no front lines, no central command, no rules of engagement–only a chaotic collision of politics, power, faith and bloodlust. Victims are as likely to be civilians as soldiers.

Steven Sotloff, the freelance journalist who was beheaded by ISIS militants, like reporter James Foley before him, was determined to tell that story. He had reported for TIME from Libya and Turkey, eager to explore the human side of global events. I did not know Steven, but many of my colleagues from TIME and other news organizations did. He was a generous peer; the best stringers are like that, passionate about the story they are covering and eager to help others get it right and tell it well. When U.S.-based editors and columnists parachute into a news storm, it is often the stringers who keep us out of trouble, helping us glimpse the complexity behind the headlines. “As a visiting bigfoot in dangerous places,” Time’s Joe Klein says, “I’d always meet these men and women at the hotel bar–or the military helipad, waiting for a lift–and I would ask them questions, and their enthusiasm and knowledge and humanity were extraordinary. I’d buy them drinks; they gave me wisdom.”

Steven Sotloff was typical of the breed in his love for the region he covered and his deep curiosity about its people and culture. On Twitter he called himself a “stand-up philosopher from Miami.” He was drawn to the Middle East not by the battles but by the opportunity, says his friend Barak Barfi, to “give a voice to the people who didn’t have one.” He went to Yemen to study Arabic, and to Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Turkey and eventually Syria. TIME correspondent Aryn Baker recalls reporting with him in February 2011, when Bahraini citizens first rose up in protest against their government. He was generous with his contacts and eager to share stories of people he had encountered while reporting. Proficient in Arabic, he helped translate for reporters with rival organizations.

The Syrian civil war, which began in March 2011, has been even more dangerous than most, and at TIME we’ve been very careful about our coverage. Steven was not on assignment for TIME when he was abducted in August 2013, and his parents and supporters elected to keep his kidnapping out of the news, hoping that would aid his release. After Foley’s execution, Steven’s mother Shirley Sotloff issued a video plea to ISIS to “grant amnesty” to her son. “Steven is a journalist who traveled to the Middle East to cover the suffering of Muslims at the hands of tyrants,” she said. “He is an honorable man and has always tried to help the weak.”

That effort, along with a rescue attempt by U.S. Special Forces, was unsuccessful; a video of Sotloff’s beheading was released on Sept. 2. For America and the world, the brutality flaunted by ISIS like a twisted form of jihadist branding was a crime against humanity. It was also an attack on values that, in life and death, Steven ennobled for all of us. Decisionmaking in a democracy depends above all on knowledge, and not just the intel available to Presidents and policymakers. If we don’t have people on the ground, watching and working and reporting from inside these conflicts, we cannot understand and judge, as viewers, as voters, as citizens. But reporting up close has become ever more hazardous. “As both insurgent groups and the governments they fight have become more sensitive to how they are portrayed,” says the Committee to Protect Journalists, “journalists have been squeezed between threat of violent attack from one side and pressure of censorship or prosecution from the other.” Nearly three dozen journalists have been killed this year, with Syria and Iraq the most deadly countries.

We mourn and honor Steven Sotloff and James Foley and their colleagues around the world who have paid the ultimate price to defend the essence of freedom: the ability to question, to learn, to decide for ourselves.


This appears in the September 22, 2014 issue of TIME.

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