THE ROLE OF TEACHERS
A career in education is getting harder and harder to pursue. The forces of privatization are changing the educator’s job description to that of a part time worker, untrained, and in transition to a higher paying career in the private sector. The public bashing of teachers continues…and fewer college students are going into education. I wonder why?
Classroom teachers, especially those who are just out of college and entering the profession, are more stressed and less valued than at any previous time in our history.
They have to listen to a long list of politicians who belittle their ability, blame them for every student whose grades do not reach arbitrary standards, and want to take away every fringe benefit they have — everything from the possibility of achieving tenure to receiving a decent pension.
Do we, as a nation, really want to retain excellent teachers? Do the “reformers” want professional educators? In Indiana, the legislature and the Board of Education have been lowering the qualifications for educators at all levels. Is that how to improve teaching and learning?
It’s hard to look at what’s happening to public education and not come to the conclusion that we are doing everything we can to make the difficult job of teaching even more difficult. The profession of teaching, from which all other professions emerge, is being systematically dismantled. Teachers are being punished for their career choice.
Fewer benefits, less job security, lower (or no) pensions…all the benefits that used to make up for the long hours and relatively low salary (compared to others with similar training and investment)…are disappearing. The 50% of teachers who leave before their 5th year will increase until the field of education is just a part time job with a revolving door.
Are we serious about improving education? It certainly doesn’t appear so.
If we really want to retain teachers, we need to recruit motivated and intelligent people, support them in becoming excellent teachers, provide them with opportunities to direct school programs and curricula, and finally ask their help in supporting a new wave of incoming teachers.
This is far easier said than done. We are currently directing most of our money and energy getting on board with common core and finding quick gimmicks for improving data that matters to administrators and districts, but does not always translate into real learning and growth, and often harms it.
It escapes me how we can improve education by lowering standards for educators, increasing class size, demoralizing teachers and closing schools.
Wouldn’t you think that a Harvard professor would see some relationship between the scandalously high rate of child poverty in the United States–about 23%–and low scores on international tests?
The rest of the article is an effort to shift the blame to teachers for what he claims is mediocrity. If only we could get “the best and the brightest!”
If only the professor would explain how the teaching profession will improve when state after state is demoralizing teachers with unproven evaluations based on test scores, stripping away protection for academic freedom, cutting benefits, and lowering standards for new teachers.
I’m retired. I paid for my “pension” with 3% of my salary every year I taught. Put another way…if I had taken 3% of my salary every year and invested it we would call that a “retirement account.” When the state of Indiana does that for me it’s called a “pension.” It’s the same money…payment to me for services rendered…that is saved and invested.
Let’s get this straight once and for all: public employee pensions are deferred compensation. The pensions are not “financed by the taxpayers”; they are financed by public employees who defer pay in a deal that is good for the taxpayer.
WHEN “REFORM” MEETS REALITY
People who have been pushing testing as the be-all and end-all of education are now backpedaling in the wake of the cheating scandal(s) in Atlanta (and Washington D.C.). EdGator (aka John Kuhn) explains the turnaround.
There was a time when most prominent education reformers were in lockstep agreement about the unimpeachable utility of using student test scores to judge teacher quality, but that was before the dogged pursuit of improved test scores went so horribly awry in Atlanta. Recent days have seen some very interesting moves, as several major education reform proponents have suddenly decided they basically agree with Diane Ravitch regarding the negative consequences arising from the inappropriate use of student performance data.
Bill Gates wrote an op-ed in which he expressed shock and dismay that people around the country are using student test scores improperly in evaluating teachers. As Anthony Cody notes, however, Gates was as responsible as anyone for today’s almost religious commitment to wielding student test scores as a significant factor in evaluating teachers…
Here’s another example of the damage done by people who have no clue about education messing about with education.
New Jersey has recently released its new regulations for implementing teacher evaluation policies, with heavy reliance on student growth percentile scores, ultimately aggregated to the teacher level as median growth percentiles. When challenged about whether those growth percentile scores will accurately represent teacher effectiveness, specifically for teachers serving kids from different backgrounds, NJ Commissioner Christopher Cerf explains:
“You are looking at the progress students make and that fully takes into account socio-economic status,” Cerf said. “By focusing on the starting point, it equalizes for things like special education and poverty and so on.” (emphasis added)
…Here’s the thing about that statement. Well, two things. First, the comparisons of individual students don’t actually explain what happens when a group of students is aggregated to their teacher and the teacher is assigned the median student’s growth score to represent his/her effectiveness, where teacher’s don’t all have an evenly distributed mix of kids who started at similar points (to other teachers). So, in one sense, this statement doesn’t even address the issue.
Destroy public education in order to improve it.
In their world, better public schools can be had only by siphoning off students and money into charter and private schools, and by eliminating the cap on class sizes in the lower grades, a factor that has been shown to improve academic achievement. At the same time, the same group of lawmakers is working to put tight caps on preschool education, another success story in education.
No, the way the Honorables in the General Assembly are going, the result can only be weaker public schools left with fewer resources to teach the very students the so-called educational improvements were designed to help. Is that their actual intent?
Mayor Emanuel wouldn’t send his children to a public school with 30 plus students in a class. He sends his children to a private school (Arne Duncan’s Alma Mater) where the class sizes are in the low 20s.
It’s a formula, for example, that will peg a school’s utilization as “efficient” (rather than “overcrowded”) if that school has 36 students in each of its “allotted homerooms.”
Using that same formula, a CPS elementary school with just 23 kids in each of its “allotted homerooms” would find itself on the district’s “underutilized” list, which, in 2013, is the first step on the road to being shut down.
At the mayor’s kids’ school, however, elementary classes are considered “full” if there are 23 students in the classroom.
But rest assured the mayor is not going to add The University of Chicago Laboratory Schools to his school-closings hit list. Nor is he urging Lab management to renegotiate the class-size provisions of its current labor agreement with the AFT Local 2063 teachers who educate his kids.
What’s the Broad Foundation’s solution to schools where students are not performing well? Simple. Close the bad ones and replace them with good ones.
Aggressively close poor-performing schools and replace them with new high-performing schools. States must be much more proactive in this area by refusing to allow chronically underperforming schools to continue operating indefinitely. They should identify, close, and replace at least 10 schools in Program Improvement 5 status each year. Depending on the state, implementation may require coordination among the governor, state chief, and/or state board.
Close the “underperforming” public school (read: high poverty) and replace it with a charter* with a new staff of lower paid, under-trained, overworked teachers, replace the administration with under-trained entrepreneurs, raise class sizes, and “counsel out” or otherwise remove students who score low on tests and voilà, a “good school.” Why didn’t anyone think of that before?
Would any “reformers” send their children to a school with no school library? What would they say if their school was underfunded? Linda Darling-Hammond focuses on what really matters in education.
Policymakers have tied more and more decisions to test scores. They factor into whether students will be promoted or graduated, how much teachers will be paid, and whether they will remain employed, whether schools will receive rewards or sanctions–including, with recent policies, whether their staffs will be fired or whether they will be closed entirely. Recent cheating scandals, like those in Atlanta and Washington DC, are one result of this pressure. But cheating is rare, and there are far more wide-reaching negative consequences of this obsession…
…focusing on test-based accountability deflects attention from critical problems that need to be solved: higher rates of childhood poverty–nearly one in four children–and homelessness than any in the industrialized world; state funding systems that often spend more than twice as much on affluent schools as on poor ones; crumbling schools in many poor communities that lack textbooks, libraries, computers, and safe facilities. These disparities account for much more of the achievement gap than the effects of individual teachers, but they are tougher to confront.
From September until Christmas vacation, [Brookside] was like any school you would imagine. Then, once they got back from Christmas break, for the next nine weeks until testing began, it was a different animal. What they did was drop their curriculum, drop their texts, and instead study exclusively from a standardized-test prep book. Kids weren’t getting a liberal arts education, but prepping to a very narrowly drawn standardized test in primarily language arts and math. Because they were interested in passing the test more than anything else, for that 22 percent of the school year, they taught primarily to the broad middle section of kids that were going to pass. Plus, the school went and reached out to those kids who they thought were on the cusp of possibly passing. So who gets left out? The kids at the bottom and the kids at the top.
The unprecedented level of economic inequality in America is undeniable….Bill Moyers shares examples of the striking extremes of wealth and poverty across the country, including a video report on California’s Silicon Valley. There, Facebook, Google, and Apple are minting millionaires, while the area’s homeless — who’ve grown 20 percent in the last two years — are living in tent cities at their virtual doorsteps.
“A petty, narcissistic, pridefully ignorant politics has come to dominate and paralyze our government,” says Moyers, “while millions of people keep falling through the gaping hole that has turned us into the United States of Inequality.”
The “United States of Inequality” is the major cause of the “achievement gap” in education.
UNICEF’s data is important for measuring the share of children who are substantively poorer than their national average, which has important implications for the cost of food, housing, health care and other essentials. Its research shows that children are more likely to fall below this relative poverty line in the United States than in almost any other developed country.
But the picture looks even worse when you examine just how far below the relative poverty line these children tend to fall. The UNICEF report looks at something it calls the “child poverty gap,” which measures how far the average poor child falls below the relative poverty line. It does this by measuring the gap between the relative poverty line and the average income of poor families.
Alarmingly, the United States also scores second-to-last on this measurement, with the average poor child living in a home that makes 36 percent less than the relative poverty line. Only Italy has a wider gap.
*References to charters generally imply corporate, for-profit charter schools. Quotes from other writers reflect their opinions only. See It’s Important to Look in a Mirror Now and Then.