Posted in Corporate Charters, Public Ed, Teach For America, Teacher Licensing, Teaching Career

Qualified Teachers

THE IMPORTANCE OF QUALIFICATIONS

Last Tuesday (August 27, 2013) Valerie Strauss featured a piece called, How the public is deceived about ‘highly qualified teachers’. It was written by Kenneth Zeichner, who is

  • a professor of teacher education at the University of Washington, Seattle
  • a professor emeritus in the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • a member of the National Academy of Education who has done extensive research on teaching and teacher education
  • a former elementary teacher team leader in the National Teacher Corps.
  • a product of the Philadelphia public school system

Now it’s likely that Professor Zeichner would be disqualified from being an expert on teacher education by the likes of Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, Arne Duncan, Rahm Emanuel and Michelle Rhee…disqualified because he has real life experience in education as opposed to none for Gates, Duncan, et al and only 3 TFA school years for Rhee. For the “reformers” to acknowledge that Professor Zeichner is an expert when it comes to teacher education would be to admit that they know nothing about it and to call into question their apparent goal of sucking the life out of public educators and public education and selling it to the highest bidder.

Nevertheless, Dr. Zeichner’s 40 years as a teacher educator and his degrees in Urban Education and School Organizational Behavior and Change, Teacher Education, are sufficient for me to accept him as an expert. [Of course, those same “reformers” wouldn’t care a whit about my opinion…I am, after all, just a teacher…and a retired one at that!]

In any case, Dr. Zeichner wrote,

Despite the complexity of the issue (e.g., variation in state certification requirements and district hiring practices, controversy over research methods), the weight of the evidence indicates that full certification matters for teacher quality. Recent studies have also shown that teacher experience matters and that the continual teacher “churn” that is associated with the short tenure of many non-certified teachers is disruptive to students’ learning.

In other words, this expert on teacher education teaches us that…

  1. teachers ought to be certified
  2. experience matters
  3. teacher “churn” (teacher as temp) is bad for student learning

This is exactly what Finland figured out on its way to becoming a world leader in education, which is why they increased requirements for becoming a teacher rather than lowering standards for public school educators, like Indiana has done. Truthfully, this is what most of us have known for decades as well, and not just for education.

No one would suggest that we elect a president who had no experience. The founding fathers knew this as well. That’s why they set an age minimum for the president of 35. Anyone younger wouldn’t have the life-experience needed to lead the nation.

No one would suggest that one choose a surgeon with no experience to perform one’s heart surgery. No one would suggest that one choose a beginner to fill one’s prescription, or roof one’s house, or repair one’s car. Beginners — aka apprentices or interns — might assist, but the person doing the work needs to be an expert. Right?

It has always amazed me that business and legal people who insist that “schools be run like a business” complete with CEOs and “Boards of Directors” would then choose to hire inexperienced and inadequately trained people as teachers. Would they do that with their own businesses? Is that how Bill Gates became a multi-billionaire?

CUTTING CORNERS

Perhaps, when it comes to the education of other people’s children, expertise is less important than cutting corners and increasing profit.

The New York Times reports on a charter company which prefers beginners for educators.

At Charter Schools, Short Careers by Choice

HOUSTON — Tyler Dowdy just started his third year of teaching at YES Prep West, a charter school here. He figures now is a good time to explore his next step, including applying for a supervisory position at the school.

Mr. Dowdy is 24 years old, which might make his restlessness seem premature. But then, his principal is 28. Across YES Prep’s 13 schools, teachers have an average of two and a half years of experience.

As tens of millions of pupils across the country begin their school year, charter networks are developing what amounts to a youth cult in which teaching for two to five years is seen as acceptable and, at times, even desirable. Teachers in the nation’s traditional public schools have an average of close to 14 years of experience, and public school leaders and policy makers have long made it a priority to reduce teacher turnover.

But with teachers confronting the overhaul of evaluations and tenure as well as looming changes in pension benefits, the small but rapidly growing charter school movement — with schools that are publicly financed but privately operated — is pushing to redefine the arc of a teaching career.

Many, if not all of the teachers discussed in this article come from Teach for Awhile America, the program which started out by placing high achieving college graduates as “teachers” in hard to fill positions, but is now being used by “reformers” to provide cheap labor for corporate education factories.

The notion of a foreshortened teaching career was largely introduced by Teach for America, which places high-achieving college graduates into low-income schools for two years. Today, Teach for America places about a third of its recruits in charter schools. [emphasis added]

THE COMMENTS

I generally don’t read comments because I end up getting angry at the level of ignorance of people spouting off the common myths about public education and public educators. However, I did read a few of the comments from the New York Times article above. There were 386 comments when I left..and, truthfully, I haven’t been back to see if there were more. Two, however, piqued my interest…the first from rbowman in Hawaii…

rbowman hawaii
I have been a tenured, successful teacher in 3 different states for close to 30 years. I don’t want to judge the whole TFA movement by a small sample size. Here is my experience. A group of 6 TFA teachers arrived within the past 2+ years. Three left to pursue other opportunities including law school. Another is eyeing medical school after this year and the other 2 I am not sure of their plans are because I haven’t spoken with them. All are young, bright, energetic, and committed. But it is obvious that TFA/teaching is just a step along the way in their path and, seemingly, a nice entry to add to their resume. I recently overheard a 7th TFAer say to another, “After one more year (3rd) I’m going to get a real job,” to which the friend simply nodded her head…

What? “…a real job…”? I’m sorry, but do we really want people teaching our children who look at them as a stepping stone to a “real job?” Is this how we plan to accelerate the learning of struggling students…by providing them with temporary teachers who aren’t in it for the long haul? Shouldn’t we try to attract and retain the best teachers where the students have the highest need?

Let’s hear from one of the young, energetic teachers. We’ll see that the children aren’t the only ones who are being used and abused.

KristenBrooklyn
On the surface, I am the person this article is referring to. I was a TFA corps member in the Bronx for three years and then I left teaching to pursue a graduate program in another field. I knew I had made a short-term commitment and I was fine with that.

However, last year, I decided to go back to teaching and was hired at one of the large charter school networks quoted in this article. I can say that, for the most part, my fellow teachers were the loveliest, most hard-working people I’ve ever had the privilege to work with. I was handsomely compensated and had access to resources and technology that no one in my Bronx school could ever dream of. So why did I leave after one year?

It wasn’t because I have a short attention span or because I thought I’d “mastered” the profession, as the article suggests. Ms. Rich writes as if we leave out of arrogance or boredom, which is not only disgusting but grossly inaccurate.

The reason why I left, along with 70% of my school staff that year, was because I was physically and emotionally exhausted. The administration is uncompromising. They know it is easier to cut loose anyone who is struggling, making waves, or who isn’t able to work a 75-hour work week, than to invest in sustainable teaching practices.

This article is the cover story charter networks tell their board of directors to justify massive turnover. Don’t be fooled. If they achieve results on paper, please know that it comes at a human cost.

It seems as if the “reformers'” plan is to overwork teachers so that they’ll leave before they can earn too much money, demand a pension, or other benefits. Then, hire the next wave of young graduates and train them for five weeks in the summer, provide them with the expert mentoring of a “three year veteran” and toss them into a classroom.

I can’t imagine how anyone thinks this is good for children…good for teachers…or good for public education.

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All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.

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Stop the Testing Insanity!
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Author:

Retired after 35 years in public education.