“Reformers” love to talk about “failing schools.” In America, “failing schools” are most often schools filled with students who were born into poverty.
When researchers control for the effect of poverty, American scores on international tests are at the top of the world. Our overall scores are unspectacular because of our high rate of child poverty. The U.S. has the second highest level of child poverty among all 34 economically advanced countries. In some big city public school districts, the poverty rate is over 80%. Poverty means poor nutrition, inadequate health care and lack of access to books, among other things. All of these profoundly impact school performance.
This is compelling evidence that the problem is poverty, not teachers, teacher unions or schools of education. This is also compelling evidence that we should be protecting students from the effects of poverty, not investing in the Common Core.
So-called “failing schools” are closed only to be replaced with charters (which also, inevitably “fail”). Their staffs are fired or moved elsewhere. The disruption of students’ lives is the political fallout of federal, state and local governments’ inability to deal with poverty in their communities, i.e. “failing municipalities” in a “failing society.”
Rather than attack the root cause of low achievement — poverty — politicians, and policy makers attack the invisible bogeyman of “bad” teachers. Teachers unions are blamed. The adults who teach and live with the students every day are blamed for the effects of poverty on learning and achievement.
“Reformers” force schools to fail by requiring higher test scores while providing less support for teachers and students. The “failing school” becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and the vulture-capitalists move in to take over, grabbing public dollars with no public oversight while they replace public schools.
The pressure on teachers to help students pass “the test” is enormous and throughout the country teacher shortages are increasing.
In Indianapolis, 200 educators have left since the end of the last school year. They have either retired, quit or moved to other school systems.
“A lot of it is teachers are not feeling respected, they’re feeling like people don’t think they know what they’re doing,” Cornett said.
Of course they’re not feeling respected. Despite any rhetoric to the contrary, politicians, pundits and policy makers are consistent in blaming teachers for all the ills facing public schools.
States like Indiana have elevated “the test” to the point where it is all that matters in a teacher’s professional life. Teachers are paid based on how well their students do on “the test.” Teachers’ contract renewals are based on how well their students do on “the test.”
Of course “the test” doesn’t measure everything of value, but that doesn’t matter. Teachers are being told what to teach, how to teach, and when to teach and then are blamed when that doesn’t work.
Benefits for teachers have been targeted…incentives for becoming and remaining a teacher are disappearing through legislation and lawsuits. The advantage of being a career teacher is disappearing. The reward for having years of experience is disappearing. There’s only “the test.” Further, the Indiana legislature and State School Board have lowered the qualifications for becoming an educator. (How does that improve teaching and learning?)
The problem is not unique to Indiana. More and more states have made teaching less desirable and are now facing shortages of experienced teachers especially in high poverty areas.
“Lack of support” like “lack of respect” is common in America’s schools. Through our political leaders and media moguls, we have insulted teachers for nearly 3 decades by refusing to include teachers in policy decisions and discussions, instead choosing to blame teachers for “failing schools” and removing benefits for career teachers.
“Reformers” and their political friends are apparently satisfied with “ed-temps” who will work for a few years and then quit and move on to other careers. Constant churn. Lower salaries. No pay incentive for longevity. No pensions. No career educators.
Is this what we want for our children? Is this what high performing nations do to improve their education systems? Is this what’s best for the future of our democracy?
“You try to hire the best, it’s sort of like a chess game when It comes to staffing.” Superintendent of Clark County Schools Andy Melin said, “You’re just constantly trying to figure out what the next move needs to be always making sure the best people are in the best spots for our kids.”
Finding the best comes with competition. First year Principal Sara Porter says she still has three positions to fill at Pleasant Ridge Elementary and class starts next Thursday.
“Roughly half a million U.S. teachers either move or leave the profession each year,” reads a new report from the Alliance for Excellent Education, an advocacy group. And this kind of turnover comes at a steep cost, not only to students but to districts: up to $2.2 billion a year.
…Nearly 20 percent of teachers at high-poverty schools leave every year, a rate 50 percent higher than at more affluent schools. That’s one of every five teachers, gone by next September.
…The report points to a variety of reasons for the turnover, including low salaries and a lack of support for many teachers. Which helps to explain why those most likely to quit are also the least experienced: 40 to 50 percent of new teachers leave within their first five years on the job.
“We have a teacher shortage, and we’re trying to retain the best teachers we can get. And in order to do that, we have to have a competitive salary and give them working conditions that make them want to come back and teach,” said Chris Thomas with the Arizona School Boards Association.
Make no mistake, if we don’t have a crisis with teaching already, we will have one in the next few years…you don’t get teachers to commit to reform, unless you make them a part of it. You also don’t endear them to you by blaming them in the media and constantly telling the American people they have failed, especially when they haven’t.
…our school district announces there will be fewer breaks and they will now ban recess so as to have more time for test prep, because they need to save the school from closing. PE is also on the chopping block. How do you respond, or do you say anything?
…You have angry parents who want you to quit teaching to the test, and they don’t want you administering the test to their child. They want you to stand up against testing. You don’t like the high-stakes tests either. How do you manage all the data collection when you want to be doing more meaningful work? How do you support parents and do what’s right for your students without losing your job?
…You have poor children in your class. Some you think might be homeless and others look sick. Your school lost its nurse a long time ago. Your school counselor is not readily available, if you have one. How do you help these children and also the child who has a severe toothache?
I am an effective teacher, despite what my principal, the observer from Central Office and the state may say. However, I am leaving a profession that ignores all data except test scores and very subjective evaluator scores.
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.