The education war continues

The Los Angeles Times has just published the most explosive development in education news since the New York Times ran their expose of the so-called “rubber rooms”  where bad teachers in the New York City school district languish for years receiving full salaries while administrators tried to fire them.  

Basically, the LA Times is publishing data on teacher effectiveness based on a formula using student test scores called “value-added analysis.” They will be publishing each teacher’s so-called effectiveness and will include their names. In other words, parents will be able to look up their child’s teacher and find out that teacher’s value-added effectiveness ranking. Parents will be able to see if a teacher’s students typically lose or gain percentage points on standardized tests.

The unions are having fits threatening to boycott the paper. Arnie Duncan, Secretary of Education, is in favor of the idea. Education bloggers are erupting with glee that now they have endless fodder for their posts.  

While I laud the LA Times for their groundbreaking attack on just one part of what is crippling our education system, the news from those at the front lines — the teachers — is not good. I am not going to defend bad teachers. I know there are plenty. I have worked with them. I have had some for my own teachers. My children have had teachers that I know are not at the top of their game. But the truth is that we do not train, support, value or promote good teachers in American classrooms.

Let me tell you what a really good teacher I know is facing today in her classroom. This is her fifth year in the classroom teaching ESL students at a fairly well-regarded high school in Atlanta. With an undergraduate degree from Davidson and an advanced degree in English from Agnes Scott, she has all of the necessary English instruction to prepare her for teaching. She has served as the chairperson for her department for two years with for no extra salary. She coaches a sport for an extra $400. She paid for her own certification and training in ESL at a state university because she was only certified in secondary English, cost? $700. Her ESL program was audited by state education officials last year and she was commended for the excellence of her program. She’s young, energetic, committed to her students, highly professional, and extremely talented. If I could choose a high school language arts teacher for my children, she would be my top choice. I can say this with earnest conviction because I have seen her teach, observed her over a period of years as a student teacher and now a seasoned instructor. I recruited her to work in a summer program for refugee students where I am a volunteer.  As her supervisor at the summer refugee program,  I have never seen students learn more from one person in such a short period of time. Any teacher effectiveness study will tell you that the best teachers have some intangible sort of mojo that fuses with a powerful command of their subject, lofty goals for their students, and stunning control of their classroom. She’s got all of that in spades.

So here is how her year is going so far.

When she was offered her contract to teach this year, it was for less than she made when she was originally hired four years ago….“because of budget cuts.” Arriving for a new school year two weeks ago, she found out from her new assistant principal of instruction, the former high school P.E. teacher who has never taught in a clasroom, that she would be teaching five different subjects. For those that don’t teach, this is like being told you have to do five jobs. And because she is the type of excellent teacher we would all want for our children, she will have to prepare lesson plans, curriculum, testing materials, and prepare to teach five different courses every single day.  And now with the LA Times and soon other papers fast on her heels, she will also be responsible for the test scores of five different groups of students.

So the  unions, Department of Education, journalists, so-called school reformers, education  policy experts and such can continue their inane wars. They can publish the names of public school teachers with their classroom performance data that would in any other profession be considered a performance evaluation locked down in a human resources office. They can continue to attack the problem of bad teachers by publicly ridiculing them. But how is that ever going to keep a bad teacher out of your son or daughter’s classroom? Bad teachers can’t be fired. Teachers aren’t evaluated honestly or effectively. And parents don’t have much say in the whole process anyway.  

The problems in education are not going to be solved by posting a list of the bad apples on the doors of the schoolhouse. Especially when the crux of the problem is when those school doors cost more than a HALF A BILLION DOLLARS. Yes, the same district that is laying off thousands of teachers and whose paper is publishing the names and student testing data of its employees is celebrating the opening of a new high school built efficiently with taxpayer dollars for more than half of a BILLION dollars.  

We don’t need more money in education.

We need classrooms with qualified, caring teachers for every student. Fewer bosses, more workers. No more principals with cloud college doctorates and assistant principals who are former P.E. teachers with zero classroom experience. Say no to school reform models, teams, coaches and consultants.

Say yes to giving power to leaders to make choices about teachers, employees, and where the money is spent. If we continue to allow money to be squandered on the school house doors, publicly ridicule teachers, and keep the focus away from the students, we will soon fall to the bottom of industrialized nations in the effectiveness of our public education system. We are halfway there already.

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