Posted tagged ‘Teacher Tenure’

Why AFT Was Wrong to Have Gates Speak

July 12, 2010

As we were having breakfast Sunday morning at the AFT Convention, one of my fellow delegates asked me what the media said about Gates speaking.  I told him, “Teachers applaud Gates”.  He then asked me what the alternative press said.  I told him, “Stupid teachers applaud Gates.”

The fact is teachers were put in a no win situation by AFT President Randi Weingarten brought in Bill Gates to deliver the keynote address to the AFT Convention.   We were left with a choice of looking unprofessional and heckling or with looking like we supported Gates by not heckling.   The newspapers reported Gates’ speech just like we knew they would and we provided a forum for his views even though they are views that are opposed by most teachers and should be objected to by any self-respecting teacher’s union.

Some members of our caucus walked out in protest, others sat silently–although we couldn’t help joining the rest of the crowd in booing at several of the things that Gates said.  Weingarten explained to us at the Illinois Federation of Teachers breakfast that she was being like Gahndi by having a dialogue with Gates.   I admit that my knowledge of Gahndi is based on a little bit of reading in college and the Ben Kingsley film, but I am pretty sure his method of resistance was not giving the British a forum to speak.   A keynote address is not a dialogue, it’s dictation.  So what was it that Bill Gates said that was so objectionable:

1. Despite these efforts, our high school scores in math and reading are flat. Our graduation rates have plunged from 2nd in the world to 16th. And our 15-year-olds now rank behind 22 countries in science and behind 31 countries in math – This is not highly objectionable, but I really get irritated when I see America’s universal education system compared to countries without universal education.  It majorly skews results.

2. There are a growing number of public schools – including charter schools – that smash old prejudices about what low-income and minority students can achieve. They give us models to study, understand, and spread – Well Bill, last week you said that only charter schools could provide innovation.  Let’s at Urban Prep who has been celebrated in the national media for their 107 95 graduates all going to college.

3. The truly impressive reforms share the same strategic core – they all include fair and reliable measures of teacher effectiveness that are tied to gains in student achievement. Public schools have never had this before. It’s a huge change – the kind of change that could match the scale of the problem — We’ve had this for years.  We’ve only recently started using it to punish schools.  The result is that our students are no longer taught critical thinking skills, which are of little use in standardized test taking.

4. In 2008 and 2009, our foundation partnered with Scholastic on a national survey to learn the views of 40,000 teachers on crucial questions facing your profession.  Teachers said in huge numbers that they don’t get enough feedback. They’re not told how they can improve. They’re not given training that can address their weaknesses or help them share their strengths with others. — The number one thing both teachers and students said most was class size–something that Gates always ignores.

5. In Pittsburgh, they’re creating incentives for highly effective teachers to go into low-performing schools. In certain schools, if students have better-than-expected gains in learning, their teachers earn additional pay. In another program, teachers will work as a team with a group of incoming ninth graders and stay with those kids for two years. If at the end of 10th grade the kids are on track for college, the whole team will get a bonus — Merit pay has never worked for teachers and everywhere it’s been piloted it has failed.   If teachers were soulless money grubbers we wouldn’t have been teachers, we’d have gone to work for Microsoft.

6. Many teachers say they know someone who—even after getting the support needed to improve—simply doesn’t deserve to get tenure. You owe it to your profession and your students to make sure that tenure reflects more than the number of years spent in the classroom. It should reflect the quality of the work you do in the classroom—and that means student achievement should be a factor in decisions about tenure. — Tenure is not lifetime employment.  It is due process.   It is not something that should be based on success under any metric.  In fact, it is when you are unsuccessful that you most need due process.   Tying the two together is like saying, “Let’s reserve the Bill of Rights only for people not accused of a crime”.   Sorry, that doesn’t work.

7. This work is important. But if you’re fighting only for wages, hours and working conditions, then it’s just teachers fighting for teachers – In Illinois, that’s about the only thing we’re legally allowed to bargain for.  All workplace issues like class size and calendar we are prohibited by law from negotiating.

8. If you want teachers unions to lead a revolution in American education, please remember: sometimes the most difficult act of leadership is not fighting the enemy; it’s telling your friends it’s time to change. — That’s great advice.  I’m sure Gahndi would agree.

For more information on Gates, check out Leonie Haimson’s commentary. She offers some wonderful reasons why the AFT was crazy to invite him.  For some wonderful satire on getting rid of bad teachers follow this link.

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The Myth of Freedom Writers

February 15, 2010

From time to time, I’ll look at the links that Word Press puts at the bottom of my articles.   I do this because I hope to see what other bloggers are saying on similar topics.   A post I did on Guggenheim Elementary took me to this little nugget today, “In order to achieve quality education, we must educate and hire quality teachers. In this day and age however, it is becoming increasingly difficult to get new teachers into the field. A majority of the educators you find in the inner city are young. This is an effective combination because the enthusiastic young teachers are driven to make a positive impression on their students.”

Now, I don’t want to pick on the writer of this blog.  The blog belongs to a student at the University of Oregon.   However, I am increasingly seeing the myth of the young teacher as educational savior and I see it championed by people who should know better.  Teach for America is built on this myth.

The Myth of Freedom Writers: A young, attractive teacher comes into a rough inner-city school where the old, physically ugly, burned out teachers have given up on teaching and the administration encourages that type of burned out behavior.   The teacher who knows nothing of the urban teaching environment has a rough few days, but then wins her students respect, which only makes the rest of the school that much more against her.  She makes huge sacrifices in her personal life and eventually her students learn. There is a terrible incident that shakes her class, but she helps them to rise above it.

Now before I continue, allow me to say that there is nothing wrong with young, energetic, attractive teachers.   However, what usually happens to a caring first year teacher is better illustrated by the character of Mister Prezbo in The Wire.  He’s been a cop in the worst part of Baltimore, but he’s not able to get control of a class of 30 8th graders until the experienced teacher from across the hall comes in and takes control of the situation.  The first half of the first year for most new teachers will be chaos.   The good ones will eventually learn what they’re doing and become excellent teachers.   The others will burn themselves out very quickly and be out of the classroom (usually in educational policy telling teachers what to do) in 2 or 3 years.

Innovation is not Dictated by Age: My mother was a more innovative teacher at 70 than I will ever be.  She had me teach her how to use a computer and she redesigned her school’s whole math curriculum when research showed multiplication and division were more effectively taught together.   At my current school, our two biggest innovators are women in the 60s who have a passion to keep up on what’s going on.

Youth and Experience Have Different Strengths: Young teachers do have more energy, but that doesn’t make them better teachers.  Unfocused energy doesn’t accomplish much of anything.  A good school should have a variety of ages in the faculty because that promising first year teacher isn’t going to alway know what to do and that’s when an experienced colleague can really make a difference.  The best new teachers I have known, have had a mentor that worked very closely with them.

At my second teaching assignment, our school was terribly overcrowded.   A brand new school was opened up and our boundaries were redrawn.  17 teachers lost their jobs and 600 students went to the new school.  Our principal called to try and get those 17 teachers jobs, but the new school would have none of it.  They were in partnership with a college and they wanted their entire faculty to come from their teacher program.   Despite having resources that my school couldn’t even dream of, the student behavior was terrible and when they got their standardized test scores back, they went into panic mode.   They called my principal to ask how we did so well and she told him, “You’ve got all new teachers.  What did you think would happen?”

We All Need Help: The easiest way to find out which new teachers will make it is to find out who is open to help and to new ideas.   Teach for America brainwashes their students into believing that all older teachers are part of the problem.   Some TFA teachers break through their programming others persist that they know everything no matter how badly they are floundering.  As a second career teacher, I have a lot of respect for people who decided later in life that they would make teaching their career.  I really don’t have much respect for 22 year olds who decided that with the job market tight, they’d teach for a couple of years. Then, after they saved the world they’d do something else and make the big money.

Older Teachers are at Risk: Opponents of tenure say that it protects bad teachers.   However, it also protects older teachers who may be a little bit more expensive.  Why pay a 50 year old $60,000 a year when you can pay a 22 year old $35,000?  Some programs like Teach for America are ushering in scores of poorly trained young teachers into the classrooms and have the contracts to guarantee spots.  I love To Sir With Love as pure entertainment and I do believe there is room for Mark Thackeray in the classroom, it is just that I also believe there is room for Charles Chipping and Glenn Holland.