I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Sunday, September 11, 2011

OK, Smart Guy - What Would YOU Do?

Over at Blue Jersey, I recently spent a week demolishing the corporate "reform" argument. Well, no, that's not quite right; I'd spent the last week bringing together a bunch of research and writing that did all the demolishing for me. Folks like Bruce BakerMatt DiCarloValerie StraussLeonie Haimson, and Diane Ravitch are among the many who have done the legwork that makes it so easy to build a case against these rash, uniformed, and just plain silly proposals.

But all of this leads to a question: what should we do instead?

It's a fair question. Even though this notion of an education "crisis" has been blown way out of proportion, I do believe that we could make things better. And I do believe that the continued achievement gap is a serious problem that needs to be fixed once and for all if we're ever going to live up to our promise as a nation.

But let's not destroy what already works. Let's not come in with cheap gimmicks that will wreck great schools like "merit pay" and "tenure reform" and "charter schools" and all that other reformy jive. Let's instead come up with a serious plan for serious reform.

Here then are the key points of the Jazzman Reform Plan:

1) Pay teachers and principals more across the board, pay more to teach in the toughest districts, and extend tenure protection to teachers who've already earned it and who wish to move into those districts.

You want better teachers? Grow up, and pay up. That's the way the market works. You want better teachers in the hardest places to work? You have to make it worth their while. But people like me will never even consider going to those districts unless we can keep our tenure, because there's no guarantee we'll be any good in those districts anyway. We should be able to move on without penalty if it doesn't work out.

And let's do what Daniel Pink says: take money off the table as an issue. Pay teachers well, and leave it at that.

2) Get rid of the superintendent pay cap in New Jersey.

Dear lord, who ever came up with this stupid idea? It couldn't be a Republican, because they love the "free market"...

You need the best of the best running our schools. Do some consolidation if you like (how about no more K-8 districts to start?), but this was always a really, really dumb plan.

3) Establish a dedicated, statewide tenure "court," cap the entire process at 90 days, and have the state pay half the costs of prosecution.

Yes, I am encouraging more tenure cases. Let's make this a regular occurrence, so we can flush out the admitted dead wood (overblown as the number is by the corporate reformers). But set the rules clearly so principals know the data they should gather, and teachers know what will bring them to the court. By the way, all you corporate "reformers" - you'd be amazed at the number of teachers who want this. The union wants this as well - it'll make their lives easier, give them renewed purpose, and cut their costs as the length of prosecutions drops. Win-win.

4) Adopt National Board Certification, and give teachers who earn it and 10 years of experience the designation of "master teacher."

Just like "board certified" for a doctor, right? It is not easy to get this, and it shouldn't be.

5) Make those "master teachers" the co-equal evaluators of teachers with principals.

Bring them in from other districts - teachers will love to have this, especially when their principal is a pain in the neck. They'll get affirmation that they really are doing a good job (or not), but they'll also have to put up or shut up.

6) Open up the NJASK and HSPA to review every year after scores are released.

It is ridiculous that the tests themselves are never, ever evaluated by outside authorities. New York has shown us the folly of trusting the testing industry: again, put up or shut up.

7) Make those tests scores and VAM assessments available to teachers, but do not allow them any weight in evaluations. NEVER publish these!

These are highly imprecise instruments, but they can yield insight if used properly. But any LA Times-style publishing is strictly off the table - that's a deal breaker.

8) Tighten requirements for advanced degrees, but compress pay scales to reflect that it will be more difficult to get those degrees.

I will be the first to admit that there are a lot of joke graduate education programs out there that have little to no value. But if you're going to have to get a real masters degree, that should be enough: MA+60 is a pay level that makes no sense. Of course, two masters or a doctorate should be rewarded if they are germane.

9) Increase the number of annual observations by principals and "master teachers" both for tenured and non-tenured teachers; every evaluation should have immediate feedback and discussion with the teacher, and the teacher should provide feedback on the evaluator.

Every non-tenured teacher should be observed every month. One observation a year for tenured teachers is not enough. And the report of the observer needs to be made in the context of things the teacher knows about the students that the observer doesn't - they need to talk about that right away. Remote camera observations is a horrible idea for this reason. And why shouldn't the teacher have a say in whether the evaluator was any good?

10) Throw out most state-made rubrics for teacher evaluations.

Most are useless and encourage lazy thinking on the part of principals. Give your teachers something real to work with. Who cares whether they made eye contact x%, or if they turned toward the wipe board? That's the sort of stuff that insults the great art of teaching.

11) Give principals and "master teachers" the ability to "spot check."

I honestly think this "problem" has been overblown - every district I've taught in has allowed spot-checking. But it is insane if a principal can't know what's going on in her own school.

12) Drop the "100 hours" requirement for professional development, and replace it with meaningful, assessed, college-level coursework.

Most professional development is a joke. Let's substitute it with real, meaningful learning. And if the teacher can't cut it... that's an indicator he shouldn't be teaching. But the teacher shouldn't pay for this.

13) Give every school a business manager.

Principals waste way too much time with stuff that someone with good business training/experience and minimal education training/experience could do. This would be a great place for all those Broad-types to make their bones. The principal then has time to concentrate on being a true educational leader.

14) Once and for all, address childhood poverty. None of the above matters nearly as much as this.

Yes this is all going to cost money. But the money is there - we all know it. Are we really committed enough to this nation's children that we will go get it and use it?

So that's it. What do you think? There's probably a lot here that needs fixing; please tell me where.

1 comment:

Jason M. Varner said...

As a pedagogical compliment to your reform ideas, I would add the simple approach offered by Mike Schmoker in his 2011 book "Focus: Elevating the Essentials to Radically Improve Student Learning".

Having recently read this book, I would characterize it as supporting a simple, uncomplicated framework for promoting meaningful, student-centered learning, with a heavy emphasis on developing real literacy skills through plain-old reading and writing. A thought-provoking read for teachers & administrators. Book details available here: http://goo.gl/UB2MK