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

Monday, April 23, 2012

Reformy Logic

The most reformy Rev. Reginald T. Jackson, Executive Director, The Black Ministers Council of New Jersey [all emphases mine]:
Our urban students are more likely to be assigned an inexperienced teacher — which is bad for both the teacher and the student — more likely to have a substitute and more likely to have a teacher teaching out-of-subject specialization. Additionally, because teachers garner more control over their assignments as they accrue seniority, leaving little incentive for them to take difficult assignments as they ostensibly improve, in our troubled schools where the most experienced teachers are needed, we are least likely to find them.
So the answer to a lack of experienced teachers is to pass a bill - TEACHNJ - that would diminish the use of experience in making decisions about retaining and firing teachers?

And we'll get more experienced teachers into difficult assignments by taking away the superintendent's ability to force a principal to take experienced teachers into his or her school? Are all good decisions made at the school-level, and all bad decisions made at the central office?
So what should we do to change a system that doesn’t value differences between teachers, while prohibiting the use of measures of student achievement when we make decisions about teacher effectiveness? We change how teachers are evaluated and how we reward them with the prestige of tenure. Thankfully, an effort to change the manner in which teachers are evaluated already is under way, but it will be meaningless unless there is a strong legislative framework to support it.
That is exactly backwards: there is no point in changing the legislation until we decide how we are going to evaluate teachers! Why should teachers buy into TEACHNJ when it doesn't even spell out how we are evaluated, and gives almost all of the power to devise evaluations to the education commissioner (a position that has become completely politicized)?
The study “The Long-Term Impacts of Teachers,” which tracked 2.5 million children in a large urban school district from third grade to adulthood, found that a teacher’s ability to increase student achievement on standardized assessments tracks improved life outcomes for those students in critical areas, including higher rates of college attendance, higher salaries and lower rates of teenage pregnancy.
Poor performance in these areas assures a life of lost potential as surely as excellent outcomes open the doorway to prosperity.
Good on Rev. Jackson for actually citing the study he references (if only the Star-Ledger would learn to do the same). But Chetty, et. al. never answers the critical questions: Can we identify these teachers with any precision? If we fire the "bad" teachers, who will we replace them with? How will we change the profession if we make standardized tests part of the evaluation but all of the decision?

It is a huge mistake to take one study and divine policy prescriptions from it that will have all sorts of ancillary effects. It's especially dangerous when the positive effects described in the study are not particularly big (admittedly, that is a somewhat subjective judgment - but that's the point, isn't it?).
Given the premise that teachers are vital and that students’ ability to demonstrate their knowledge is equally important — which should seem obvious but is hotly contested — it only follows that the conference and acquisition of tenure should be linked in some manner to these factors. TEACH NJ makes that a reality.
That's a straw man argument. No one says teachers aren't important; no one says students shouldn't have to demonstrate knowledge; no one says teachers should automatically acquire tenure and not have to prove they can teach. The argument is whether standardized testing is precise enough to help make high-stakes personnel decisions in schools.

It is not. Let's not pretend otherwise.

One more thing about helping poor and minority students, courtesy of Miss Katie out in Chicago:
And this past week, for some reason, it hit me so clearly. If my hospital served a majority of middle or upper class white children, we would have better funding. We would have better staffing ratios. We would provide better treatment. It is because my hospital works with mainly low-income Black and Hispanic young people that we can get away with not spending enough on patient care. If we served more white kids, things would not be this hard. We would have abundant resources, we would have ample staffing, we would have beautiful facilities. But we don’t.

The other day, I had a thought which absolutely sickened me. I saw a white parent of a patient who goes to a high-class private school step off the elevator--every now and then we get upper-class kids, although they tend to be transferred out pretty quickly--and I was embarrassed. And I thought “wait, why am I not embarrassed when every parent steps off the elevator?” Don’t ALL children deserve the best care we can possibly provide? And yet, in our society, we are somehow conditioned that it’s ok for some kids to get crumbling, disgusting facilities and minimal services while others are entitled to top-notch supports. 

It’s the same as the schools. If your school serves mostly brown or black children, then the powers that be know they can get away with investing the least amount of resources. Any complaint from community or parents can easily be dismissed as “noise”, since we all know no one listens to people from those communities anyway (right, Mayor Emanuel?)

And the so-called “education reformers” just make things worse. They take the already limited funds and push them towards private pockets. They invest in charters and turnaround schools which don’t serve all students. For-profit health care gives us a glimpse at what education will soon become if the corporations and billionaire philanthropists have their way in destroying public education. The inequality will be worse than ever. 

I believe it’s time to get angry about this status quo—the status quo that says local and unequal funding of schools is just fine. The status quo that says the communities, families, and children which need the most services can make do with crappy second-rate care. Right this moment, there is an occupation of a mental health clinic on Chicago’s south side. We the people must DEMAND more services in actions like this one. 

I am horribly embarrassed by my reaction to that white parent. We must expose the inequalities that are so common place we don’t even notice them anymore. We must stand up, in solidarity, to corporations and bureaucracies that are getting away with savage inequalities based solely on zip code or race. And only a massive people’s movement will change this disgusting, unequal status quo.
Amen. I'd love to see Rev. Jackson get as upset about SFRA "reform" as he does about teacher tenure. That's the real "status quo," and not all this phony baloney about teacher evaluation, which no one has proven to be a huge problem anyway.


Unknown said...

"because teachers garner more control over their assignments as they accrue seniority"

WHERE is this???? Because I certainly have not witnessed this. EVER. I witness the teachers who kiss the ass of the supervisor getting the best schedule and the higher level (easier kids to teach) kids. And imagine, what will happen WITHOUT tenure!

Siobhan said...


Great site! I'm trying to find an email address to contact you on to ask if you would please consider adding a link to my website. I'd really appreciate if you could email me back.

Thanks and have a great day!

Duke said...

Siobahn, contact me through Twitter or Facebook - that's the best way to leave a message. Or just leave a link here in the comments.


Deb said...

Is it worth pointing out the lack of experience of charter school teacher on average and the irony attached to the reformy position on this -- Or is it just hypocrisy?

Teacher Mom said...

My district, school with 98% black & brown student is worst neighborhood left to molder and crumble, full of health and safety hazards. Middle class neighborhood with a more diverse population, getting a multimillion dollar addition. 'nough said!