"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be...nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." – Thomas Jefferson

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Focusing on Teachers

Teacher quality is the focus of the new, corporate "reformers." Outside influences on student achievement (poverty, native language, etc) are glossed over as "excuses" to defend poor teachers. "Bad teachers" teaching in "failing schools" are the problem.

Kelly Wu, a high school student from California, defends her teachers.
In the United States, teaching has one of the highest turnover rates for any profession, meaning that more teachers quit every year compared to other professions. This, according to the Alliance of Excellent Education, is costing our state governments an average of $4.5 billion yearly. The National Commission on Teaching and America's Future reports that every year, 16 percent of all teachers quit, compared to the national average of 2.7 percent per profession.
We've asked over and over again why anyone would choose to become a teacher given the low status, mediocre pay, difficult work and extreme stress caused by the corporate war against teachers and teachers' unions.

Those of us who have taught or are teaching, know why. We do it because we love children and love teaching. A quick perusal of OCCUPY EDUCATION: Reclaiming Our Voice in Education will give non-educators a pretty good idea of why teachers go into teaching. However, there is no denying that a huge number of people who become educators don't make it past their 5th year. The current anti-teacher atmosphere has a lot to do with the high turnover rate...that, and the difficulty of the job.

It's also costly to replace teachers. The new "Reformers" who want to get rid of veteran teachers and replace them with new teachers are doing so, not for the purpose of improving education, but to cash in on lower paid teachers. Unfortunately, it costs money to replace teachers.

E. D. Kain at Forbes Magazine, writes,
Estimates put the costs of teacher attrition at $7.3 billion a year. I find it hard to believe that policies geared toward keeping teachers around for only a few years would be good for students, teachers, or public schools. Already 46% of new teachers leave the profession within five years, and now reformers want to make it even less appealing for teachers to make teaching a career. This makes no sense. Whatever money is saved on benefits and higher veteran salaries is lost in recruitment, training, and other expenses associated with high turnover. Turnover is highest at the neediest schools.
It's not good for students, teachers or public schools. Schools need dedicated professionals with varied years of experience. Veterans help new teachers acclimate and are valuable as mentors and advisors. Young teachers infuse the profession with energy and creativity.

One of the reasons teachers unions are anathema to "reformers" is because they provide teachers with due process. Firing "bad teachers" is the main reform coming from the Michelle Rhees of the world. Defining "bad teachers" by way of student test scores makes the process simple. The only problem is that it's inadequate. It punishes the teachers who work with the neediest students.

Kain talks about firing "bad teachers:"
Bad teachers can be weeded out...before gaining tenure. School officials need to use this time window appropriately.

...tenure is to protect teachers from arbitrarily being fired. Teachers need protection from over-zealous bosses and ideological politicians. This is the same thinking behind seniority rules, which protect more expensive teachers (i.e. veterans) from being laid off due to budget cuts...If you take away pensions, job security, tenure, the ability to unionize, and basically all the other perks of teaching, what you’re left with is a very difficult job with no job security, mediocre benefits, and relatively low pay. This is not how you attract good people to a profession, or how you guarantee a good education experience for your children. Paying starting teachers more but making their long-term prospects in the career less certain is also wrong-headed. High turnover is not desirable for any business, teaching included.
The direction that the corporate "reformers" have taken America's public schools over the last decade is the wrong one. We need to break this status quo and get down to the business of supporting the neediest students socially as well as academically. Destroying teachers unions, firing teachers, and defunding public schools doesn't help anyone.

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