Category Archives: Politics of Education

The 30-Year Teacher is Gone and She’s Not Coming Back

If colleges of teacher education and school districts are waiting for the flood of young people who intend to spend the next thirty years of their lives as classroom teachers, they will be sorely disappointed. The reality, whether you want to face it or not, is the vast majority aspiring young professionals, even those potentially interested in pursuing careers in education, are not interested in starting a job at 22 that they will do for the rest of their working lives. That proposition just isn’t appealing to the current 18-22 year old. And to be honest, it never particularly appealed to this 35-year old. Most college-age young people are looking for their first job, their start at a career; not knowing what they might be doing in the next 5 years, much less 25 years.

So what does all this mean? Well, contrary to what some believe, it’s not the end of the world or the end of the teaching profession. It just means the field has to adapt to this era and be more flexible with how we ensure that children are receiving high quality instruction; even if new models of teaching look significantly different than current ones. And rather than trying to force young people who might be excellent teachers (even if only for the first part of their career) into the mold of the 30-year teacher, colleges of teacher education and school districts should practice embracing the diversity, energy, fresh ideas, and diverse perspectives young professionals can bring to teaching and to the children they will serve. There shouldn’t be the expectation that young people can only go into education if it’s what they intend to do forever. And to be completely honest with you, I don’t want a teaching profession where no one has any interest  in ever doing anything else, or where there are no teachers who have ever done anything other than teach. That time-warped conceptualization of the profession in part contributes to the current instructional and leadership stagnation common to some schools and school districts. Personally, I think it would fantastic to have a talented young woman begin her career as a high school English teacher then make her way into a communications position somewhere; or an energetic and ambitious young man begin his career as a middle school teacher and move into a training and development position with a Fortune 500 company. I am a big proponent of rethinking the profession in ways that make it a more appealing place for teachers to stay, but everyone doesn’t have to stay, nor should they.

With that said, schools must have veteran educators who commit to careers in teaching long-term. In fact, I argue that such veterans are critically essential elements for the success of any school or school district. Schools and charter management organization’s (CMO) would be extremely shortsighted to dismiss the critical importance of master teachers whose expertise comes only with experience. Any organizations thinking in that way would be wise to reconsider their staffing models and teacher career ladders.

But master teachers are not the norm. Even with the current school staffing model where the majority of school staff are long-term veteran educators, only a quarter to a third of teachers at most could be legitimately characterized as master teachers. Very few teachers are exceptional. Most teachers are average. Some teachers are below average. That’s no slight to teachers, it’s just the truth. But average is okay. If most of my daughter’s teachers end up being average with the occasional exceptional teacher sprinkled into her academic career I’ll be a happy camper. In fact, whether it’s instruction for my child or service at Starbucks, I should expect average; expecting the exceptional is unreasonable. Exceptional service/instruction/expertise is just a treat, not something you get all the time. We ought to think of exceptional teaching or service like we think of a truly exquisite glass of wine or a very rare Bourbon (for you Kentuckians). Most of us just don’t have that stuff every night with dinner.

Most teachers, just like most doctors, lawyers, professors, baristas, musicians, and engineers, are average. Most of us, regardless of what we do, are not exceptional. If we were all exceptional, exceptional wouldn’t be exceptional, it would be average. So the rhetoric that everyone coming into the teaching profession ought to be on a track to become a master teacher doesn’t hold water. The reality has never truly matched that rhetoric, but the rhetoric, and in some cases restrictive policies and practices which institutionalize the rhetoric, have kept some very talented young (and older) people from considering teaching. We’ve often scared away or locked out people who could make noteworthy instructional contributions for 3, 4, or 5 years.

I am incredibly grateful for the career teachers that have served children so well for so long. I have been taught by and mentored by more than a few phenomenal career educators. I owe much of the success I’ve enjoyed in my career to them. But the world is changing and the teaching profession has to change with it, whether you like it or not. I’ll talk more about those changes in my next post; but my advice to educators, educational leaders, and colleges of teacher education is to get in front of this change and help to shape where the teaching profession goes rather than allow change to drag you along kicking an screaming.

 

 

Does Every Teacher Deserve to Keep Her Job?

Cleveland Schools’ Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Eric Gordon announced earlier this month that more than 50 Cleveland public school teachers may be terminated based on their performance and/or conduct. According to Gordon, in 41 schools, principals gave notices to 68 teachers that their one-year contracts would not be renewed. Those 68 notices were far more than the number of notices that are typically distributed at the end of the school year in Cleveland, and as you might imagine, the leadership of the Cleveland Teachers Union was not happy. The increased ability of principals in Cleveland to remove ineffective teachers is a direct result of the Cleveland Plan for Transforming Schools, signed into law in 2012 by Ohio Governor John Kasich. As part of the bipartisan sponsored plan which applies only to Cleveland as Ohio’s sole school district under mayoral control, Cleveland schools are now implementing a new teacher development and evaluation system based on professional standards.

Hearing about public school teachers being fired causes most of us to sit up straight and listen for the rest of the story. That is because public school teachers, especially in high-needs school districts, are typically only terminated when a teacher has been found guilty of something particularly egregious, like stealing money or having an inappropriate sexual relationship with a student. Even in the current era of reform, you don’t hear very often of significant numbers of teachers in traditional public school districts losing their jobs based on their performance. And why is that the case?

First, most big city teachers unions (the Cleveland Teachers Union included) fight with every ounce of strength they have to prevent teachers from being terminated; even teachers whose performance has been abysmal, and in some limited cases, even when a teacher’s conduct has been so inappropriate that she cannot return to the classroom. Second, Americans have largely accepted the reasoning that teachers (and leaders, and schools) should not be held accountable for the academic performance of their students, particularly if those teachers serve children of color or economically disadvantaged students. Fortunately for children, both of those circumstances are changing. First, parents, community members, the business community, and school districts are demanding changes in teachers unions collective bargaining agreements, particularly around provisions that restrict school leaders’ ability to supervise, evaluate, and if need be, remove ineffective teachers. Second, parents, community members, and the business community are demanding that teachers, even teachers who serve children of color and economically disadvantaged students, be held accountable for the learning of their students.

Cleveland Schools CEO Eric Gordon has assured that the teachers in danger of losing their jobs will receive due process. Those teachers will have the opportunity to respond to the charges of their principals. I fully support teachers’ right to due process. It may turn out that some of the teachers in question are able to present evidence of their instructional effectiveness and keep their jobs. But teachers who are unable to provide evidence of their students’ learning should be fired. My stance on this issue is firm: Teachers that cannot provide evidence of adequate learning in their classrooms should be removed from those classrooms.

It is true that some teachers whose performance is not optimal can and should be developed. Early career teachers in particular need mentoring and development and they deserve the opportunity to grow. Pre-service teacher training should be regarded only as preparation for entering the profession, so new teachers should never be seen as finished products. But even with the understanding that early career teachers and even some struggling later career teachers can be developed, I will not back down from the argument that every student deserves the opportunity to learn in her classroom, regardless of how inexperienced or well-meaning her teacher is. A sixth grader gets one shot at sixth grade, and educational leaders and policy makers owe it to every sixth grader to ensure that she has an adequate teacher.

I have no problem with teachers unions fighting for job security for teachers, but only for effective teachers. Contrary to popular belief, all teachers are not effective. Some ineffective teachers can be mentored and developed to become effective teachers, but others should be removed from the classroom quickly before they do irreparable damage to children. Consideration of job security for teachers should always be secondary to ensuring that every child has an effective teacher in her classroom.

Thoughts on the Strongsville (OH) Teachers Strike

For the second day children attending public schools in Strongsville, OH went to school but their teachers were not there. Substitute teachers have been called in to keep schools in Strongsville open after contract negotiations between the Strongsville City Schools and the Strongsville Education Association (SEA) fell apart. At issue here is teacher pay. 

SEA charges that teachers have not received a raise since 2008. While that statement has some truth to it, it is deceiving. Teachers in Strongsville as in most school districts are paid according to a salary schedule. On a salary schedule, teachers are paid based on their years of service and their academic credentials. What is true is that the salary schedule in Strongsville has not been changed since 2008. However, teachers in Strongsville have all continued to get raises in pay every year as they gained years of experience and in some cases earned additional degrees. So again, to say that teachers in Strongsville have not received a raise since 2008 is misleading. 
I am an advocate for good teachers. I believe good teachers should be paid a wage commensurate with their experience, expertise, and performance. However, I am not a proponent of teacher salary schedules in any form, as they assume that teachers with the same number of years of experience and the same academic credentials are the same. We all know that is not true. Some teachers with five years of experience and a masters degree are awesome; and some teachers with five years of experience and a masters degree are terrible. Yet with a teacher salary schedule, that awesome teacher is compensated in the same way the terrible teacher is compensated. That is ludicrous!
But here is my two cents on the Strongsville teachers strike: I find it more and more sickening that any group would hold children’s education hostage in order to better their bargaining position. That’s it; that’s how I feel. Teachers in Strongsville arguing that they are striking for the children are not being truthful. They are not striking for children; they are striking for higher wages. I am not saying higher wages are bad; I think most of us would take higher wages if we could get them. But it is shameful to pretend that this strike is about something that it is not. The strike is about the teacher salary schedule in Strongsville. The strike is not about children.

Why There Is No Charter School Law in Kentucky

I run into friends and colleagues quite often (in Kentucky) who are surprised when I tell them that there is still no law allowing for the creation of charter schools in Kentucky. I would say their surprise is warranted given that 47 states and the District of Columbia now have some form of charter school legislation. So today’s post is for my fellow Kentuckians; those friends and colleagues that after finding that we have no law, ask me why not. The truth my friends is that teacher unions’ money and Kentuckians’ contentment with our schools have stopped us from passing a charter school law. 

  • Believe it or not, Kentuckians are pretty pleased with the outcomes of our education system. In fact, some of us think our state’s schools are pretty darn good!! And maybe they are; the new Quality Counts rankings in Edweek came out just today and Kentucky ranked #14 in the nation! Out of sight!! Never mind the enormous, shameful achievement gaps that have persisted for generations in schools all across Kentucky; or that there are schools in parts of our state that should be shut down and never reopened; or that only a small fraction of our high school graduates leave high school prepared for the rigors of college. If you can just get past those little things, we’re really doing a hell of a job in Kentucky! And who would have thought it? I know I had no idea. It is truly the best kept secret in America. But probably not for long; with the release of the Quality Counts rankings we are likely to have a hard time keeping parents from Ohio, Indiana, and Tennessee from sneaking across the state line to get their kids into our Kentucky schools. 
  • Kentucky’s teacher unions/professional associations have lots of Democrat legislators under their thumb. These organizations heavily fund the campaigns of many Democrat legislators. The unions pretend that they oppose charter schools on the grounds that charters will be detrimental to Kentucky children, but in reality they oppose charter schools because they would threaten the job security of ineffective teachers. Can’t have that, now can we!! So they persuade/bully Democrat leaders in the Kentucky legislature to oppose even open and honest conversations about the issue; and they spread lies to their members (teachers) and to the public about charter schools. And are these legislators willing to stand up to the unions, their campaign funders, and say that we must have an open and honest dialogue about charter schools? Of course they are not. Why not? Because their next election is just around the corner, and they can’t count on the parents of children in failing schools to fund their campaigns.
The political landscape in Kentucky is pretty complicated for sure. I don’t mean to trivialize or oversimplify the issue, but the simple reality is that Kentucky has no charter school law because Kentuckians are pretty content with the schools we have, and the very well funded teacher unions/professional associations do a great job of keeping the Democrats in the legislature in line. Until one or both of those realities change, there will be no charter schools in Kentucky.

New Years Resolution: Be Honest About Education 2012

As we start 2012 I propose that we all make the resolution that we begin to be honest with ourselves, and with our children, about education in America. For too long we have led ourselves and our children to believe untruths about schools, teachers, and our systems of public education. This ends for me today. For I believe the only way to move toward fixing our education uglies is to expose them. In that vein, I begin today with a exposing a few lies that we have continued to tell our ourselves and our children about education. Here are a few to get us started:

Lie #1: Schools are all about children.

The Truth: Schools are about money and adults too.
It is true that if there were no children there would be no schools. It is true that children are at the heart of many of the decisions we make in and about schools. But it is also true that P-12 education is a multi-billion dollar enterprise in every state. Thousands of adults in every state are public school employees and state public school systems spend millions of dollars every year on contracts with vendors. All this is to say that schools are also the places where lots of adults work, and many of the decisions we make in and about schools are based not on what is best for children, but on what is most convenient for adults. Whether you want to call this truth good, bad, or ugly, it remains the truth.

Is there any way around this? Would it be reasonable to say that we can get to the point where all decisions in schools are made strictly on the basis of what is best for student learning? Probably not. But it is reasonable to set the goal that children’s learning will become our top priority when making decisions. It is reasonable to say that if a decision comes down to two choices: one option being better for student learning, and the other option being easier/more convenient/more lucrative for policy makers/school leaders/teachers, the clear choice would be the option that is best for student learning. We are not currently at that place.

Lie #2: We believe all children deserve a quality education.

The Truth: We do not.
This one is a pretty obvious fabrication. If it were true we would not continue to provide lesser quality education to students based on their socioeconomic background/neighborhood. The vast majority of children in the US who live in more affluent neighborhoods have a higher quality educational experience than children who live in lower socioeconomic neighborhoods. Children in lower income neighborhoods typically attend schools with poorer quality facilities, teachers who are less able to meet their needs, and lesser quality instructional and technological resources. Many factors contribute to this reality. A few of these factors are many teachers’ preference to not teach in predominantly low income and minority schools, teacher preparation programs failing to prepare aspiring teachers to meet the needs of low income and minority students, a failure to attract candidates into the teacher profession who would serve low income and minority students well, differential school funding, and outright neglect of resources in schools that serve predominantly low income and minority students.

Lie #3: All teachers are good teachers.

The Truth: Some teachers are completely ineffective.
The claim that all teachers are effective or even that all teachers have the potential to be effective is ridiculous and is an insult to the teaching profession. High-quality teachers are highly-skilled professionials with a mastery of both the academic content that they teach and the pedagogical skill necessary to effectively deliver that content to students. It is insulting to the profession to assume not only that anyone could do this, but that anyone could do this well. Many of our current crop of teachers are not effective teachers. Some of them have no desire to become effective teachers. These teachers should be relieved of their classroom duties immediately.

Lie #4: People become teachers because they love children.

The Truth: Some teachers/principals do it for the money.
I believe that the majority of educators went into the field because they care about children, but I know very well that this is not the case for a significant minority of educators. Contrary to popular belief, public school teaching is not the worst paying job in town. Some people actually do become educators for the money. The stability and benefits that come along with the profession are attractive to some people as well. Also, it might be a little less than pleasant for the general public to find out the number of teachers that majored in education because it was easier to get into and keep a job than the field they would prefer to be in.

What about the principalship? Well, some principals make really good money (really good)! That is attractive to some educators whether they believe they would be effective at the job or not. Higher education institutions have exacerbated this problem as many education administration graduate degree programs have become diploma mills, recommending principal certification to the state for any living breathing human being who pays two years worth of tuition. Worse still, some teachers go into school administration in an effort to work less directly with children.

Please join me in telling the truth about education in 2012. Being honest about our shortcomings in education is the necessary first step toward making things better, and I really want things to get better. Our children’s future depends on it.

Happy New Year!

Principal Selection Changes in Kentucky

Senate Bill 12, signed into law in March 2011 significantly changed principal selection in the commonwealth of Kentucky. Prior to this legislation’s passage, when vacancies occurred in the principalship, the new principal was to be selected by the school’s School-Based Decision Making Council, comprised of three teacher representatives and two parent representatives. Senate Bill 12 significantly changes principal selection in a number of ways. First, it provides clarity in the language of the law where meaning was previously somewhat ambiguous. Most notably, it eliminates the confusing statute’s language of councils being able to select a principal “from among those persons recommended by the local superintendent.” Questions around what the legislature meant by the superintendent’s recommendation led all the way up to the Kentucky Supreme Court. Now, the legislation states clearly that councils are to be able to select a principal from all applicants who are certified to hold the position and it eliminates the need for the two-tiered process established by the court through which councils were to receive the names of principal applicants.



Second, Senate Bill 12 seems to have achieved a compromise between KEA which has been adamant that principal selection authority remain with teacher-dominated SBDM councils, and local superintendents who have lobbied for principal selection responsibility to be returned to the local superintendent. While principal selection will remain with the SBDM councils, superintendents will have the opportunity to serve as voting members of these councils. There is no doubt this is not the change the local superintendents wanted; however, it does allow them to play a significantly greater in selecting principals than they had previously.



A third significant change that Senate Bill 12 makes is explicitly stating that principals dismissed for cause from a school district may not be considered for reappointment to a principalship in the district. This provision might appear to be non-significant, but that very issue has been a source of contention in Kentucky school districts. While KERA put principal selection authority with SBDM councils, the supervision of principals remained with local district superintendents. As such, there was at least one instance where a local superintendent terminated a principal for cause but the SBDM council rehired the principal. This could not happen again with the amendments made by Senate Bill 12.



This summer promises to be an interesting one as superintendents or their designees will for the first time sit as chairs of SBDM councils during the principal selection process.

Proposed Changes to Educator Preparation in Indiana

The Indiana Department of Education and Professional Standards Board are proposing changes to educator preparation that would require universities  to make significant changes in their education programs. The biggest changes include: (a) restricting universities to 30 semester hours of coursework in “methods”, (b) permitting anyone with a masters degree in any discipline to apply for a waiver from certification to become a superintendent, (c) permitting teachers who pass a “leadership test” to apply for a  waiver from certification to become a principal, and (d) allowing teachers to renew their licenses by taking professional development seminars offered by their school districts instead of having to take graduate-level college courses. If approved, Indiana’s changes could go into effect as soon as July 2010, causing university education programs to make major changes in a short period of time. 

Indiana’s department of education is attempting to step across the traditional boundaries that have separated the K-12 world and institutions of higher education. If approved, Indiana’s proposal would allow the state to dictate to universities what the curricula of their teacher education programs will look like. These changes will require programs to place a far greater emphasis on content courses while reducing the number of methods courses that students take. Additionally, the proposed waivers from principal and superintendent certification will  put into question the future of university educational leadership programs in Indiana.
If this proposal is approved, and it appears likely that it will be, questions arise concerning relationships between state departments of education and institutions of higher education. Traditionally, universities have designed their educator preparation programs without the interference of state departments of education. However, it is not beyond reason that this case could have a diffusion effect, with state departments of education across the US following Indiana’s lead.