Teaching today is a much different profession than it was 30 years ago. Truthfully, it is significantly different from what it was nearly 15 years ago when I became a teacher. And the profession is likely to change even more in the next five to ten years. While some veteran teachers argue that many of the current changes to teaching are unspeakable, I am convinced that much of the reform to teaching is for the best (best for children, that is). Here are just a few areas where the teaching profession today and moving forward is significantly different from what it was just a generation ago.
- Job Security Fewer teachers today, and most likely even future teachers going forward, will enjoy the degree of job security that teachers in previous eras enjoyed. A high degree of job security has certainly made teaching attractive for some. The reality of the profession has been that regardless of whether a teacher is effective, he can usually manage to find and keep a teaching job somewhere (often teaching our most vulnerable children). That era, however, is coming to an end. For many teachers today and most teachers tomorrow, job security will be dependent on their effectiveness. Teachers who cannot demonstrate their effectiveness, through their students’ performance on standardized examinations, will find themselves struggling to keep their jobs.
- Seniority For generations, more senior teachers have enjoyed the privileges of having first dibs on ‘choice’ teaching assignments and greater protection during reductions in force (RIF). During RIFs it has been customary for teachers last hired to be the first ones let go, while teachers with seniority have been protected; a practice commonly known as LIFO (Last In, First Out). While LIFO and other teacher seniority provisions remain a part of some teachers’ collective bargaining agreements, such provisions are becoming less common. And in cases where seniority provisions haven’t been completely negotiated away by school districts, seniority privileges are being curtailed, giving district and school level administrators greater discretion in teacher hiring and retention. It will soon be the norm in public school districts that teachers’ hiring, retention, and transfer will be based on their effectiveness, not their seniority.
- Teacher Salary Public school teachers’ salaries have long been determined by their years of teaching experience and their level of education (bachelors, masters, doctoral degrees). In such systems, all teachers with five years of experience and a masters degree would have the same base salary, regardless of their effectiveness. But teacher pay is now being reconsidered. Policy makers, researchers, and educational leaders are questioning whether current teacher salary models makes sense in the current era of performance-based accountability. States, school districts, and charter schools are now experimenting with different approaches to teacher pay including merit pay, performance pay, performance bonuses, differentiated pay by subject area, and market-based salaries. Aspiring teachers and teachers who are relatively early in their careers should expect that in the near future their pay will be be at least in part based on their effectiveness (as measured by their students’ performance on standardized examinations).
- Teacher Leadership While teachers have always been called on to lead in various capacities, teachers are now being asked to take on school-level leadership roles like never before. Much of the change in the expectation that teachers lead may be attributed to the increasing popularity of distributed and shared leadership models in P12 schools. Anyone going into teaching or intending to stay there should expect to take on significant formal and/or informal school leadership roles throughout their career. Such roles might include department chair, subject area lead, professional learning community (PLC) lead, peer mentor, trainer, and school or district level curriculum leadership positions.
Charter schools are expanding in East Baton Rouge Parish,
Louisiana. In the fall of 2014, new charters have been approved and are scheduled to open in the parish, other charter schools are expanding, and the East Baton Rouge
Parish School Board is bracing for a potential reduction in revenue as a result
of parents choosing to send their children to public charter schools over board-operated
public schools. According to Diana Samuels of the Times Picayune, the school district is bracing
for a potential reduction in revenue in the ballpark of $20 to $22 million, or
about 5% of the district’s general fund budget. The district’s Chief Business
Operations Officer is quoted in the article saying, “Our biggest concern (for
the next budget year) is money going out the door.” That statement isn’t one
that will inspire confidence in the parents of East Baton Rouge Parish. Nevertheless,
I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and say she probably didn’t mean it the way it came out.
But the East Baton Rouge Parish district superintendent’s
statement in response to the district’s revenue concerns is quite different.
Superintendent Dr. Bernard Taylor said, “We’re going to have to fight fire with
fire,” offering that the district must offer curriculum and programs that give district
schools a competitive advantage over charter schools. Dr. Taylor understands
that public education in the United States, and especially in the state of
Louisiana, is entering a new day. Traditional public schools can no longer rest
assured that children will walk through the doors simply because they live in
the neighborhood. In the coming era of parent choice, all schools, whether they
are private, magnet, charter, or traditional public, must compete to attract
and retain students. In the era of parent choice, all schools will become
schools of choice, and schools that refuse to or fail to compete will be forced
to close their doors. That means educational leaders, including
superintendents, school boards, principals, and school governing bodies, will
have to adopt the mindset of Dr. Taylor. If you want to continue to serve students,
you will have to compete for them. Schools will have to give parents reasons to
choose them. With neighborhood traditional public schools as just one of a
growing number of options available to parents, traditional public schools,
just as charter schools, will have to give families good reasons to enroll and
Depending on where you live, that era of parent choice in public education could be near. If you live in Louisiana, that era is already here.
School districts across North Carolina are on the verge of eliminating busing policies aimed at achieving racial and socioeconomic diversity in schools. Without those policies in place, those districts would become systems of primarily neighborhood schools which will undoubtedly be as socioeconomically and racially segregated as the neighborhoods where they stand. North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue has said of recent initiatives across the state to move toward neighborhood schools, “It’s the most troubling thing I think that’s happened.” Governor Perdue has been vocal about her position on increasing and maintaining diversity in North Carolina’s public schools, saying “Whether it’s racially done or economically done, there has to be some kind of momentum to continue to have diversity in our schools.”
This can be a pretty sensitive subject, and both sides articulate and support their arguments very well. But here are some facts. A retreat from reassignment policies will result in a considerably higher degree of racial and socioeconomic segregation in North Carolina’s public schools. There’s no getting around that. Because neighborhoods are largely racially and socioeconomically segregated, the assignment of students to neighborhood schools will result in each school’s demographics mirroring the demographics of the neighborhood(s) that it serves. This scenario is not foreign to us because it is the reality in most places across the US. Most of our children today attend neighborhood schools, and there are many benefits of neighborhood schools, including sense of community, ease of parental involvement, and schools’ geographic placements making them ideal for serving as community hubs.
But there are drawbacks to neighborhood schools as well. Neighborhood schools that serve middle and upper middle class neighborhoods typically are well-supported financially, stocked with resources, and staffed by highly qualified teachers. Schools that serve poor neighborhoods, however, typically do not have high levels of support, adequate resources, or sufficient numbers of highly qualified staff. This happens for a number of interrelated reasons. Because public education funding is dependent at least in part based on local property taxes, and the tax bases of lower income communities are smaller, the schools that serve poor communities typically operate with less funding. Lower funding results in fewer resources and lower local salary supplements for teachers. Also, some of the most qualified teachers have been less likely to apply for and stay in schools with lower pay and that serve lower income students and/or students of color. Any combination of these factors are reasons why some school boards have believed it necessary to maintain policies that racially and/or socioeconomically desegregate public schools, giving students from lower income neighborhoods opportunities to attend the same schools that children from higher income neighborhoods attend.
Maintaining diverse schools, however, has come at a cost to some families. Such policies have resulted in some children having to transfer schools, and significant numbers of children being bused to schools that are considerable distances away from their homes. There is no easy fix here. For the fundamental question that underlies this debate is what is the purpose of public schools? This is the same question that I believe underlies the current school choice debate. It’s a tough question. Regardless of how its answered, new questions arise. Do the goals of maintaining diversity in public schools and ensuring that all children have the opportunity to attend high quality schools trump my individual desire to have my child attend my neighborhood school? Does my child have a right to a sound, basic education at the school of my choosing, or just at “a” school? These are questions that we must come to some consensus on. I highly suggest that we start to deal with these questions in a meaningful way, because it is important that we have at least similar ideas of what public schools are here for. I argue that that consensus is necessary for moving forward with education policy in a truly meaningful way.
Both houses of the Louisiana state legislature have approved a bill (House Bill 504) that would limit Jefferson Parish School Board members to three consecutive four-year terms in office. Present members of the school board would be allowed to seek reelection three more times. Proponents of the bill contend that the measure is intended to bring new blood into the Jefferson Parish School Board. I find this bill intriguing for several reasons, but one stands out. The local school board has been heralded as the last bastion of direct democracy in America, with county/city residents having the opportunity every four years to choose which of their neighbors will make education policy for the local school district. The passage of House Bill 504, however slight, curtails that local decision-making power. It second guesses Jefferson Parish voters’ ability to choose school board members without the aid of additional state parameters. While it appears that the Louisiana legislature is within in rights to take the action that it has, let’s call their action what it is. House Bill 504 takes just a little bit more of Jefferson Parish residents’ power to make their own decisions about their children’s education.