Thursday, June 9, 2011

Destroying Education Teacher By Teacher (With Help from Bill Gates)

Yesterday John Fensterwald published his take on the Gates-funded proposal for improving LAUSD. However, he called it a United Way study (which it was), but didn’t bother to mention Gate’s funding until the very end. Nevertheless, United Way is nothing more than a moralizing poverty pimp mill, so we should be suspicious of their proposals, too.

I will list some of Fensterwald’s summaries below in italics, with my takes in bold.

Teacher Placement:
Sacramento: Allow performance to be used as a factor in determining which teachers will be laid off. California is one of only a dozen states mandating layoffs by seniority.
There is no accurate and unbiased way to measure “performance,” and virtually all evaluation systems are subject to manipulation by administrators. Thus, administrators will be able to (and will) find ways to get rid of higher salaried veteran teachers, as well as union activists and anyone who is critical of their policies. This might be different if well-trained nonpartisan evaluators were hired and evaluated teachers “blindly,” something that will never happen, especially with education budgets being slashed (or held at anemic levels).
Ultimate Consequence: Districts will lose many high quality veteran teachers AND have trouble maintaining sufficient staffing because novice teachers have such high attrition.

Sacramento: Permit districts to dismiss displaced teachers who are unable to secure a new assignment after one year (they’d be on the district payroll for that year, however. Under the current financial crisis, districts are likely discouraging paying any teachers to sit out).
If a teacher is displaced because of bad evaluations (i.e., dismissed) they are not eligible for the “Must Hire” list. However, if a teacher is displaced because of downsizing, charter conversion or returning from an illness or family leave, they have every right to be rehired by the district AND have priority over candidates seeking employment by the district for the first time. In fact, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires an employer to give them a job back if they were out for child rearing or caring for a sick family member. Yet even these other reasons for displacement are insufficient to justify nixing a teacher who has received good reviews. If a district cannot afford or does not have the positions available to rehire the person immediately, they should still retain priority over new hires if positions open in following years.
Ultimate Consequences: There will be federal lawsuits for violation of FMLA and a bunch of really paranoid teachers who continue to work while caring for sick relatives or who ignore their newborn babies. Districts will also be able permanently ban any teachers they do not like for political (or other reasons) and cull their workforce of veteran teachers at the top of the pay scale, thus denying students the experience of many excellent and experienced teachers.

Contract: Eliminate the priority placement list based on seniority that forces principals to accept teachers who aren’t a good fit for their schools.
What does “good fit” mean? This sounds like another way to get rid of teachers who are critical, political and otherwise a thorn in the side of administrators. Any good teacher can teach in any school. That’s what we are trained to do. “Bad fit” implies they don’t want any more black teachers or Jewish teachers or union activists or critics of privatization.

On its own: Move up the June 30 deadline when teachers must notify principals if they are returning. That would give the district a head start on hiring for the fall. As it is now, LAUSD loses good candidates to charter schools and other districts and ends up hiring most new teachers in July and August. Deasy says the district has made progress during the past year, although the report notes that the hiring problem is particularly acute in poor schools.
Moving this deadline up doesn’t seem like a terrible idea. However, if LAUSD doesn’t want to lose teachers to charter schools they need to stop supporting, promoting and certifying them.

On its own: Educate principals in low-performing schools that they have some flexibility in rejecting priority-list teachers who won’t be a good match.
Low-performing schools are low performing primarily because of high rates of poverty. If we really want to fix this problem, then we must improve familial wealth.
On its own: Require prospective teachers to present lesson plans (hard to believe, the district doesn’t).
This is just a silly micromanaging waste of time. Administrators do not have the time to scrutinize the lesson plans. Therefore, this just ends up being more paperwork (or digital work, for those eco-friendly schools) designed to control and manipulate teachers. Don’t get me wrong. I think lesson plans are important and I would have drowned had I not written daily lesson plans my first few years. I also had a superb instructor and mentor in Curriculum and Instruction. A much better solution would be to provide paid collaboration time for novice teachers and paid, well-trained mentors to help them develop curriculum. Most veterans do not need written daily lessons plans (except perhaps when teaching in a new subject). They have the skill and experience to deliver good lessons without them.
Ultimate Consequences: A lot of time will be wasted doing useless paperwork, particularly by veteran teachers and other much more important things will get ignored (e.g., grading papers or taking the time to write meaningful comments; communicating parents; sleeping).

Contract: End salary differentials for earning course credit for new teachers and use the savings to award teachers bonuses for effectiveness.
Getting raises for classes unrelated to teaching does seem stupid. However, not offering any incentives for developing professionally by taking courses relevant to one’s job seems even more stupid.
Ultimate Consequence: Teachers won’t waste their time and money with continuing education.
Another problem with this proposal is that until there is an accurate and unbiased way to measure effectiveness (and a scale), this runs the risk of being nothing more than a punishment and reward system for toeing the line, keeping your mouth shut and accepting abusive or destructive administrative policies.
Ultimate Consequence: Teachers who want raises will be reduced to groveling and ass-kissing, and working even longer hours, even at the risk of harming their students in the process. If effectiveness is measured by improving test scores, for example, teachers will be encouraged to give up their lunches and stay late to offer extra tutoring (or to ignore content standards to provide more class time for test prep). This is patently unfair to students and teachers.

Contract: Offer higher salaries to top teachers who consistently produce the greatest learning gains.
Again, there is no way accurate, unbiased way to measure this. The Value-Added method that is so trendy right now, still as a wealth-based bias. Higher income students not only have higher test scores, but they come to school with advantages in health, diet, familial support, enriching extracurricular activities, academic maturity and preparedness, that increase the chances that they will benefit from good teaching. While many low income students can improve their test scores, teachers at low income schools must also grapple with higher rates of absenteeism, disciplinary disruptions, lack of follow through on homework, and numerous other factors that can limit the effectiveness of their teaching, regardless of its quality.
Ultimate Consequences: This will lead to an exodus of veteran quality teachers from the lower performing and lower incomes schools, precisely where they are most needed.

Sacramento: Extend probation to four years or, failing that, the right to extend probation beyond two years as an option.
The problem is not that tenure is given too quickly. The problem is that teachers are not evaluated very often or very well and by people who are biased and subjective. If we want to improve the evaluation process, a two-year probationary period is sufficient, but we need to hire objective, well-trained outside evaluators who assess teachers “blindly,” with concrete, easy to measure benchmarks.
Ultimate Consequence: If the probationary period is extended to four years, teachers will be forced to be meek and servile longer or face dismissal. A lot of people won’t bother going into the profession at all. Teachers need to feel safe speaking candidly, not just about workplace politics, but about their students’ safety and wellbeing. If a teacher is scared about possibly losing their job, they will be less likely to speak up. Consider my first workplace, where two students accused a teacher of sexually harassing them. This teacher was good friends with the principal. I knew I had to speak up, but as a probationary teacher I was terrified I might get into trouble. As it turns out, I did get in trouble, but luckily I did not get fired over it. Others might not be so lucky (or so brave).

On its own: Only 2.5 percent of probationary teachers receive a bad review, the same as tenured teachers. Therefore, hold a formal review in which principals and teachers present evidence of performance.
In many districts this is already the policy. However, it doesn’t solve the problem. Administrators are still subjective and can manipulate the data to make a teacher look bad and they seldom have the time to adequately assess the evidence and make classroom observations. Furthermore, why is 2.5% considered a problem? Maybe this means we have a lot of good teachers. Or maybe it means we have a lot of lousy administrators who aren’t doing their jobs.

Work Schedule
On its own: LAUSD teachers tend to use up all of their sick days, nearly 10 per year (6 percent of the school year). They should be required to report absences to a school-level administrator.
Sounds like more micro-managing harassment to me. Sick days are earned. They are a form of compensation. Teachers, like all employees, are entitled to use sick days and should not be discouraged from using them. We don’t want ill teachers infecting students or making themselves worse by working when they should be at home resting. Most districts already have teachers report absences to their schools to an administrator, even if indirectly through paper work, a sub-reporting system and/or the administrative assistant. It is absurd to think that every sick teacher will be calling the principal at 6:30 in the morning in between retching and heaving.

Sacramento: Require annual evaluations for all teachers.
More micromanaging harassment. A veteran teacher who consistently receives positive evaluations should be left alone to do their job. The evaluation process is time-consuming and stressful. Administrators lack the time as it is to providing meaningful feedback and conduct thorough observations.
Ultimate Consequence: Less teaching and administrating and a lot more paperwork, meetings and anxiety.

Sacramento: Enable teachers without an administrator’s credential to do peer evaluations. This would enable teachers with subject expertise to participate in classroom observations.
This could be very helpful to teachers. However, peers must be provided quality and paid training and be provided paid release time to do it (i.e., not expected to do it during their prep periods). Furthermore, it must be done in a non-punitive or mentoring manner—not as a way to determine tenure, compensation or dismissal. It is the boss’ job to evaluate, compensate or discipline employees, not the employees.
Ultimate Consequence: If teachers are given the responsibility of evaluating each other for determining compensation, tenure or dismissal, it will encourage destructive competition between peers and destroy collaboration and/or lead to biased, rubber stamping approval of teachers who are popular, well-liked or who dole out the most generous gifts.

Sacramento: Make the evaluations a management right not subject to negotiation with the union or poor ratings on various criteria the subject of grievances.
This is a major working conditions issue. The unions will not (or should not) accept this without a fight. Teachers as a class are well-trained professionals who are in the best position to identify the qualities of good teaching. If left entirely to administrators, evaluations could be changed to include things like “willingness to work extra unpaid hours.”

On its own: Include student feedback as part of evaluations.
Student feedback is useful. It also is extremely biased. What happens if a teacher has high standards and few of the students meet those standards, not because of poor teaching, but because they were socially promoted and not academically ready for the class? Their evaluations might read something like this: “Teacher was too hard.” Or worse. Students might retaliate and accuse the teacher of things that are not true. (It’s happened before).
Ultimate Consequences: Many teachers will feel like they have no choice but to be easy on their students, not set or enforce strict boundaries or unpopular school rules, purchase their students’ love and loyalty with candy and games, all to win positive feedback from them at the end of the year.

Contract: Make student performance the preponderant criterion on which teachers are evaluated.
I said it before, but I’ll say it again. Student performance tells us little or nothing about teacher quality. Furthermore, there are no accurate and unbiased methods for measuring it.
Ultimate Consequence: Again, mass exodus from the lower income schools.

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