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On charter schools and TFA
Gather ‘round kids, it’s STORY TIME!
Last Thursday was the first day of the summer school where I am teaching this summer, in a rather low-income part of the city. The summer school is only for students who scored a 1 on the third grade FCAT (students need a 3 or higher to ‘pass’ the FCAT and be able to most on to the fourth grade). The students took a pretest made by the intervention program Voyager, which is required to be used in summer school by MDCPS despite the fact that it has not been proven to be an effective intervention system- but I digress. Most students in my class were scoring between 14 and 18 out of 30, which is fairly decent, considering these students might not make it to the fourth grade next year. One student, however, scored a mere 6 on the pretest, we’ll call him Sean. Later, when it was time for partner reading, I paired up with Sean, due to the odd number of students in the classroom. When it was Sean’s turn to read, I was shocked. While his peers around us were reading aloud, however shakily, they were getting at least a few paragraphs out before time was up. Sean, however, barely made it to the second line. When he struggled, I asked him to sound out words… he could not do it. He straight up did not know what sounds each letter makes, let alone consonant blends (ex. bl-, ch-, -lk for you non-linguists out there). There’s no way that this 8-year-old boy could pass the FCAT; he didn’t need summer school, he needed an intensive one-on-one lesson on phonemic awareness and phonics.
Fast forward to the next day. I learned that Sean’s mother wasn’t able to pick him up from school the next day until two hours after the program ended. He showed up an hour late to school the second day, with his mom making a huge deal about the timing (summer school is only from 8:30-11:30am), finally laying down the law: she couldn’t be there to pick him up at 11:30am, so he straight up was no longer coming to summer school. This little boy needed more help than anyone else in this program, but he’s not coming anymore because there is nobody there to pick him up when school gets out.
This isn’t an isolated incident. There are children all over the country who don’t get the education that they need because they can’t come to school every day, for whatever reason. And before you get all “this is why some people shouldn’t be allowed to reproduce,” this is not the mom’s fault, and if she weren’t working, y’all would call her lazy. This woman probably didn’t get an education and therefore probably doesn’t know how to help him, and it’s 100% not her fault. Now, to the point of this post: How does Teach for America or the charter school movement or No Child Left Behind or Race to the Top work to overcome problems like this? How do any of those programs, aimed to improve the education of our children, actually help students in Sean’s situation? How does tying a teacher’s pay to her students’ performances help her teach any better, when there are children don’t learn because they’re straight up not in the classroom? How are charter schools going to help kids when their parents are not involved in their education in a public school, let alone know enough about charter schools to enter their kids in a lottery? If you didn’t read anything I wrote or just can’t figure it out, the answer is, they won’t. Like I said before, it’s not the parents’ faults when they are uninvolved in the education process; there are a million cultural, linguistic, and socioeconomic reasons why parents don’t get involved and it’s nobody’s place to judge why parents do or don’t get involved. The point is that the values of our current education system are so fucked up that many kids who need help and need a quality education are served by an underfunded public school system, underexperienced TFA hires, and a community that is often completely shut off from the education process.
In a nutshell: Our currently educational policies are bullshit and serve mostly to avoid the real issues at hand, and all of these “education reformers” (I’m looking at you, Michelle Rhee) are not at all ready to admit this, and therefore aren’t really reforming anything.
“I am troubled that Rhee thinks that teachers are the biggest problem facing American education. Attacking teachers seems to be her hallmark. I was at an event on Martha’s Vineyard last August when Rhee repeated a story she has often told: three “great teachers in a row” closes the achievement gap. I was waiting for her to say it, and I quickly chimed in to say that it is an urban myth. While writing my last book, I tried to discover if there was any district or any school that had actually closed the achievement gap by providing “three great teachers in a row.” Certainly teachers make a difference, and no one would dispute that it is wonderful to have three great teachers in a row. But no one has ever figured out how to achieve this feat in an entire district. Certainly Rhee didn’t when she was chancellor in the District of Columbia. Rhee has turned this urban myth into a national crusade against teachers. If scores are low, she suggests, it is because the students have lazy, incompetent teachers who should be fired. She achieved national notoriety in Washington, D.C., for her readiness to fire teachers and principals whom she judged to be unworthy. You may recall the infamous cover of Time magazine, where she posed sternly with a broom, ready to sweep clean the District of Columbia’s public schools. She did clear out a large proportion of the professional staff in the D.C. schools, and she did impose a new teacher evaluation system called IMPACT. However, the benefits of her innovations are questionable. For one thing, the federal NAEP tests in 2011 showed that the D.C. public schools have the largest achievement gap of any city tested by that program; the D.C. black-white achievement gap is fully double the gap in the typical urban district. For another, USA Today documented a major cheating scandal in the D.C. public schools during her tenure. At the center of the scandal was a principal Rhee had repeatedly singled out, honored, given bonuses, and promoted. He resigned.”—Ravitch: I don’t understand Michelle Rhee - Washington Post
Are Teachers Entitled to Tenure?
Educational reform is a hot button issue in America. Michelle Rhee, the former DC School Chancellor, was for many months considered public enemy number one, firing thousands of teachers and principals in her short term. After her resignation she started a non-profit called StudentsFirst whose mission “is to build a national movement to defend the interests of children in public education and pursue transformative reform, so that America has the best education system in the world.” (StudentsFirst Mission Statement) Rhee’s program is trying to do that by empowering the American people. I feel that this is a good cause and while rallying people to improve our educational system is admirable, Can we as a country do this, while taking away tenure? Well many G.O.P. governors across the country think we can.
Recently an article published in the NY Times, speaks about how several governors across the country feel that if we want to regain control over our educational system, and remove the ineffective teachers, we have to move towards reversing tenure. What does this exactly mean? Well, it means that teachers will be put at risk of losing their jobs if they are deemed ineffective, regardless of how long they have worked in the public school system, and irregardless of whether or not they have superiority in their system.
Now I am not trying to say that every teacher is a good teacher, or that they are all bad. However, I feel that if a teacher has worked for 10, 15, 20 years in a system, they are entitled to respect. If they are failing to educate students effectively then there has to be steps taken to retrain them and to modernize how they teach. Many teachers in the school systems, are not up to date on the latest technology, and do not know how to reach students who are bombarded with Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and countless other social feeds. If we can help these teachers to understand the changing social dynamics they can be more effective again in teaching.
The downside of keeping tenure, is that when a teacher has earned that luxury, which protects their job, it then becomes very hard to remove them. That means that there are countless numbers of ineffective teachers, who cannot be retrained or who were never appropriate educators to begin with, in classrooms because of tenure. Brian Sandoval, governor of Nevada, says, “It’s practically impossible to remove an underperforming teacher under the system we have now.” Sandoval a supporter of removing tenure, has the lowest high school graduation rate in the nation.
Keeping tenure, means that when a budget cut hits or there is minimization of the school systems, meaning schools are being shut down for any countless number of reasons, teachers are cut based on their superiority in the system. So if you are a college graduate who just got your job, you’re the first on the chopping block. Like I stated before, teachers who have been in the system for many years deserve respect, they also deserve equal treatment, if cuts are needed those put at risk should be across the board. A bad teacher should be the first to go.
The whole issue though has the Teachers Unions up in arms. And rightfully so. Their goal is to protect teachers good or bad, they are indifferent. The take they have on removing tenure, is that it is just a ploy for states to be able to fire teachers. My one problem with this argument is that, I do not think anyone wants to willy nilly fire teachers, I think we want to better our educational system. In order to do that, unfortunately some people will have to lose their jobs. Three years in a classroom, does not entitle you to lifelong protection if you are just hitting the mark. We need to be shooting for the best and we as a nation are falling short.
Whether tenure is kept or not, there needs to be some reform in the system, so that even if tenure is kept administrators, parents, and state officials, can have ease in removing those teachers who are not effective in their jobs. America is quickly becoming one of the dumbest nations in the world. Education, is vital, and a proper education starts with GOOD TEACHERS, I am in favor of good teachers, being protected, I am not in favor, of giving away that protection because you can stick it out in a classroom, and are just hitting the mark. So are teachers entitled to tenure? I think if you can show that you are effective, then by all means, I will stand up and fight for your job because good teachers deserve it.
Rhee on Democracy
David Sirota on Michelle Rhee:
That’s where Rhee’s little-noticed but incredibly revealing comments come in. As grass-roots opposition in the local community understandably rose up to oppose her destructive policies, Rhee made quite clear what she and her movement thinks of the notion of local control of schools and community involvement in education policy:
MICHELLE RHEE: People said, “Well, you didn’t listen to us.” And I said, “No, I listened to you. I’m not running this district by consensus or by committee. We’re not running this school district through the democratic process.”
FRONTLINE: [on camera] It’s not a democracy.
MICHELLE RHEE: No, it’s not a democracy.
If a statement like that about public schools isn’t offensive enough unto itself, remember that Rhee made it not as some outside observer. She made it while she was holding public office. Yes, that’s right: A person who held a democratically accountable office was making clear that the national “reform” movement she leads believes that schools are no longer and should no longer be controlled by any kind of democracy.
Pretty much sums it up. Yet this is a woman who is raising millions if not billions in support of undemocratic reforms.
On Education Reform
Anytime we—teachers—hear about “the vision” for education reform and reform’s presenters speak in terms of years a generation or two down the road resisting talk about the present semester, even academic year, and in terms designed to deny discourse about contemporaneity and differentiation in classrooms and schools, then we know we’re being asked to embrace an interpellative process designed to compose subjects as voters and consumers.
We’re witnessing the manipulation of public education and its problems into a packaged commodity that can be exchanged between districts, cities, states, and countries, and via exchange generate profit for the business owners of the new reform movement.
“District of Columbia Public Schools officials have long maintained that a 2011 test-cheating scandal that generated two government probes was limited to one elementary school. But a newly uncovered confidential memo warns as far back as January 2009 that educator cheating on 2008 standardized tests could have been widespread, with 191 teachers in 70 schools "implicated in possible testing infractions." The 2009 memo was written by an outside analyst, Fay "Sandy" Sanford, who had been invited by then-chancellor Michelle Rhee to examine students' irregular math and reading score gains. It was sent to Rhee's top deputy for accountability. The memo notes that nearly all of the teachers at one Washington elementary school had students whose test papers showed high numbers of wrong-to-right erasures and asks, "Could a separate person have been responsible?" It recommends that DCPS contact its legal department "as soon as you think it advisable" and ask them to determine "what possible actions can be taken against identified offenders." DCPS officials have said they take all cheating allegations seriously, but it's not immediately clear how they responded to Sanford's warnings. Only one educator lost his job because of cheating, according to DCPS. Meanwhile, Rhee fired more than 600 teachers for low test scores — 241 of them in one day in 2010.”—
“Rhee fired more than 600 teachers for
low test scores not cheating well enough.” Fixed that for you.