Sunday, September 2, 2012

Tenure Reform, the Need for Supervision, Montgomery Teachers, and News About Charters

The news has been filled with a variety of articles on education, all indicative of some seemingly intractable problems facing the “business.” By far the most prominent stories have featured the new tenure reform bill. As much as I am all in favor of the reform, and think it will lead us towards a system of performance pay or performance tiers, those who see it as a panacea for urban schools are kidding themselves and misleading the public. It will do little to compel teachers performing at the minimum to vastly improve their work product. The problem I do have with the bill, and with many of the people that pushed for its passage, is this belief that older teachers are somehow an impediment to educational gains. It’s funny how, in other professions, we look to those with experience as preferred, but in education somehow it is our senior teachers that pose a problem. My own experience is that I am more suspect of newer teachers than I am of veteran teachers. I am suspect because I have real questions about what motivates a lot of younger teachers to enter the profession, while I have no doubt that our more experienced teachers are from a generation that were deeply committed to the profession and to the kids. I have come to know way too many young teachers that seemed to value the “lifestyle” to teaching more than the actual job they are entrusted to perform. I deplore the attacks on seniority, although I will admit there are some burned out older teachers and although I completely oppose the system of remuneration that makes years of experience the sole criteria for pay. The issue should be teacher quality and nothing more.

As for teacher quality, once again a summer went by where there was not even one job posting for a clinical supervisor; a person whose sole responsibility is to provide practical supervision of new and at risk teachers. I was especially disturbed about this in this particular year because we do have new legislation in place and a new emphasis on raising teacher quality and performance. On site clinical supervisors represent the single best way to insure improved performance, and the unwillingness of districts to hire such professionals shows, to me, enormous insincerity towards this goal. I keep wondering why districts are so reluctant to hire these people, and I’ve come to the conclusion it is because current supervisors and administrators think that they are capable of providing adequate supervision, and that is so far from the truth as to be laughable, if the issue weren’t so serious. These self -serving administrators, most of whom lack the vision and leadership needed to create a true culture of learning, are a greater impediment to “great schools” than deficient teachers.

In other news, teachers in Montgomery are resisting efforts to require having 18 more minutes added to the school day. Are they kidding? Do they realize how this is being perceived, at a time when citizens, worn down by the recession, are in no mood to support people seen as being lazy. I’m not sure how Montgomery constructs its school schedule, but we are talking about adding on average 2 – 5 minutes to each class period. Suck it up Montgomery teachers, your profession cannot afford being perceived as greedy and selfish, which is exactly the vibe you are giving off to the hard working people of your Township.

And finally, a new Rand study reports that charter schools are in fact a huge drain on the financial resources of public schools, and that this problem is being made worse not because public school students are migrating to charter schools, but because private school students are. Remember it’s not the private school that has to provide the per pupil funding, it’s the public district, so already drained public schools are now in essence paying for private school students, whose parents see these charter schools as a means to get a quality education without having to pay private school fees anymore. So now charter schools are not only putting financial pressure on public schools, but now they are putting private schools under pressure as well. Some have in fact closed.

This is troubling news for me. Philosophically, I support the idea of charter schools as “laboratories” for change, a venue for trying innovative ideas that might then be integrated into our public schools. This was their original intent, and this is how I view them. But charter schools have begun to grow, with very mixed results, and are now even appearing in suburban districts where there is absolutely no need for them to exist. Charter schools have become an “industry,” and I am truly concerned that the sense of “mission” has been lost and that they are becoming problematic. This recent news story means that another group of people, namely private school leaders, has become animated in halting their growth. As these private school leaders align with suburban parents alarmed with their spread, powerful political forces opposed to charters are now being energized to push back against them. I hate to say it, but this may be a good thing, if as a result the spread of charters is slowed. As their growth is paused, maybe we can refocus on the true purpose of these schools and reestablish the important connection that should exist between the urban public and charter schools.


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