Friday, June 13, 2014

Governor Christie Once Again Hits the Mark on Urban Education

It has become clear over Governor Christie's tenure that he seems to enjoy walking the tightrope between supporting urban education and supporting the NJEA. His latest initiative, a partnership with the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship Foundation being funded by private institutions such as Geraldine Dodge, PSEG, and Robert Wood Johnson, plans to place several hundred STEM teachers in urban classrooms. These teachers are being given a $30,000 stipend in return for entering a graduate program and a pledge to devote at least the next three years to teaching, with most of these new recruits coming from the college ranks. It is like the "alternate route on steroids." Of note is the fact that these new recruits are graduates with degrees in "specialized" fields rather than degrees in education, and frankly I couldn't be happier.

I have been adamant in my belief that we need to find our next generation of teachers from among these specialized fields, and I would go so far as to only hire such teachers at the high school level. It is also worth noting that we have not done very well as a nation in retaining such prospects. A Scientific American study a few years back noted that almost 75% of all STEM teachers recruited in a manner such as this ended up leaving education once their required "time to serve" ended.

My personal feeling, some of which is supported by studies like that referenced above, is that we lose these prospective teachers because these graduates are not like the "typical" graduate with an education degree. First of all, the quality of practical, clinical supervision they are provided with during their first few years on the job is, in their view, substandard, giving them neither the support or feedback they need to be effective. Second, these graduates clearly have opportunities to pursue outside of education, and that reality is never far from their minds. And third, these graduates are much more entrepreneurially minded than traditional teaching students, and as such they philosophically approach the curricula, their classroom, and the system of remuneration differently from those with education degrees.

These new STEM and other "specialized" teachers expect greater academic freedom to design courses consistent with their personal intellectual passions and knowledge, expect to be mentored and supervised in a more collaborative manner, and expect to be paid either in salary or bonus for exemplary performance if it were to occur.

I've never really thought much of those who claim teachers go into education because they "love children" and simply want to help prepare the next generation of adults. I don't doubt that is a motivator, but for most educators their are far more practical and personal reasons for becoming teachers. These "other" reasons are simply more amplified in this new corps of prospective teachers, and these motivators are not a bad thing.

Our inner city schools are in need of radical transformation; the intrusive and piecemeal approach typical of the "government mandate" model is outdated and ineffective. We need to literally turn every public school into its own charter school, led not by bureaucratic administrators and risk averse educators but by passionate, entrepreneurially minded leaders that want the same in their teachers and students.

It is my hope that these STEM teachers will receive the practical, clinical support they need, will not be overwhelmed by paperwork, adopting the "jargon" of the field,  and other requirements that cause their passion to shrivel and their desire to wane. The current written requirements that are part of the recent "accountability legislation" have been shown to be draining whatever passion is still left in our more veteran, able teachers. I can only imagine the impact it is having on these newer recruits. We must do all that we can to nurture these new STEM teachers, and use any "lessons learned" to create additional incentivized programs to attract our top college graduates into urban education. I applaud the Christie Administration from supporting this initiative, and hope the NJEA will lend its support to efforts like this to mobilize a new breed of teacher. Our inner city students deserve nothing less.

It is time for government for "get off the backs" of our urban schools, and for decentralization and freedom to become the new mantra for the inner city. This is obviously but one piece of a very complicated, multi-piece puzzle, but a necessary one nonetheless.

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