Archives for category: Teacher Tenure

According to Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver is set to strip 47 teachers of their tenure because they received two consecutive ineffective ratings.

The state law passed in 2010 called S. 191 requires that teachers be evaluated annually, with student scores counting for 50% of the teachers’ ratings. The law was written by State Senator Michael Johnston, who spent two years as a Teach for America recruit. Johnston predicted that his law would cause every teacher, every principal, and every school in Colorado to be “great.” There is no evidence that it has had that effect.

DPS did not provide a list of the schools at which the 47 teachers set to lose tenure taught. But the district did provide some information about the teachers and their students:

— Twenty-eight of the 47 teachers set to lose tenure — or 60 percent — have more than 15 years of experience. Ten of those teachers — 21 percent — have 20 years or more of experience.
Overall, about 33 percent of non-probationary DPS teachers have more than 15 years experience, and about 14 percent have more than twenty years of experience.

— The majority of the 47 teachers — 26 of them — are white. Another 14 are Latino, four are African-American, two are multi-racial and one is Asian.
About three-quarters of all DPS teachers — probationary and non-probationary — are white.

— Thirty-one of the 47 teachers set to lose tenure — or 66 percent — teach in “green” or “blue” schools, the two highest ratings on Denver’s color-coded School Performance Framework. Only three — or 6 percent — teach in “red” schools, the lowest rating.

About 60 percent of all DPS schools are “green” or “blue,” while 14 percent are “red.”

— Thirty-eight of the 47 teachers — or 81 percent — teach at schools where more than half of the students qualify for federally subsidized lunches, an indicator of poverty….

Pam Shamburg, executive director of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, said the union has long been concerned about this provision of Senate Bill 191 because teachers who are demoted to probationary status lose their due process rights.

She’s also worried it will lead to higher teacher turnover. Ten of the 47 DPS teachers set to lose non-probationary status have submitted notices of resignation or retirement, officials said, though nine of them did so before learning they would lose tenure.

“This happening to 47 teachers has a much bigger impact,” Shamburg said. “There will be hundreds of teachers who know about this. They’ll say if they can do that to (that teacher), they can do that to me.”

In this post, EduShyster interviews Eunice Han, an economist who earned her Ph.D. at Harvard University and is now headed for the University of Utah.

Dr. Han studied the effects of unions on teacher quality and student achievement and concluded that unionization is good for teachers and students alike.

This goes against the common myth that unions are bad, bad, bad.

Han says that “highly unionized districts actually fire more bad teachers.”

And more: It’s pretty simple, really. By demanding higher salaries for teachers, unions give school districts a strong incentive to dismiss ineffective teachers before they get tenure. Highly unionized districts dismiss more bad teachers because it costs more to keep them.

Dr. Han found a natural experiment in the states that abolished collective bargaining.

Indiana, Idaho, Tennessee and Wisconsin all changed their laws in 2010-2011, dramatically restricting the collective bargaining power of public school teachers. After that, I was able to compare what happened in states where teachers’ bargaining rights were limited to states where there was no change. If you believe the argument that teachers unions protect bad teachers, we should have seen teacher quality rise in those states after the laws changed. Instead I found that the opposite happened. The new laws restricting bargaining rights in those four states reduced teacher salaries by about 9%. That’s a huge number. A 9% drop in teachers salaries is unheard of. Lower salaries mean that districts have less incentive to sort out better teachers, lowering the dismissal rate of underperforming teachers, which is what you saw happen in the those four states. Lower salaries also encouraged high-quality teachers to leave the teaching sector, which contributed to a decrease of teacher quality.

Send this link to Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, and any other reformers you can think of.

Gene V. Glass here reproduces the Republican platform on education. The Republican platform supports school choice, the public display of the Ten Commandments, merit pay, two-parent families, and a Constitutional amendment to keep government from interfering with parental rights over children. (I am reminded of the day in 2012 when Mitt Romney went into an all-black school in Philadelphia and spoke out about the virtues of two-parent families; the principal told him that few of the children had two parents, which left open the question of what educators are supposed to do in the face of reality.)

The Republican platform supports home-schooling, career and technical education, private or parochial schools, magnet schools, charter schools, online learning, early-college high schools, and vouchers. It does not mention support for public schools, except as a place where students should be permitted to pray. The platform also believes that military service is a better credential for teaching than any study or practice in a professional education program.

The platform does not acknowledge the growing body of evidence that vouchers and charters do not provide superior educations to poor children.

We support the public display of the Ten Commandments as a reflection of our history and our country’s Judeo-Christian heritage and further affirm the rights of religious students to engage in voluntary prayer at public school events and to have equal access to school facilities. We assert the First Amendment right of freedom of association for religious, private, service, and youth organizations to set their own membership standards.

Children raised in a two-parent household tend to be physically and emotionally healthier, more likely to do well in school, less likely to use drugs and alcohol, engage in crime or become pregnant outside of marriage. We oppose policies and laws that create a financial incentive for or encourage cohabitation.

We call for removal of structural impediments which progressives throw in the path of poor people: Over-regulation of start-up enterprises, excessive licensing requirements, needless restrictions on formation of schools and day-care centers serving neighborhood families, and restrictions on providing public services in fields like transport and sanitation that close the opportunity door to all but a favored few. We will continue our fight for school choice until all parents can find good, safe schools for their children.

Education: A Chance for Every Child

Education is much more than schooling. It is the whole range of activities by which families and communities transmit to a younger generation, not just knowledge and skills, but ethical and behavioral norms and traditions. It is the handing over of a cultural identity. That is why American education has, for the last several decades, been the focus of constant controversy, as centralizing forces from outside the family and community have sought to remake education in order to remake America. They have done immense damage. The federal government should not be a partner in that effort, as the Constitution gives it no role in education. At the heart of the American Experiment lies the greatest political expression of human dignity: The self- evident truth that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Parents are a child’s first and foremost educators, and have primary responsibility for the education of their children. Parents have a right to direct their children’s education, care, and upbringing. We support a constitutional amendment to protect that right from interference by states, the federal government, or international bodies such as the United Nations. We reject a one- size-fits-all approach to education and support a broad range of choices for parents and children at the state and local level. We likewise repeat our long- standing opposition to the imposition of national standards and assessments, encourage the parents and educators who are implementing alternatives to Common Core, and congratulate the states which have successfully repealed it. Their education reform movement calls for choice-based, parent-driven accountability at every stage of schooling. It affirms higher expectations for all students and rejects the crippling bigotry of low expectations. It recognizes the wisdom of local control of our schools and it wisely sees consumer rights in education — choice — as the most important driving force for renewing education. It rejects excessive testing and “teaching to the test” and supports the need for strong assessments to serve as a tool so teachers can tailor teaching to meet student needs. Maintaining American preeminence requires a world-class system of education in which all students can reach their potential.

We applaud America’s great teachers, who should be protected against frivolous lawsuits and should be able to take reasonable actions to maintain discipline and order in the classroom. Administrators need flexibility to innovate and to hold accountable all those responsible for student performance. A good understanding of the Bible being indispensable for the development of an educated citizenry, we encourage state legislatures to offer the Bible in a literature curriculum as an elective in America’s high school districts.

Rigid tenure systems should be replaced with a merit-based approach in order to attract the best talent to the classroom. All personnel who interact with school children should pass background checks and be held to the highest standards of personal conduct.

Academic Excellence for All

Maintaining American preeminence requires a world-class system of education in which all students can reach their potential. Republicans are leading the effort to create it. Since 1965, the federal government, through more than 100 programs in the Department of Education, has spent $2 trillion on elementary and secondary education with little substantial improvement in academic achievement or high school graduation rates. The United States spends an average of more than $12,000 per pupil per year in public schools, for a total of more than $620 billion. That represents more than 4 percent of GDP devoted to K-12 education in 2011-2012. Of that amount, federal spending amounted to more than $57 billion. Clearly, if money were the solution, our schools would be problem-free. More money alone does not necessarily equal better performance. After years of trial and error, we know the policies and methods that have actually made a difference in student advancement: Choice in education; building on the basics; STEM subjects and phonics; career and technical education; ending social promotions; merit pay for good teachers; classroom discipline; parental involvement; and strong leadership by principals, superintendents, and locally elected school boards. Because technology has become an essential tool of learning, it must be a key element in our efforts to provide every child equal access and opportunity. We strongly encourage instruction in American history and civics by using the original documents of our founding fathers.

Choice in Education

We support options for learning, including home-schooling, career and technical education, private or parochial schools, magnet schools, charter schools, online learning, and early-college high schools. We especially support the innovative financing mechanisms that make options available to all children: education savings accounts (ESAs), vouchers, and tuition tax credits. Empowering families to access the learning environments that will best help their children to realize their full potential is one of the greatest civil rights challenges of our time. A young person’s ability to succeed in school must be based on his or her God-given talent and motivation, not an address, ZIP code, or economic status. We propose that the bulk of federal money through Title I for low-income children and through IDEA for children with special needs should follow the child to whatever school the family thinks will work best for them.

In sum, on the one hand enormous amounts of money are being spent for K-12 public education with overall results that do not justify that spending level. On the other hand, the common experience of families, teachers, and administrators forms the basis of what does work in education. In Congress and in the states, Republicans are bridging the gap between those two realities. Congressional Republicans are leading the way forward with major reform legislation advancing the concept of block grants and repealing numerous federal regulations which have interfered with state and local control of public schools. Their Workplace Innovation and Opportunity Act — modernizing workforce programs, repealing mandates, and advancing employment for persons with disabilities — is now law. Their legislation to require transparency in unfunded mandates imposed upon our schools is advancing. Their D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program should be expanded as a model for the rest of the country. We deplore the efforts of Congressional Democrats and the current President to eliminate this successful program for disadvantaged students in order to placate the leaders of the teachers’ unions.

To ensure that all students have access to the mainstream of American life, we support the English First approach and oppose divisive programs that limit students’ ability to advance in American society. We renew our call for replacing “family planning” programs for teens with sexual risk avoidance education that sets abstinence until marriage as the responsible and respected standard of behavior. That approach — the only one always effective against premarital pregnancy and sexually-transmitted disease — empowers teens to achieve optimal health outcomes. We oppose school-based clinics that provide referral or counseling for abortion and contraception and believe that federal funds should not be used in mandatory or universal mental health, psychiatric, or socio-emotional screening programs. The federal government has pushed states to collect and share vast amounts of personal student and family data, including the collection of social and emotional data. Much of this data is collected without parental consent or notice. This is wholly incompatible with the American Experiment and our inalienable rights.

We urge state education officials to promote the hiring of qualified veterans as teachers in our public schools. Their proven abilities and life experiences will make them more successful instructors and role models for students than would any teaching certification.

The new federal law titled “Every Student Succeeds Act” encourages states to welcome newcomers to the field of teacher education, such as the Relay Graduate School of Education and the Match Graduate School of Education. Relay and Match have much in common. They do not have scholars or researchers on their “faculty.” At last check, neither had anyone with a doctorate in any subject on their faculty. They do not appear to teach cognitive development, child study, the history or economics of education, the uses and misuses of testing, early childhood education, or any other subject normally found in a typical graduate school of education. These “graduate schools” consist of charter teachers teaching future charter teachers how to raise test scores and how to maintain strict discipline. They might appropriately be called a “program,” but they are not “graduate schools of education,” nor should they have the right to award master’s degrees. Going to Match or Relay is akin to taking classes in computer programming or cooking or going to a trade school.

I discovered that EduShyster explained the Match “Graduate School of Education” a few years back. Read this short piece to understand what Match is and why so many of its ill-prepared teachers don’t last.

And remember, the Congress of the United States wants to promote more of these sham teacher-preparation programs.

John Thompson, teacher and historian in Oklahoma, decided to check out what the supporters of the original Vergara decision were up to. They have appealed the reversal of the original decision. The original decision struck down California statutes that protect tenure and seniority. On appeal, that lower court decision was reversed by a unanimous court. Now the plaintiffs have filed an appeal, seeking to restore the original decision. Thompson wrote a direct letter to two distinguished legal scholars who filed amicus briefs, asking them to explain why they support a decision that was anti-tenure, anti-seniority, anti-teacher, and anti-union.

After reading the names of eminent scholars who signed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiff of Vergara v California, I sent a “say it ain’t so” email to a couple of them. I appreciate the responses that I received, but I must admit that they reinforced my fears about the continuing corporate reform, anti-teacher public relations campaign. As Jal Mehta explains, teaching is treated like a “semi-profession.” It’s bad enough that school reformers seek to silence our hard-earned insights, as they move us around like chess pieces, in the hopes that they can someday-over-the-rainbow devise a system of rewards and punishments that will transform our schools. It is sadder still that eminent jurists would agree that the noneducators in the Billionaires Boys Club have virtually no burden of proving that their hunches about school improvement would cause more good than harm to poor children of color.

Two legal scholars replied that they aren’t anti-teacher, and their brief is limited to a specific aspect of California constitutional law. I wonder if they would follow the same logic and write an amicus brief in support of a narrow point in the Citizens United case. After all, Vergara is just one part of a corporate assault on unions, collective bargaining and traditional public education governance; Citizens United was a similar attack on traditional electoral politics. But here is the vexing problem: legal scholars would never come out in support for Citizens United without conducting a careful review of the facts as well as the legal logic of the case. I wonder how many Vergara supporters have even read the evidence presented by the plaintiffs at trial. Had they done so, I wonder if they would see the disconnect between the experts’ narrow research methodology, their broad expressions of personal opinions on the witness stand, and the real world.

The amicus brief says that five challenged statutes should be stricken because “they guarantee education ineffectiveness without regard to the educational rights of students.” “Guarantee” is a strong word. My view is that the striking of those statutes would virtually guarantee the acceleration of the exodus of teaching talent from inner city schools. And, that gets to the heart of the issue. The case is based on opinions versus opinions. I think it is fair to say that the beliefs of the noneducators behind Vergara are held by a minority of scholars, and that the preponderance of evidence is that the contested statutes are imperfect but basically beneficial to poor children of color. I wonder if the amicus signers are aware of the huge body of social science and education history that argue against the plaintiff’s claims. But, the amicus argues that it is the state law, not the hypotheses of corporate reformers, which must carry the burden of “strict scrutiny.”

I wonder if the amicus signers are aware that the Vergara trial was fundamentally a venue for market-driven reformers’ high-dollar, anti-union publicity campaign, which presents adorable images of students who they claim are victims of the due process rights of teachers. Expert witnesses, like the Gates Foundation’s Tom Kane, presented theoretical research (mostly dealing with average outcomes) that had little or no relevance to the policy questions at hand. Their regression studies were basically props, providing numbers (of dubious relevance) for beautiful multi-colored graphics. The plan is to take their well-funded dog and pony show across the nation. For them, it’s a win-win, political hardball strategy. If they lose at trial or on appeal, teacher-bashers, like the Vergara II campaign known as Campbell Brown’s The 74, can continue with their meme, that supposedly it is “bad teachers,” protected by bad unions that keep poor children of color down. If they win, two of the nation’s largest unions are crippled, meaning that the coalition which seeks to stand up to the One Percent is undermined.

Much of the problem is rooted in segregation. There’s a huge gulf between life in the Ivory Tower and the inner city. I wonder if the signers would support a corporate effort to strip college professors of tenure. Public school teachers don’t have the same free speech rights on the job as university professors, but we need the due process rights which allow us to speak up for our students during special education IEP meetings, in student disciplinary hearings, and in debates over policy. These legal scholars not only poo-poo the claim that public school teachers have First Amendment rights, but would strip us of our legislative victories that protect the clash of ideas in the urban classroom.

I suspect the amicus signers sent their kids to elite schools where nobody would try to silence teachers defending the rights of affluent students to receive a holistic education, not just bubble-in malpractice. I wonder if they are aware of the pro-testing litmus tests that the corporate reformers who push Vergara have helped impose, such as “exiting” teachers in SIG schools who don’t pledge fidelity to teach-to-the-test under the pretense that they are “culture-killers.” Do they understand that the challenged laws have helped California resist this destructive micromanaging? Don’t they realize that striking down those laws could virtually guarantee the victory of the test, sort, reward, and punish school of output-driven reformers?

I also wonder if the signers would question their assumption that they are on the side of justice if they read Tom Kane’s latest piece which, like so many other expressions of his opinions, actually argue against Vergara. Kane argues that the education problem “is state law, combined with teacher’s employment preferences.” The Court must disregard teachers’ employment preferences because, he says, it would be too expensive to recruit and retain teachers in high-need districts. Even a $20,000 bonus has been shown to be an inadequate incentive for moving top teachers to the inner city. So, the Court must undermine duly-enacted protections against forced transfers of teachers.

That raises the question of why Kane doesn’t insist that the best and the brightest, i.e. elite college professors, be forced to transfer to the urban classroom. After all, if they have the intellect (and the interpersonal skills?) to earn tenure at elite universities, those professors must surely have the talents that would lift children in the toughest schools out of poverty.

I kid Kane, but he’s awfully disconnected from reality. His arguments make it sound like a key purpose of Vergara is to justify his pet project, his persuading of Bill Gates and the federal government into coercing more than 40 states to adopt his dubious test-driven approach to teacher evaluations. When not campaigning for Vergara, Kane repeatedly protests his mandates for value-added evaluations weren’t a fiasco, and others should be blamed for their costly failures. Now, the economist says that the Court of Appeal incorrectly ruled: “Although the statutes may lead to the hiring and retention of more ineffective teachers than a hypothetical alternative system would, the statutes do not address the assignment of teachers.” But, Kane still ignores the costs of his alternative in terms of driving teaching talent out of the profession in response to taking away our hard-earned legal rights.

Kane then shows how he misunderstands the nature of public education when criticizing the Court’s “view of the crux of the case” by concluding. “Plaintiffs still could have demonstrated a facial equal protection violation, however, by showing that the challenged statutes, regardless of how they are implemented, inevitably cause poor and minority students to be provided with an education that is not ‘basically equivalent to’ their more affluent and/or white peers.”

Once again, Kane remains oblivious to the myriad of ways that his next argument undermines Vergara’s logic. Rather than articulate a facial equal protection violation, he asserts “the challenged statutes “inevitably cause” poor and minority students to be provided with a lower quality education” in two ways:

The negative impact can take two forms, depending on the district leadership’s response to the statutes: First, if the district leadership chooses not to intervene in the flow of teachers moving between its own schools and between districts.

The second way in which the negative effects can be felt, however, is when district leaders do take counter-measures.

Kane further complains that “often collectively bargained, school districts cannot simply force effective teachers to move to high-needs schools to take the place of their less effective colleagues.” It never occurs to the economist that the personalities, backgrounds, and people skills required to teach in the inner city may be very different than those of teachers in low-poverty schools.

Let’s think for a second what Kane is saying. The life of a policy-maker is hard. Problems are complex and intertwined. The preferences of employees can’t simply be ignored because they still would have the freedom to quit and move elsewhere. So, the Court should order lawmakers to accomplish that task. Legislators should then mandate the crafting of a whole new set of laws that impose Kane’s metrics that are inherently biased against inner city teachers in order to attract more talent to the inner city!?!?

Vergara supporters would recruit and retain smarter teachers by taking away our democratic rights and ending, not mending, seniority (which, real world, is our First Amendment.) They would stifle teachers’ ability to help create an evolving balance which, we believe, may be flawed but which still protects students. Kane, like the amicus signers, would set the ground rules so that the chance of victory in the battle for the best ways to help poor children of color doesn’t go to the side which presents the best case. They would insist that we educators, and our expert witnesses, have to face strict scrutiny, and basically prove that those corporate-funded reformers’ opinions are not just misguided but basically irrational.

I had a modest proposal for university professors who want to strip tenure from teachers in elementary and secondary schools: They should prove their sincerity by giving up their own tenure. When they do that, we can take them seriously. Until they do, they are just blowing smoke.

Deborah Meier, founder of Central Park East in New York City and the Mission Hill school in Boston, explains the rationale for tenure and seniority from her perspective as a principal:

 

 

“Tenure and seniority are often attacked by people of good will. As a former principal of several schools, I embrace it. The culture of Central Park East and Mission Hill depended on both, even if there were occasions when I wished otherwise. I’m not alone, as a principal, in this view.

 

 

The kind of noncompetitive shared “ownership” over the school that the staff and faculty displayed over and over and over again rested in large measure on their not having to balance their personal self-interest and their devotion to the school. There is nothing evil in our desire to have a steady paycheck, to feel secure even if you irritate those in charge, and to want to be able to plan one’s life ahead. These are healthy qualities that human beings should not be ashamed of. As FDR once noted, “freedom from fear” is one of the basics that democracy rests on—–fear makes for bad practice of teaching and democracy.

 

 

My capacity to provide leadership where needed, and build a strong staff rested on the fact that there were some rules of the game we couldn’t change, and were not available to our temporary biases. I could be strong and as persuasive as I could be without fear of intimidating others to follow my lead, or silence even young and inexperienced staff from venturing forth with their opinions—as long as I did not have the power to wreak havoc on their lives—and cut off the lively ideas that might otherwise inconvenience me. Experience close to home reminds me that even tenured teachers can lose their jobs if they annoy the principal too much in settings where staff cohesion is weak. Only such “irritation” is sufficient to get many principals to take the trouble to “get rid” of a staff member—-and cause can always be dug up when the desire is strong enough.

 

 

Finally, it’s hard to believe that some wouldn’t be influenced by having to pay senior teachers so much more than first year teachers, thus creating a tendency to punish experienced teachers who have to constantly outperform newer and younger colleagues. If we want people to stay we need to offer them a good shot at making decent pay as they get older. Given that most newbies leave within the first 5 years—perhaps inevitable—it makes sense to pay them less as they learn the craft, and while they have fewer adult responsibilities. But once again, as with tenure, if decisions about pay are made by one’s principal there is a never-ending tendency to “please the boss”. When someone should not be teaching there should be peer reviews, with the principal being a part of the process, for weeding out those who, at the present time, do not seem ready to be teachers.

Chris in Florida is a regular reader of the blog who teaches in that state. Florida is now experiencing a serious loss of teachers, as experienced teachers leave and the number of  new ones  are not enough to take their place. Is this what the reformers want? Did they plan to destroy the teaching profession or did they forget to consider the consequences of their actions?

 

 

Chris writes:

 

“My teaching friends, most of whom are retiring early thanks to having a spouse with a great pension plan or a high-paying job, have been urging me to apply for a coaching job in my district because they say I need to share my knowledge and experience with more than just my own class.

 

“I wouldn’t even consider it because A. it requires a master’s degree just to apply yet B. if you are hired as a coach you lose the paltry $1,800/year increase that a master’s degree brings you. Got that? Moving ‘up’ and taking on more responsibility actually nets you LESS pay.

 

“I have 2 master’s degrees but only get the one measly $1,800 bump (divide that by 26 yearly paychecks and I get a whopping $69.23/paycheck for completing an MA at a prestigious university with a 4.0 GPA.

 

“The step system is now outlawed; districts can’t use seniority or degrees in determining salary, though most still have the vestiges of one in place until the merit pay law goes into full effect next year.

 

“The union’s playbook on this was to negotiate a Memo of Understanding with the Superintendent that held teachers harmless until the law must be put in place permanently.

 

“The hope was that lawsuits, public outcry, and lobbying would get the law repealed or replaced. It didn’t happen during this year’s legislative session and so next year things are going to get REALLY dangerous and ugly for any teacher who doesn’t teach upper middle class white kids in our district, about 5 or 6 schools out of nearly 40.

 

“Public shaming and lobbying is less than worthless. The leaders of the Florida legislative bodies and their spouse/families all profit handsomely from charter school and voucher-related businesses and they pass multiple laws every year that further enrich themselves and their cronies.

 

“When multiple newspapers from around the state called them out for double-dipping and conflict of interest they told the voters to buzz off. They will all move into very lucrative consulting and lobbying positions after the mandatory retirement after 2 terms in the legislature so they don’t care what voters think or say at all.

 

“No other salary increases are possible unless you give up your seniority and due process rights and going the ‘bonus’ program, which to no one’s surprise, went only to teachers at upper middle class white schools. No one at a Title I schools qualified for that ‘bonus’ or the SAT/ACT ‘bonus’ because of their students’ test scores.

 

“I am less than a decade away from retirement and I realize that, because I dedicated my life to teaching poor children of color, I will never own my own home, appliances like a washer and dryer or refrigerator, have a new car, or be able to afford much more than beans and rice until I die.

 

“This is the reward Florida gives a National Board Certified teacher with 2 master’s degrees and over 20 years experience.

 

“I’m glad for the teachers who are able to leave and build a new life. I waited too long, I guess, and now will have to look at ways to continue working until I die once the DROP program forces me out.

 

“I never cared about money throughout my career or my life; I just wanted to teach kids to love learning like I did. Now, I guess, I am paying the price for my naiveté but I don’t regret a moment.

 

“I just wish we could jail all the reformers, starting with JEB! Bush, and take back our beloved profession and save our public schools before I’m gone.

 

“I’ll keep praying!”

 

 

This is the third segment of the debate between me and Whitney Tilson about education reform. Tilson is a key figure in the reform movement–which I usually call the corporate reform movement because it tries to adapt bottom-line, carrot-and-stick, measure-and-punish/reward approaches into education. Tilson was a founder of Democrats for Education Reform, which underwrites political candidates who support charters and high-stakes testing. DFER is a partner of the advocacy group Education Reform Now, which has the same goals. My position is that this movement is not about reform but about privatization by charters and vouchers. Whitney Tilson reached out and proposed an exchange, and I readily agreed. The way it works is like this: He sends me a statement of his views and questions, and I respond. We send our comments back and forth a few times. His comments begin with WT, mine begin with DR. If you want to see his post, where my comments are in blue, go here. Readers have asked why I am engaging in this exchange. First of all, I think it is always valuable to listen to people who disagree with your views. Second, this is a wonderful opportunity for me to correct some of Whitney’s ideas about testing and teaching that I think are misinformed. Third, it is a good opportunity to post my views on a blog where people normally would never see them.

 

Here is round 3.

 

 

Whitney Tilson writes:

 

 

 

WT: STOP THE PRESSES AGAIN!!! (continuing yesterday’s email)

 

My new BFF, Diane Ravitch, and I have continued our conversation and it’s gotten even more interesting, as we’ve moved past the high-level principles we mostly agreed on in our first exchange of emails (sent a couple of weeks ago and posted on her blog here and my blog here) and started engaging on the many issues on which we disagree.

 

Round 2 of our discussion, which I posted on my blog here and she posted here, covered many topics:

 

1) Whether reformers are now the status quo

 

2) Charter schools

 

3) Tests and how they should (and shouldn’t) be used

 

Today we continue with Round 3, which covers:

 

1) Who is the underdog in this battle

 

2) The tone of the debate and our shared desire to focus more on the issues and less on personal attacks

 

3) The details of the Vergara case – namely, a) the amount of time it takes teachers to earn tenure; b) how difficult it is for administrators to fire a tenured teacher; and c) whether layoffs should be done strictly by seniority

 

My original email is in italics, Diane’s comments are in blue (beginning with “DR:”), and my responses are in black (beginning with “WT:”).

 

Enjoy!

 

Whitney

 


 

DR: Whitney, let’s go back to the question with which this exchange began. You suggested that I was being insulting by referring to a “billionaire boys’ club.” Yes, there actually is a “billionaire boys’ club.” What else would you call the collaboration among the Walton Family Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, along with another dozen or two dozen billionaires, such as the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the Emerson Collective (Laurene Powell Jobs), the Dell Foundation, the Helmsley Foundation, the Bloomberg Foundation, the Fisher Foundation, etc. In addition to these billionaires, the U.S. Department of Education can usually be counted on to throw in hundreds of millions to fund whatever the billionaires fund.

 

WT: I think you’re being sexist in using the word “boys” because, for example, Melinda Gates plays as large (if not larger) role than her husband at the Gates Foundation, and Alice Walton, Carrie Walton Penner, and other younger, less known Walton women are deeply engaged in this area. If you want to call it the “billionaires club”, fine.

 

DR: It really is irrelevant whether I call it the “Billionaire Boys’ Club” or the “Billionaires’ Club.” It is a distinction without a difference. The point is that these very rich people have decided that they should control public education, even though none of them was ever a teacher, and few ever attended a public school or sent their own children to public schools. The reality is that this small group of people has a lock on almost all funding for education.

 

I am president of a national organization of educators and parents called the Network for Public Education. We support public education, and we oppose high-stakes testing and privatization. The doors of all these foundations are closed to us. So is the U.S. Department of Education. When I try to think of foundations that support our goals–which are widely shared by millions of parents and educators–I can’t use up the five fingers on one hand.

 

WT: I find it so interesting how both sides see themselves as the outmanned, outgunned, outspent underdog. I agree with you that a number of major foundations have provided major funding over many years to support the “reform” agenda. But: a) I think the vast majority of mainstream/family/community foundations tend to support the existing system without really trying to change it: funding after-school programs, scholarships, trips and other special programs, paying for teaching aides in classrooms, etc.); and b) The resources the two teachers unions’ bring to bear dwarfs the efforts of the handful of foundations you cite.

 

They are among the most powerful interest groups in the country. The NEA is the largest labor union in the country with just under 3 million members and the AFT has 1.6 million more, meaning that 2.0% of U.S. adults (above age 20) are members. Their combined revenues at all levels probably exceed $1.3 billion a year, not including their PAC funds, foundations, and a host of special funds under their control. But their political power isn’t just in their money, it’s their grassroots organization to get out the vote, etc. They can provide a candidate a turnkey campaign operation with filings, yard signs, mailings, telephone calls, volunteers, fundraising and crucial foot soldiers. I haven’t seen the latest statistics, but at one point teacher union representatives accounted for approximately 10% of the delegates at the Democratic National Convention, more than any state except California. They are very influential in electing school board members, which means that in many cases they are, in effect, negotiating with themselves. As one Southern governor said: “There’s only one thing you have to know about politics in my state. Every teacher has every summer before every election off.”

 

I don’t think I’m going to persuade you, but I hope you better understand why I feel like our side is the underdog here.

 

DR: The combined wealth of the Walton family, the Gates family, the Broad family, Michael Bloomberg, and the many other billionaires who fund the testing and charter movement—certainly more than $300 billion– dwarfs the assets and income of the two teachers’ unions. The puzzle to me is why these billionaires think they should run the nation’s public education system. They have no special knowledge of education. Knowing how to make money or inheriting money from your parents does not mean that you know more than professional educators. Aside from the question of their competence to take control of what they do not understand, there is the question of democracy. Public education belongs to the public, not to the highest bidder. Michael Bloomberg, who was a very good mayor in many respects, had total control of the New York City public schools for a dozen years, and no one today would say that they are a model for the nation. They struggle with the same problems as other cities that have large numbers of poor and minority students. How many years does it take for your idea of “reform” to take hold and benefit all children, not just a few?

 

WT: Specifically, I want to apologize to you for some of the things I’ve written about you in the past, in which I’ve made personal attacks and impugned your motives.

 

DR: I appreciate that. I didn’t realize until you told me that you had created a website called http://www.rebuttingravitch.com, and I don’t know the ad hominem things you have written about me. I would apologize for anything negative I wrote about you, but I don’t think I ever have. Sometimes, in the depths of frustration over the money and power arrayed against public schools and their teachers, I may have adopted a snarky tone, but I try to avoid ad hominem rhetoric. I can think of only one occasion (there might be more, but I can’t recall) in which I called out someone personally, and that was Ben Austin, who had arranged to get a Latina principal fired in Los Angeles, someone he never met, someone whose entire staff (excepting one person) resigned in sympathy with her. That made my blood boil, because he had an organization (Parent Revolution) funded with millions from Walton, Broad, Gates, and Wasserman, and the principal was on her own, with no funds to defend herself. I get very vexed by billionaires and their surrogates attacking hard-working educators who are doing their best under difficult circumstances. I know that those billionaires and their well-paid public relations spokespersons wouldn’t last five minutes in a classroom, but….I am human and sometimes my anger gets in the way of my efforts to remain civil.

 

WT: Thank you for accepting my apology. (By the way, I’ve made major changes to my web site at http://www.rebuttingravitch.org that reflect my attempt to engage solely on the issues.)

 

I cannot accept, however, your denials and rationalizations for the rhetoric you regularly use. Perhaps after all these years it’s become so deeply ingrained as to be instinctive and you’re not even aware of what you’re doing.

 

For example, in the paragraph above, in which you write about “billionaires attacking hard-working educators,” I don’t doubt the sincerity of your beliefs and I admire your passion, but it is inflammatory and insulting language.

 

DR: Hmm. I consider it a statement of fact. If billionaires feel insulted, they should think how teachers feel when they are fired based on flawed data, because Bill Gates thinks it is a good idea or Eli Broad believes in closing their schools. I have met some of those teachers. Losing your job and your reputation hurts worse than insults, and I still don’t consider my comments insulting.

 

WT: Can you not see the difference between the following statements:

 

1) “Members of the billionaire boys’ club, who wouldn’t last five minutes in a classroom, are attacking hard-working educators, using their well-paid public relations spokespersons, as part of their efforts to privatize public education for their own profit.”

 

DR: I don’t believe the billionaires are working for their own profit. They are already super rich. But they clearly don’t respect teachers, who work much harder than they do; they do have well-paid public relations spokespersons; and they do want to privatize public education with charters and vouchers. (And, by the way, there are for-profit corporations opening bad charter schools, whose goal is indeed profit. Eighty percent of the charter schools in the state of Michigan operate for profit without any accountability.) I certainly don’t think that Bill Gates and the Walton family want to make a profit. But they don’t discourage those who do use charters to make profits. I didn’t realize that billionaires had such thin skins. Or that they felt themselves to be outmanned, outgunned, and outspent (!) by those who support public education under democratic control. They are surely outnumbered, but I don’t believe they are outmanned or outgunned. They certainly are not outspent. They paid millions to underwrite blogs like Education Post and The 74. No one pays me to blog (nor does anyone pay the scores of teacher-bloggers who dominate social media). I have no public relations staff. All I have is a computer and the knowledge I have accumulated while studying and writing about the history and politics of American education over the past half century of my life.

 

WT: And:

 

2) “I disagree with the agenda being pursued by the so-called “reform movement” and its wealthy backers. I think that their ideas in most areas – for example, favoring more charter schools, vouchers and testing – end up doing more harm than good because they demoralize teachers, weaken unions, and rattle the foundations of education without improving it.”

 

The former is name-calling, demonizing, bullying and impugning motives, which is unlikely to lead to anything productive, while the latter is a well-articulated point of view that might lead to fruitful discussions and compromises.

 

I have met Bill and Melinda Gates, John Walton, Eli and Edythe Broad, Laurene Powell Jobs, John and Laura Arnold, Michael Bloomberg, Dan Loeb, Paul Tudor Jones and many of the other billionaires you cite, and I can assure you that they are just as passionate about helping kids get a better education as you are. In addition, every one of them understands, as do you and I, that having high-quality, motivated teachers in every classroom is by far the most important way to achieve our shared goal. While some right-wing dingbats and Fox “News” have indeed been guilty of unfortunate anti-teacher rhetoric (similar in many ways to your anti-billionaire rhetoric), they do not represent reformers, any more than the worst union bosses and their sometimes thuggish tactics represent teachers. Every reformer I know celebrates, not demonizes, teachers.

 

So while you (and the unions and some teachers) may view the policies we reformers support as “attacking hard-working educators,” they are certainly not intended as such – and, in reality, I don’t think they are. For example, in the Vergara case (discussed at length below), I don’t think it’s an “attack on hard-working educators” to file a lawsuit challenging statutes governing: a) the short period of time before a tenure decision must be made, b) the long and expensive process to remove even the most ineffective teacher, and c) the strictly-by-seniority layoff policy.

 

Feel free to disagree with us regarding our policy ideas – and how you think they’re doing harm, not helping. Feel free to say that we lack experience that you feel is relevant (you point out that many of us haven’t been teachers or worked in the system, which is true, but I’d argue that, on the topic of fixing a big, broken bureaucracy, a business background is highly relevant).

 

But you diminish yourself and the debate when you stoop (as you frequently do) to hurling schoolyard insults like “billionaire boys’ club” and impugning reformers’ motives saying that their goal is to destroy public education, driven by their own greed (exactly how the Gates, Broad, Walton, Arnold, etc. families are profiting from giving away hundreds of millions of dollars a year has never been clear to me).

 

And it’s not just billionaires you attack. Of John King, you once said: “He is acting like a petty dictator, threatening to hurt the children to retaliate against the adults who did not do his bidding.”

 

And as for my friend Ben Austin, your attack on him was beyond the pale (“loathsome” “useful idiot” “you ruined the life of a good person for filthy lucre”), yet you continue to defend the indefensible and have left what you wrote about him on your blog. Unlike you, I know Ben and I can assure you that he has an enormous heart who cares passionately about giving every kid a fair shot in life via a good education. You would see this for yourself if you’d accept his offer to meet (or even have a discussion) about your differences (his email address is baustin@studentsmatter.org and I know he’d be pleased to hear from you). (As for what happened at Weigand Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles three years ago, I believe your narrative is contrary to the facts, as Ben detailed in his open letter to you dated 8/7/13.)

 

I asked Ben for his thoughts about our recent discussion and he replied:

 

“When Ravitch sentenced me to hell it was really one of the lowest moments on this whole journey for me.

 

I have never really understood her – she’s obviously a good person who cares about kids, is very smart, and has the very unique perspective of having fought passionately on both sides of this debate. But she is probably the most anti-intellectual voice in the whole national echo chamber. Her default is personal attacks and conspiracy theories.

 

As you note, I reached out to her multiple times to talk after she wrote all those terrible things about me (much of it incomplete or factually, provably incorrect), but she apparently wasn’t interested in meeting or even taking.

 

My observation and personal experience is that she often reaches hasty conclusions, based on incomplete or biased information, then, convinced in her righteousness, closes her eyes, ears and mind and attacks any opponent as a tool of the Koch Brothers and a “vile” human being. That’s often her shtick. You’d think it’d get old after a while.

 

It seems like we should all be able to adhere to the simple rule that no adult in the debate about the future of American public education should be allowed to use language they wouldn’t be allowed to use in my kids’ elementary school yard. Ravitch wouldn’t survive five minutes in the school yard without being called into the principal’s office for foul language and bullying.”

 

In summary, how would you feel if someone said “Diane Ravitch is a thinly disguised shill for the teachers unions because she’s friends with Randi, has accepted speaking fees from them, and has a personal vendetta against Joel Klein”?

 

I used to believe – and write – that, and I was wrong, which is why I apologized.

 

I hope that you might one day see that your rhetoric is sometimes similarly over-the-top and destructive and stop it.

 

DR: Whitney, I have met Michael Bloomberg, but I don’t know any of the other billionaires or their functionaries that you mention. I assume that they have good intentions, but they need to understand that the consequences of their actions and investments have created turmoil in American education and have not improved education at all. They are hurting children by their demands for testing, which consumes an inordinate amount of the school year. They are literally driving teachers out of their profession with their unsound ideas. They are damaging our nation’s public education system. If no one wants to teach, how does that improve the schools?

 

What do I want? I want all children to have the same kind of education that the billionaires want for their children and that I wanted for my children when they were young. I want to see all kids going to beautiful schools that have excellent facilities, experienced teachers, small classes, superb playing fields and gymnasia, the latest technology, and many opportunities to learn and grow. I want the equivalent of Sidwell Friends or Lakeside Academy or Dalton or Nightingale or the University of Chicago Lab School for all children. (By the way, the Lab School has a teachers’ union.)

 

I want the billionaires to become outraged about child poverty. I want to hear them say that it is a crying shame that half the kids in this country live in low-income families and nearly a quarter live in poverty. I want them to fight for major investments in infrastructure that create good jobs for the parents of these children. I want the Waltons to pay their one million employees $15 an hour so their children have a better life. I want the billionaires to use their enormous resources to fight against poverty and racial segregation, instead of complaining that teachers are uniquely responsible for overcoming poverty and inequality.

 

I guess I am thick-headed, but I don’t see my rhetoric as insulting or over-the-top or destructive. I have always strived to have a civil tone; four-letter words are not permitted on my blog. I sincerely believe that a small group of very wealthy people have spent money to weaken public education, by promoting high-stakes testing, constantly complaining about teachers, and investing in privately managed schools that enroll the students they choose. It is my considered judgment that these investments have made schooling worse for students and teachers. I am not a hot-head. I have a Ph.D. in the history of American education. There has never been a time in our history when the very existence of public education was at risk. It is at risk now. The billionaires’ antagonism towards public education and the people who teach in public schools has been destructive and demoralizing. I am in contact with a great many teachers and parents. I reflect what they complain about. Nothing I have written has caused any billionaire to change his (or her) course of action or to look at the consequences of their actions. My pen must be mightier than I know. I don’t think I have destroyed any billionaires, but the billionaires have been responsible for closing beloved schools, driving teachers out of their profession, and dividing communities. The billionaires have spent large sums buying elections in districts and states where they do not live, to make sure that people who agree with them win crucial seats. That undermines democracy. Why should they buy control of school boards when their children don’t attend public schools? Why should they buy state boards in states where they don’t live?

 

As for Ben Austin, I responded to his open letter here (I added this to our exchange after Whitney posted it; I forgot that I had written a reply to his open letter). I apologized for calling him “loathsome” but said that what he did to principal Irma Cobain was loathsome. I have never been invited to meet with him. I see by his email address that he now works for Silicon Valley billionaire David Welch, carrying the flame for the fight against tenure and seniority. If Ben wants to see me, he can come to Brooklyn anytime.

 

WT: The Vergara Case

 

This case was back in the news recently (when an appeals court overturned the trial’s judge’s initial ruling in favor of the plaintiffs), so let’s talk about it.

 

You wrote (long ago) that this case is about “a rich and powerful coalition of corporate reformers are trying to eliminate due process rights for teachers… My view: the trial continues the blame game favored by the Obama administration and the billionaire boys’ club, in which they blame “bad” teachers as the main culprit in low academic performance.”

 

Let’s put the rhetoric aside and see if we can agree on the facts: that the lawsuit challenges three specific things that the plaintiffs claim have disparate impact on poor and minority students (like the named plaintiff, Beatriz Vergara):

 

1) The amount of time it takes teachers to earn tenure (currently two years or 16 months in the classroom);

 

2) How difficult it is for administrators to fire a tenured teacher; and

 

3) How layoffs are done (current law mandates strictly by seniority).

 

(I posted a 54-slide presentation the plaintiffs prepared here and also attached it to this email.)

 

Can we agree that the lawsuit challenges these three things? (It’s have to have a debate on something without first starting by agreeing on the facts.)

 

Let’s go through each of these three:

 

1) How long do you think it should take for a teach to earn tenure? Note that the lawsuit doesn’t bash teachers (in fact it celebrates them – see pages 7-15 of the plaintiffs’ presentation), nor challenge tenure itself – it simply says 16 months in the classroom isn’t enough time to know if a teacher deserves to be tenured. Note also page 22, which shows that California is an outlier, one of only five states in which teachers can earn tenure so quickly. The majority of states, 32, require three years. That may not seem like much, but that’s 50% more time to make a very critical judgment. Do you really oppose extending the probationary period to three years???

 

DR: I don’t know what the right amount of time is to decide whether a teacher has earned due process rights. If there are good principals in place, they will not award tenure to anyone who is incompetent. In some cases, it might be as little as two years, in others, three or four. I don’t think that an administrator should be required to make that decision immediately. If they need more time, they should be able to take it. I have no objection to extending the probationary period to three years. This is a decision that should be made in the process of collective bargaining. Both sides must agree to set a timetable for a decision.

 

WT: My overall view on your comments related to the Vergara case is that I’m pleased at how much we agree on. We agree (as does the appellate court and pretty much every newspaper in the state) that change is needed, that our policies need to better support and retain great teachers and exit ineffective ones, and that the legislature needs to take the lead to fix this.

 

Regarding the first of the three challenged statues, that a tenure decision must be made within two years, I’m glad we agree that this is misguided. Where we disagree is whether a lawsuit is the right way to fix this this.

 

You argue that this “is a decision that should be made in the process of collective bargaining.” That sounds reasonable enough – except one must remember the context: this is the state of California, a very liberal state in which: a) Democrats control nearly all branches of government (something I’m generally very happy about, by the way); and b) the California Teachers Association controls the Democratic party in the state to such a degree that I question how much “bargaining” is really going on in the “process of collective bargaining” you talk about.

 

Additionally, the constitution of the state says that education is “essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people” and courts have held that CA schoolchildren have a constitutional right to “substantially equal opportunities for learning” and that “the State itself has broad responsibility to ensure basic educational equality.” (slides 4-5)

 

The CA state constitution supersedes any labor contract (no matter how fairly collectively bargained it might be), so a lawsuit is an appropriate tool if provisions of any labor contract violate the constitution and the legislature fails to remedy this.

 

More on this below…

 

2) Your main concern about the Vergara lawsuit appears to be that it challenges the process that must be followed to dismiss a tenured teacher, which you say is an attempt “to eliminate due process rights for teachers.” But this statement is factually incorrect. There is nothing in the lawsuit that calls for teachers to be stripped of their due process rights – in fact, it specifically say the opposite, that “teachers will always have due process rights” (slide 37).

 

Rather, the lawsuit says that the current 17-step process (see slide 28) is so “lengthy, costly and burdensome” – costing LAUSD, for example, $238,000 and 4+ years to remove a single teacher (slide 30) – that it is effectively impossible to remove any teacher for poor performance.

 

Teachers agree that this is a huge problem: in one survey , 65% agreed with this statement: “Based on my experiences and observations, ineffective teachers with permanent status/tenure in my school are unlikely to be dismissed for unsatisfactory performance.” And 62% agreed that “Students’ interests would be better served if it were easier to dismiss ineffective teachers.” (See slides 33-34)

 

So the real question here isn’t due process vs. no due process – of course teachers should have due process to protect them. Rather, it’s whether the pendulum has swung too far. As slide 37 shows, all CA state employees have substantial due process protections in eight areas – which teachers also have – plus a dozen more! I think it’s clear that the pendulum has swung too far.

 

I assume you disagree. I’d be interested to hear why, and whether you’d make any changes to the current dismissal process in place in CA today.

 

DR: These are complicated issues. As the Appeals Court ruled, they are not matters of equal protection of the law; they are issues to be resolved through collective bargaining and through the legislative process. I oppose a process so burdensome that ineffective or abusive teachers are left in place and/or that it takes years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to remove them. If the process is so costly and so time-consuming that “bad” teachers remain in the schools, then that process should be reviewed, changed, and streamlined, without compromising the teacher’s right to a fair hearing, requiring evidence and an independent arbitrator. Bad teachers should be promptly fired. If they don’t have tenure, they can be fired without any reason. If they have tenure, they should get a hearing, to be sure that they are bad teachers, not just someone the principal doesn’t like. If the evidence is genuine, they should be removed.

 

WT: Other than the second sentence (“they are issues to be resolved through collective bargaining and through the legislative process”), we are in 100% agreement!

 

These are indeed complicated issues and I agree that there are, unfortunately, many, many cases of teachers being wrongly terminated (or threatened with termination). So I have no quarrel with tenure, due process and a “teacher’s right to a fair hearing, with evidence and an independent arbitrator.” I completely agree with you agree that teachers should be protected from arbitrary, capricious and unfair behavior by administrators/districts, whether in the context of termination or anything else.

 

But the devil is in the details – and it is here that we likely disagree. The key issue – and it’s a tough one – is how to develop a system that adequately protects good teachers, yet also allows principals/districts to remove ineffective ones.

 

DR: In California, principals can remove ineffective teachers within the first two years of hiring. Maybe it should be three years. Whether it is two years or three years, a good principal should be able to make the termination decision promptly. No one should give due process rights to an incompetent person.

 

WT: As I wrote in our previous discussion, I think in some states (like CA), the pendulum has swung far out of whack to the point that there’s an insane system in which it’s a four-year, quarter-million-dollar process to remove even the very worst teacher. That has to change – and since the legislature hasn’t acted, some reformers (rightly in my opinion) turned to the Vergara lawsuit.

 

You believe that those who disagree with the three statutes should seek remedy through the collective bargaining and the legislative process, not via court challenges. Allow me to explain why I disagree.

 

Let’s imagine for a moment that, as part of a collective bargaining process, a statute was passed that allowed every parent to pick their child’s teacher at school, until each teacher’s class was full – and white parents got to pick first, then black and Latino parents.

 

Obviously the courts would immediately overturn this statue because it’s plainly discriminatory toward minority parents and their children, resulting in the children getting far fewer great teachers (and, of course, far more ineffective ones).

 

You see where I’m going with this, right? The Vergara lawsuit is claiming that the three statutes at issue harm students, especially poor and minority ones, and are therefore unconstitutional.

 

Critically, the relief the Vergara lawsuit seeks is not for a judge to impose a new system (for instance, mandating three years rather than two to earn tenure) – rather, for a ruling that forces the legislature and the CTA, via the collective bargaining process, to revise these three statutes such that they comply with the state constitution.

 

I understand that we no doubt disagree on whether the three statutes do, in fact, harm any students, but I hope you better appreciate the argument for why a lawsuit is a valid remedy and the intent behind it: to help all schoolchildren, especially the most disadvantaged ones, get a better education by changing statutes that, the plaintiffs claim (and I believe), make it nearly impossible to effectively manage the system in the best interests of children.

 

DR: The Appellate Court rejected your arguments here. Tenure and seniority do not violate constitutional rights. Students in high-performing districts have teachers who have tenure and seniority. I think you have to overcome your obsession with the idea that bad teachers are to blame for poor academic performance. Look at the research. Test scores all over the world show achievement gaps between the haves and the have-nots. The gaps are usually not as large as they are in the U.S., because income inequality and poverty are so much greater here. But since “your side” doesn’t like to talk about income inequality and poverty, it is easier to talk about getting rid of bad teachers. In the meanwhile, plenty of good teachers are exiting because of the poisonous atmosphere that Vergara and teacher-bashing have created.

 

The reason the Vergara case attracted national attention was not because the Silicon Valley billionaire who funded it wanted to change the probationary period to three years and to streamline the process of hearing claims against tenured teachers, but because he wanted to get rid of tenure and seniority. The claim made by the plaintiffs was that poor and minority children were denied equal protection of the law because of the laws protecting their teachers’ tenure and seniority. Of the nine plaintiffs, as I recall, two attended charter schools, where teachers have no tenure or seniority. One had a teacher who had been recognized as Pasadena’s “teacher of the year.” And at least one had a teacher who did not have tenure or seniority. No harm was ever established to these nine plaintiffs.

 

WT: Yet again, instead of engaging on the issues of the case, you choose to attack the person funding it. What is your evidence for your statement that Dave Welch “funded it [not because he] wanted to change the probationary period to three years and to streamline the process of hearing claims against tenured teachers, but because he wanted to get rid of tenure and seniority”?

 

Yet again, unlike you, I know David Welch and I believe that he is motivated solely by what he believes is best for kids. As a highly successful businessman and serial entrepreneur, he is quickly able to grasp how the challenged statutes put principals and superintendents in a straightjacket that makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for them to put the best teacher possible in every classroom and, in particular, to make sure that poor and minority kids get their fair share of the teacher talent.

 

DR: It is true that I never met David Welch. But I know that behind the lawsuit lay the belief that children with low test scores would have high test scores if only the schools could get rid of tenure and fire teachers sooner, rather than later. As I argued in one of our other exchanges, teachers leave at an alarming rate now, with or without tenure. Many districts across the nation have teacher shortages because veteran teachers are leaving, and the number of new teachers coming into the profession has plummeted. The teacher-bashing has gotten out of control and is creating terrible consequences. It is certainly not improving the teaching profession; it seems to be ruining it. Our greatest need is not to get rid of teachers, but to develop ways of supporting people who want to teach, helping them improve, and retaining them for a satisfying career.

 

WT: Again, I agree with everything you write in this paragraph except for one sentence, the first one. Yet again, where is your evidence for your assertion that: “Behind the lawsuit lay the belief that children with low test scores would have high test scores if only the schools could get rid of tenure and fire teachers sooner, rather than later.”? This is as silly as saying, “Diane Ravitch believes that all teachers are identically effective and not one should ever be fired.” While rooted in a tiny shred of truth, it’s obviously a farcical pile of nonsense.

 

Similarly, having reviewed the lawsuit and spoken to the people behind it, the true underlying beliefs of the lawsuit, I believe, are that:

 

a) There’s a big range of abilities among teachers;

 

b) Having a great teacher – and especially a string of great teachers – can make a massive difference in life outcomes for a student;

 

c) The most disadvantaged students most need the best teachers and best schools to have any chance in life and escape the powerful (as you rightly point out) demography-is-destiny trap;

 

d) Teacher talent, both within schools and among schools, is NOT evenly and fairly distributed: by far, wealthy students get more than their share of the best teachers, and poor and minority students get more than their share of the least effective ones; and, lastly:

 

e) While there are many, many factors that lead to this gross injustice, one important one are the laws/regulations/understandings built into collective bargaining agreements.

 

I hope we agree on the first four, and suspect we’ll have to agree to disagree on e). But stop making false characterizations about the lawsuit and impugning the motives of those behind it.

 

DR: I agree that there is a wide range of abilities among teachers, as there is in every other line of work.

 

I would love to see every child have a great teacher every year, but you should know that the claim that a string of great teachers closes the achievement gap has never happened. Some teachers are “great” one year, not great the next year, probably because of the composition of their class. In any event, I don’t know how you identify a great teacher in advance. Do you mean a teacher who raises test scores every year? Is that a great teacher? How about one who inspires a love of music or history or science? Expecting that every teacher in a school will be a “great” teacher, however he or she is defined, is like hoping that a baseball team will have a bullpen of pitchers who can pitch no-hitters every week, or nine starting players who hit over .300. It is theoretically possible but hasn’t ever happened.

 

I agree that the neediest students should have the best teachers, as well as the best resources and smallest class sizes. And I agree that they don’t. Many teachers flee to the suburbs, where salaries are higher, schools are beautifully equipped, students come to school well-fed and healthy, and their parents can hire tutors if they have a problem.

 

Our society is unwilling to close the income gaps and inequality gaps that cause the opportunity gaps and score gaps. Now, that would be a worthy project for the billionaires! Work on root causes and stop castigating teachers.

 

WT: 3) The last thing the Vergara lawsuit challenges is the current CA law that when layoffs occur, districts must layoff last-hired teachers regardless of effectiveness.

 

I understand your concern that, in the absence of this law, senior teachers would be laid off to save money because they’re more expensive. Fair enough – but surely you don’t think the best answer is a crude and obviously flawed policy of strict seniority-based layoffs?

 

I’ve seen compromise proposals that include developing a comprehensive and fair teacher evaluation system and then limiting seniority-based dismissals only to those teachers who have consistently been rated ineffective.

 

Perhaps you feel that such an evaluation system doesn’t exist right now in CA, so in its absence the best policy is the current one, but can we at least agree on the principle that, if layoffs are necessary, we should strive to keep the best teachers and lay off the least effective?

 

DR: If I knew how to identify which teachers are the most effective, I would agree with you. Some teachers are highly effective with students with disabilities; some are highly effective with English language learners; some with gifted students; some with a very diverse mix of students. I am not saying that every teacher is equally effective, but that we do not now have any method of fairly evaluating who is most effective and who is least effective. The best system of which I am aware is Montgomery County’s Peer Assistance and Review program. New teachers get mentors; tenured teachers whose effectiveness is in doubt get mentors. Excellent teachers serve as mentors. Their progress is judged by peers and supervisors. If they can’t improve and won’t improve, they are asked to leave. This is a far more effective system that judging teachers by their students’ test scores. That is the worst way to evaluate teachers, because it favors those who teach in affluent districts, and it disadvantages those who teach English language learners, students with disabilities, gifted students, and others who are not likely to see big score gains year after year. The American Statistical Association said in 2014 that test scores should not be used to judge individual teachers because the teachers do not control most of the factors that affect test scores (like home and family income, the curriculum, the school’s leadership, the school’s resources, the effect of teachers from prior years, the student’s own motivation, etc.). According to ASA, individual teachers influence from 1-14% of test score variation.

 

I think that evaluation must be based on human judgment, not a pseudo-scientific system. Administrators should have a background as teachers, so they can fairly evaluate and help teachers. As for seniority, it is best to keep the best teachers, but those are not likely to be the young teachers in their first or second year; those are years when new teachers are developing their craft. I hate to see anyone laid off for any reason other than incompetence, laziness, hostile treatment of students, or moral turpitude, but if there must be layoffs due to budget cuts, then seniority may be the fairest way to make the decisions about who must be laid off. If you can think of a fairer way, let me know.

 

WT: I’m glad that we agree on the principle that, if layoffs are necessary, we should strive to keep the best teachers and lay off the least effective.

 

I also agree that the best teachers aren’t likely to be those in the first or second years – though some will be. And finally, I agree that, in most districts, there isn’t a foolproof (or even a very good system) for evaluating teachers. I understand and appreciate the concern about teachers being victimized by an imperfect system, and agree that our school systems need to make a lot more progress in this area.

 

The question is: what do we do in the meantime? Do we hold our noses and continue with a system, layoffs strictly be seniority, that we both know is unfair and hurts kids because the alternative might be more unfair and hurt more kids?

 

Apparently, your answer is yes. My answer is no.

 

In the absence of a perfect evaluation system (of which there is no such thing), I think we should simply let principals decide (subject to discrimination laws of course). It’s their job to know who’s making the greatest contribution to the school and student learning. They make the hiring decisions – why shouldn’t they also make layoff decisions? That’s what they do at the private schools my daughters and your grandchildren attend. What’s so different about public schools?

 

DR: My school-age grandson has attended a public elementary school in Brooklyn for four years. This year, he is attending a progressive independent school in Los Angeles (No testing! Very limited homework! Creativity!). He is thriving. At his Brooklyn public school, the principal was free to hire and fire teachers in their probationary period. She has some new teachers and some veteran teachers. It is a good school, despite the testing.

 

WT: You will no doubt raise the concern that principals will lay off senior (more expensive) teachers, to which I have two responses: a) it would be foolish to fire a great teacher making $55,000 and keep an ineffective one making $50,000; and b) if one teacher costs $50,000 and another $75,000 and they’re both equally effective, then I certainly hope the principal lays off the more expensive one – and then uses the $25,000 savings to, say, hire a part-time reading specialist or whatever he/she judges is most needed by the students.

 

You will also no doubt raise the concern that principals will just lay off teachers who they don’t like, even if they’re outstanding, and keep their good-for-nothing cousins, friends, sycophants, etc., to the detriment of students. No doubt there will be some of this, but principals displaying such unfairness and poor leadership will likely lose the confidence of their teachers, see their school’s performance decline, and (hopefully) soon be out of a job.

 

DR: Whitney, my reflection on this dialogue is that you want to do things to help kids, but you are focused on the wrong problems. You think that unions and contracts mean bad schools, but many (not all) of the world’s best school systems have teachers’ unions. In Finland, 100% of teachers and principals belong to the same union, and their schools are wonderful, no matter where they are located. You think that tenure and seniority are hurting poor and minority kids, but there is no evidence that this is the case. The best public schools in New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut have teachers who belong to unions and have tenure and seniority. There is already too much teacher churn in low-income schools. Kids in poor schools need skilled, experienced teachers, but instead they get Teach for America, idealistic young kids who are not well prepared to help the students.

 

Pasi Sahlberg, the great Finnish educator, once wrote an article in which he proposed switching the teachers in a high-performing Finnish school with the teachers in a low-income, low-performing American school. He concluded that it would not have much impact, if any. The American teachers would discover that they were free to teach; the Finnish teachers would be overwhelmed by the poverty of the children in the American school and would not know how to help them.

 

So much of the reform agenda focuses on the teacher as the great problem of American education. This is wrong. By treating teachers as the problem, teachers feel demoralized and beaten down. They have no autonomy. They have a steady stream of outside consultants who arrive to lecture them. Mandates flow from the legislature, whose members couldn’t pass the eighth grade math tests. The teaching profession is in deep trouble. Good teachers are quitting. The pipeline of new teachers is drying up. Every teacher preparation program reports a sharp drop in enrollments.

 

I encourage you, in the spirit of this dialogue, to think hard about these issues. Stop blaming teachers. Stop believing that a supply of great teachers is waiting to get into the classrooms. The doors are open, and they are not there.

 

Please, think about the conditions in which children and families live. Think about the root causes of academic failure. Think about ways that schools might become wonderful places for children and teachers alike.

 

Imagine schools for all children that are like the schools you chose for your own children.

 

Think about what you can do—along with your colleagues in the philanthropic and financial communities—to change what matters most: The shameful fact that nearly a quarter of our children live in poverty.

 

I look forward to our next exchange.

 

Diane

 

 

WT: I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

 

 

Best regards,

 

 

Whitney

 

Stuart Egan is a National Board Certified teacher of high school English in North Carolina. I have published his posts before. I met Stuart at the Network for Public Education annual conference in Raleigh a few weeks ago and invited him to write a post that would sum up the damage that the Tea Party government has done to teachers and schools in the past five years. He agreed to do so. His perspective is especially valuable because he is in the classroom.

 

 

Stuart Egan writes:

 

 

When the GOP won control of both houses in the North Carolina General Assembly in the elections of 2010, it was the first time that the Republicans had that sort of power since 1896. Add to that the election of Pat McCrory as governor in 2012, and the GOP has been able to run through multiple pieces of legislation that have literally changed a once progressive state into one of regression. From the Voter ID law to HB2 to fast tracking fracking to neglecting coal ash pools, the powers that-now-be have furthered an agenda that has simply been exclusionary, discriminatory, and narrow-minded.

 

And nowhere is that more evident than the treatment of public education.

 

Make no mistake. The GOP-led General Assembly has been using a deliberate playbook that other states have seen implemented in various ways. Look at Ohio and New Orleans and their for-profit charter school implementation. Look at New York State and the Opt-Out Movement against standardized testing. Look at Florida and its Jeb Bush school grading system. In fact, look anywhere in the country and you will see a variety of “reform” movements that are not really meant to “reform” public schools, but rather re-form public schools in an image of a profit making enterprise that excludes the very students, teachers, and communities that rely on the public schools to help as the Rev. William Barber would say “create the public.”

 

North Carolina’s situation may be no different than what other states are experiencing, but how our politicians have proceeded in their attempt to dismantle public education is worth exploring.

 

Specifically, the last five year period in North Carolina has been a calculated attempt at undermining public schools with over twenty different actions that have been deliberately crafted and executed along three different fronts: actions against teachers, actions against public schools, and actions to deceive the public.

 

 

Actions Against Teachers

  1. Teacher Pay – A recent WRAL report and documentary highlighted that in NC, teacher pay has dropped 13% in the past 15 years when adjusted for inflation (http://www.wral.com/after-inflation-nc-teacher-pay-has-dropped-13-in-past-15-years/15624302/). That is astounding when one considers that we are supposedly rebounding from the Great Recession. Yes, this 15 year period started with democrats in place, but it has been exacerbated by GOP control. Salary schedules were frozen and then revamped to isolate raises to increments of five+ years. As surrounding states have continued to increase pay for teachers, NC has stagnated into the bottom tier in regards to teacher pay.
  2. Removal of due-process rights – One of the first items that the GOP controlled General Assembly attempted to pass was the removal of due-process right for all teachers. Thanks to NCAE, the courts decided that it would be a breach of contract for veteran teachers who had already obtained career-status. But that did not cover newer teachers who will not have the chance to gain career status and receive due process rights.

 

What gets lost in the conversation with the public is that due-process rights are a protective measure for students and schools. Teachers need to know that they can speak up against harsh conditions or bad policies without repercussions. Teachers who are not protected by due-process will not be as willing to speak out because of fear.

 

  1. Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed – Because advanced degree pay is abolished, many potential teachers will never enter the field because that is the only way to receive a sizable salary increase to help raise a family or afford to stay in the profession. It also cripples graduate programs in the state university system because obtaining a graduate degree for new teachers would place not only more debt on teachers, but there is no monetary reward to actually getting it.
  2. The Top 25% to receive bonus – One measure that was eventually taken off the table was that each district was to choose 25% of its teachers to be eligible to receive a bonus if they were willing to give up their career status which is commonly known as tenure. Simply put, it was hush money to keep veteran teachers from speaking out when schools and students needed it. To remove “tenure” is to remove the ability for a teacher to fight wrongful termination. In a Right-To-Work state, due process rights are the only protection against wrongful termination when teachers advocate for schools, like the teacher who is writing this very piece.
  3. Standard 6 – In North Carolina, we have a teacher evaluation system that has an unproven record of accurately measuring a teacher’s effectiveness. The amorphous Standard 6 for many teachers includes a VAM called Assessment of Student Work.

 

I personally teach multiple sections of AP English Language and Composition and am subject to the Assessment of Student Work (ASW). I go through a process in which I submit student samples that must prove whether those students are showing ample growth.

 

In June of 2015, I uploaded my documents in the state’s system and had to wait until November to get results. The less than specific comments from the unknown assessor(s) were contradictory at best. They included:

 

Alignment

Al 1 The evidence does not align to the chosen objective.

Al 4 All of the Timelapse Artifacts in this Evidence Collection align to the chosen objectives.

 

Growth

Gr 1 Student growth is apparent in all Timelapse Artifacts.

Gr 2 Student growth is apparent between two points in time.

Gr 3 Student growth is not apparent between two points in time.

Gr 4 Student growth samples show achievement but not growth.

Gr 9 Evidence is clear/easily accessible

Gr 10 Evidence is not clear/not easily accessible

 

Narrative Context

NC 1 Narrative Context addresses all of the key questions and supports understanding of the evidence.

NC 4 Narrative Context does not address one or more of the key questions.

 

 

And these comments did not correspond to any specific part of my submission. In fact, I am more confused about the process than ever before. It took over five months for someone who may not have one-fifth of my experience in the classroom to communicate this to me. If this is supposed to supply me with the tools to help guide my future teaching, then I would have to say that this would be highly insufficient, maybe even “unbest.”

 

  1. Push for Merit Pay – The bottom line is that merit pay destroys collaboration and promotes competition. That is antithetical to the premise of public education. Not only does it force teachers to work against each other, it fosters an atmosphere of exclusivity and disrespect. What could be more detrimental to our students?

 

Those legislators who push for merit pay do not see effective public schools as collaborative communities, but as buildings full of contractors who are determined to outperform others for the sake of money. And when teachers are forced to focus on the results of test scores, teaching ceases from being a dynamic relationship between student and teacher, but becomes a transaction driven by a carrot on an extended stick.

 

  1. “Average” Raises – In the long session of 2014, the NC General Assembly raised salaries for teachers in certain experience brackets that allowed them to say that an “average” salary for teachers was increased by over 7%. They called it a “historic raise.” However, if you divided the amount of money used in these “historic” raises by the number of teachers who “received” them, it would probably amount to about $270 per teacher.

 

That historic raise was funded in part by eliminating teachers’ longevity pay. Similar to an annual bonus, this is something that all state employees in North Carolina — except, now, for teachers — gain as a reward for continued service. The budget rolled that money into teachers’ salaries and labeled it as a raise. That’s like me stealing money out of your wallet and then presenting it to you as a gift.

 

  1. Health Insurance and Benefits – Simply put, health benefits are requiring more out-of-pocket expenditures, higher deductibles, and fewer benefits. There is also talk of pushing legislation that will take away retirement health benefits for those who enter the profession now.
  1. Attacks on Teacher Advocacy Groups (NCAE) – Seen as a union and therefore must be destroyed, the North Carolina Association of Educators has been incredibly instrumental in bringing unconstitutional legislation to light and carrying out legal battles to help public schools. In the last few years, the automatic deduction of paychecks to pay dues to NCAE was disallowed by the General Assembly, creating a logistical hurdle for people and the NCAE to properly transfer funds for membership
  2. Revolving Door of Standardized Tests – Like other states, we have too many. In my years as a North Carolina teacher (1997-1999, 2005-2015), I have endured the Standard Course of Study, the NC ABC’s, AYP’s, and Common Core. Each initiative has been replaced by a supposedly better curricular path that allegedly makes all previous curriculum standards inferior and obsolete. And with each of these initiatives comes new tests that are graded differently than previous ones and are “converted” into data points to rank student achievement and teacher effectiveness. Such a revolving door makes the ability to measure data historically absolutely ridiculous.

 

Actions Against Schools

 

 

  1. Less Money Spent per Pupil – The argument that Gov. McCrory and the GOP-led General Assembly have made repeatedly is that they are spending more on public education now than ever before. And they are correct. We do spend more total money now than before the recession hit. But that is a simplified and spun claim because North Carolina has had a tremendous population increase and the need to educate more students.

Let me use an analogy. Say in 2008, a school district had 1000 students in its school system and spent 10 million dollars in its budget to educate them. That’s a 10,000 per pupil expenditure. Now in 2015, that same district has 1500 students and the school system is spending 11.5 million to educate them. According to Raleigh’s claims, that district is spending more total dollars now than in 2008 on education, but the per-pupil expenditure has gone down significantly to over 2300 dollars per student or 23percent.

  1. Remove Caps on Class Sizes – There is a suggested formula in allotting teachers to schools based on the number of students per class, but that cap was removed. House Bill 112 allowed the state to remove class size requirements while still allowing monies from the state to be allocated based on the suggested formula.

Some districts have taken to move away from the 6/7 period day to block scheduling. Take my own district for example, the Winston-Salem / Forsyth County Schools. When I started ten years ago, I taught five classes with a cap of 30 students. With the block system in place, I now teach six classes in a school year with no cap. The math is simple: more students per teacher.

  1. Amorphous Terms – North Carolina uses a lot of amorphous terms like “student test scores”, “student achievement”, and “graduation rates,” all of which are among the most nebulous terms in public education today.

 

 

When speaking of “test scores”, we need to agree about which test scores we are referring to and if they have relevance to the actual curriculum. Since the early 2000’s we have endured No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top initiatives that have flooded our public schools with mandatory testing that never really precisely showed how “students achieved.” It almost boggles the mind to see how much instructional time is lost just administering local tests to see how students may perform on state tests that may be declared invalid with new education initiatives. Even as I write, most states are debating on how they may or may not leave behind the Common Core Standards and replace them with their own. Know what that means? Yep. More tests.

 

 

“Graduation rate” might be one of the most constantly redefined terms in public schools. Does it mean how many students graduate in four years? Five years? At least finish a GED program or a diploma in a community college? Actually, it depends on whom you ask and when you ask. But with the NC State Board of Education’s decision to go to a ten-point grading scale in all high schools instead of the seven-point scale used in many districts, the odds of students passing courses dramatically increased because the bar to pass was set lower.

 

 

  1. Jeb Bush School Grading System – This letter grading system used by the state literally shows how poverty in our state affects student achievement. What the state proved with this grading system is that it is ignoring the very students who need the most help — not just in the classroom, but with basic needs such as early childhood programs and health-care accessibility. These performance grades also show that schools with smaller class sizes and more individualized instruction are more successful, a fact that lawmakers willfully ignore when it comes to funding our schools to avoid overcrowding.
  2. Cutting Teacher Assistants – Sen. Tom Apodaca said when this legislation was introduced, “We always believe that having a classroom teacher in a classroom is the most important thing we can do. Reducing class sizes, we feel, will give us better results for the students.” The irony in this statement is glaring. Fewer teacher assistants for early grades especially limit what can be accomplished when teachers are facing more cuts in resources and more students in each classroom.

 

Actions To Deceive The Public

 

 

  1. Opportunity Grants – Opportunity Grant legislation is like the trophy in the case for the GOP establishment in Raleigh. It is a symbol of “their” commitment to school choice for low-income families. But that claim is nothing but a red-herring.

Simply put, it is a voucher system that actually leaves low-income families without many choices because most private schools which have good track records have too-high tuition rates and do not bus students. Furthermore, the number of private schools receiving monies from the Opportunity Grants who identify themselves as religiously affiliated is well over 80 percent according to the NC State Educational Assistance Authority. Those religious schools are not tested the way public schools are and do not have the oversight that public schools have. Furthermore, it allows tax dollars to go to entities that already receive monetary benefits because they are tax free churches.

 

 

  1. Charter Schools – Charter school growth in North Carolina has been aided by the fact that many of the legislators who have created a favorable environment for charter benefit somehow, someway from them. Many charters abuse the lack of oversight and financial cloudiness and simply do not benefit students.

 

Especially in rural areas, uncontrolled charter school growth has been detrimental to local public schools. When small school districts lose numbers of students to charter schools, they also lose the ability to petition for adequate funds in the system that NC uses to finance schools ; the financial impact can be overwhelming. In Haywood County, Central Elementary School was closed because of enrollment loss to a charter school that is now on a list to be recommended for closing.

 

 

  1. Virtual Schools – There are two virtual academies in NC. Both are run by for-profit entities based out of state. While this approach may work for some students who need such avenues, the withdrawal rates of students in privately-run virtual schools in NC are staggering according to the Department of Public Instruction.

 

  1. Achievement School Districts – Teach For America Alumnus Rep. Rob Bryan has crafted a piece of legislation that has been rammed through the General Assembly which will create ASD’s in NC. Most egregious is that it was crafted secretly. Rather than having a public debate about how to best help our “failing” schools with our own proven resources, Rep. Bryan chose to surreptitiously strategize and plan a takeover of schools. ASD’s have not worked in Tennessee. They will not work in North Carolina except for those who make money from them.

 

  1. Reduction of Teacher Candidates in Colleges – At last report, teaching candidate percentages in undergraduate programs in the UNC system has fallen by over 30% in the last five years. This is just an indication of the damage done to secure a future generation of teachers here in North Carolina.

 

  1. Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program – Once regarded as a model to recruit the best and brightest to become teachers and stay in North Carolina was abolished because of “cost”.

 

 

Overall, this has been North Carolina’s playbook. And those in power in Raleigh have used it effectively. However, there are some outcomes that do bode well for public school advocates for now and the future.

 

  • Teachers are beginning to “stay and fight” rather than find other employment.
  • NCAE has been able to win many decisions in the court system.
  • North Carolina is in the middle of a huge election year and teachers as well as public school advocates will surely vote.
  • The national spotlight placed on North Carolina in response to the voter-ID laws and HB2 are only adding pressure to the powers that be to reconsider what they have done.
  • Veteran teachers who still have due-process rights are using them to advocate for schools.

 

I only hope that the game changes so that a playbook for returning our public schools back to the public will be implemented.

 

Stuart Egan, NBCT
West Forsyth High School

Whitney Tilson received many comments on our dialogue. Many were positive. Others were not.

 

Here is a comment he received from a teacher who is disgusted with the attacks on the profession. She plans to leave. I showed her comment to a veteran teacher in NYC, who found them offensive to teachers like him who make a career of teaching. What he took from her comment was, “what does that make me? Lazy? Incompetent? Uncreative?”

 

I hope Whitney and his readers and fellow reformers learn from her comment. She is their ideal teacher, an Ivy League graduate, the “best and the brightest.” When even their favorites say “Enough is enough,” they should listen. The reform attacks on teachers–the test-based evaluations, the paperwork, the BS rubrics, the data-driven analytics, the litigious efforts to eliminate all job protections– are crippling teacher recruitment and retention.

 

 

She wrote to Tilson’s blog:

 
“So glad that you opened dialogue with her and acknowledged the nuances of the union challenge.

“You powerful rich people who have so much say over our daily lives scare the crap out of us teachers who have so little say over our own lives. =)

“It’s nice to hear you sound a bit more nuanced and respectful in your language.

“As a teacher who will probably quit soon, I just would add that the harder we make teaching and the more disrespectful we are to teachers, the more we lower the bar for what standard we hold teachers to. If ed reformers’ language about teachers and ideas about teachers continue to make more people like me quit (I’m a Yale grad, and I know of at least 6 Stanford grads and one other Yale grad who are all leaving the classroom at the end of this year), the only people who stay will be people who have little ambition, don’t really care, aren’t very creative, and don’t mind the constant indignities or the pervasive denial throughout the whole system. No offense, but you’re not going to make awesome teachers out of them. You need us.

“And this is an indictment of the WHOLE system, not public, not charter. Because let’s be honest: the public v. charter debate is just a giant distraction from the fact that we have a segregated school system and no one is doing anything about it. The only reason we have charter schools is because white people are so relieved they don’t have to integrate their kids with the poor kids of color… what white person wouldn’t support charter? It’s separate but equal! (Please forgive the sarcasm. But no one seems to be talking about the real issue any more).

Sincerely,

 

XXXXXXXXX

“A disillusioned, intelligent, innovative, caring, competent, and excellent urban public school teacher who is not going to last much longer”

 

 

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