Rhee Battles Last in, First Out: An Unemployed, New Teacher’s Perspective
Michelle Rhee’s group Students First sends this out:
The Nevada State Senate is considering legislation that will establish fair and consistent teacher evaluations. However, the legislation does not go far enough. Nevada must end “last in, first out” (LIFO) layoff policies to make sure that the best teachers stay in the classroom. Please tell your senator to only support education reform that includes ending LIFO. By entering your address above you will be matched with your district’s representative and senator. Next you’ll see a sample email that you can customize and then send.
As a brand new teacher I should support this, right? If it passes I would have a better opportunity to get a teaching job. Is this because I am a better teacher than a veteran? Possibly, but a bigger driving force is because I can be hired for cheaper than a veteran teacher. On Students First website they list out some of the criteria for how they would evaluate these teachers. Two of which I want to highlight:
Evaluating teachers based on evidence of student results rather than arbitrary judgments, and separating teacher evaluation from the collective bargaining process.
Ok, so evaluations based on standardized tests. Anybody who has actually taught a class knows that standardized tests are not the best way to evaluate student achievement. Mother Jone’s had an article that had a spot on quote the teacher said to his students preparing for their state tests:
“Listen! One more day before the big bad test, everyone!” Mr. Roth announced on April 8. “All I’m asking you to do is take it seriously. Do it for the school.” “Are they all just multiple choice, again?” Marvin asks. “That’s it,” Roth says, “but it doesn’t show exactly what you know.” “What does it show?” Marvin asks. “Just what you remember. This is not how it will be in college.”
By basing everything on standardized tests it will lead to more narrowing of curriculum (teaching to the tests). So then is the best teacher the one who can teach the students how to game the system best. For you The Wire fans, many teachers will end up “juking the stats”
Standardized tests can play some role. They do give you a glimpse into what the student is learning, but as an overall evaluation of the teaching system it is not the best system. Diane Ravitch:
Our schools cannot be improved by blind worship of data. Data are only as good as the measures used to create the numbers and as good as the underlying activities. If the measures are shoddy, then the data will be shoddy. If the data reflect mainly the amount of time invested in test-preparation activities, then the data are worthless. If the data are based on dumbed-down state tests, then the data are meaningless. A good accountability system, whether for schools, teachers, or students, must include a variety of measures, not only test scores. To use a phrase I first hears from educator Deborah Meier, our schools should be “data-informed,” not “data-driven.”
The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How testing and choice are undermining education p. 228
This will not lead to our schools become better. This will lead to our schools becoming similar and creating students who lack critical thinking skills, but are really good at fill in the bubble tests. That’s not how you win the future.
Another point that Students First want to address:
Eliminating tenure, and making teaching a profession based on respect and performance
This is one of the big myths of public school teachers. They do not have tenure. In Wisconsin, where I live, you have a three year probationary period. You can be non-renewed at anytime during that period. Many teachers don’t make it after the first three years (not all are non-renewed, many realize they don’t have what it takes to be a teacher). After those three years you don’t get tenured, but what you get is guarantee of due process if they want to fire you. During this recession I could still get laid off, tenure would not protect me. Teacher tenure is a myth.
Ravitch again on why due process is important:
Why does due process matter? Teachers have been fired for all sorts of dubious and non-meritorious reasons: for being of the wrong race or religion, for being gay or belonging to some other disfavored group, for not contributing to the right politician, for not paying a bribe to someone for their job, for speaking out on an issue outside the classroom, for disagreeing with the principal, or simply to make room for a school board member’s sister, nephew, or brother-in-law.
The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How testing and choice are undermining education p. 176
Second, the point of tenure is to protect teachers from arbitrarily being fired. Teachers need protection from over-zealous bosses and ideological politicians. This is the same thinking behind seniority rules, which protect more expensive teachers (i.e. veterans) from being laid off due to budget cuts. Teaching is not a high-paying job compared to jobs in the private sector, and one of the benefits is some job security. Occasionally this means bad teachers take longer to fire.
Due process is a really big deal for me because I am a social studies teacher. Say I talk about gay rights or any other controversial issue in my classroom, I could be easily fired, if the principal doesn’t like that subject being brought up, without the due process system in place. Getting rid of due process would limit teacher autonomy and again lead to a narrower curriculum.
These two things are not going to improve our schools. It is going to result in less innovation in the classroom and result in teacher burnout. Nobody want’s to teach to the test or learn about just what’s on the test. Students should be exposed to many different ideas and learn how to critically evaluate the world in which they live(speaking from my social studies teacher perspective). Teaching to the test in history classes is why so many students hate history, I refuse to ever teach this way.
Real education reform is going to be driven by teachers and parents. And let me add it will be the teachers in the classrooms and not the ones who leave after a couple years and start in the corporate education reform business (I’m looking at you Michelle). Politicians who have never taught a class (Hell, John Boehner can’t even go into a school without crying) shouldn’t be driving education reform and neither should rich people just because they are rich (Bill Gates). You need to embrace teachers and not demonize them. We all want to help students and we work hard to do it. Yes there are some bad teachers and we should try to get rid of them, but don’t punish all of us. We certainly didn’t do it to Wall Street after they messed up the economy. (Although I wish we could have)