Monday, August 26, 2013

As We are Talking about Teachers

 Update:  a great column at the Washington Post by UW College of Education professor Ken Zeichner about the issue of the issue of "highly qualified teachers" that references right with this thread.

Our federal government supports a practice of putting the least-prepared teachers in the highest-need classrooms — classrooms that are most often filled with children from low-income families, English language learners, students with disabilities and students of color.  There are powerful players in the education reform world who are advocating for the Obama administration and Congress to maintain a federal policy that promotes this practice. Parents and guardians should be accurately informed about the certification status of their children’s teachers so they can question the wisdom of the policy that has supported the disproportionate assignment of the least qualified teachers to our most vulnerable students.

You might remember that I had advocated for parents to be informed when their child was assigned a TFA teacher.

End of update.

Is this NY Times article about short-term teachers the future for teachers?  I can only say, I hope not.

As tens of millions of pupils across the country begin their school year, charter networks are developing what amounts to a youth cult in which teaching for two to five years is seen as acceptable and, at times, even desirable. Teachers in the nation’s traditional public schools have an average of close to 14 years of experience, and public school leaders and policy makers have long made it a priority to reduce teacher turnover. 

But with teachers confronting the overhaul of evaluations and tenure as well as looming changes in pension benefits, the small but rapidly growing charter school movement — with schools that are publicly financed but privately operated — is pushing to redefine the arc of a teaching career. 

“We have this highly motivated, highly driven work force who are now wondering, ‘O.K., I’ve got this, what’s the next thing?’ ” said Jennifer Hines, senior vice president of people and programs at YES Prep. “There is a certain comfort level that we have with people who are perhaps going to come into YES Prep and not stay forever.” 

And that might be true.  There may be people who have a good 5-10 years in them as teachers.  But two years?  That's not exactly a career.  

And, once again, the head of TFA, Wendy Kopp, weighs in with her inimitable style:

“Strong schools can withstand the turnover of their teachers,” said Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach for America. “The strongest schools develop their teachers tremendously so they become great in the classroom even in their first and second years.”  

Unfortunately for Wendy, most struggling schools probably don't have great professional development.  To boot, I'll say it again - at-risk kids who need some continuity in their lives are not served by a revolving door of teachers.  (And, it's not the way to build a solid teaching corps that truly is the backbone of any school.)

The most telling line:
Mr. Dowdy, the 24-year-old teacher who is already thinking beyond the classroom, wants something more, however. “I feel like our generation is always moving onto the next thing,” he said, “and always moving onto something bigger and better.” 

Good for you, Mr. Dowdy, but that's not teaching.  People who become soldiers and cops and firefighters and yes, teachers, are not the people always looking the next big thing.  

So what is new with TFA?

Yet in Chicago
[T]he district has committed to more than doubling its investment in the TFA program that trains college graduates for five weeks then sends them into schools for two years at a time. The Board of Education voted to increase its payment to TFA from $600,000 to nearly $1.6 million, and to add up to 325 new TFA recruits to CPS classrooms, in addition to 270 second year “teacher interns.”
This information was revealed after Chicago Public Schools announced layoffs of over 3,000 school personnel due to budget cuts.
Why would CPS throw more money into recruiting recent college graduates with five weeks of training and no teaching certificates into the district when it lets go of highly-qualified, certified, veteran teachers?
- See more at: http://jacobinmag.com/2013/07/teach-for-america-mission/#sthash.9ugvpjTU.dpuf
 In Chicago, where they closed 50(!) schools, they also have committed to DOUBLING their numbers of TFA teachers.  The Board of Ed voted to spend $1.6M on TFA teachers.  And, the numbers of teachers of color has gone down (despite the repeated lofty claims about TFA about diversity).  

From WBEZ:
Yet in Chicago
[T]he district has committed to more than doubling its investment in the TFA program that trains college graduates for five weeks then sends them into schools for two years at a time. The Board of Education voted to increase its payment to TFA from $600,000 to nearly $1.6 million, and to add up to 325 new TFA recruits to CPS classrooms, in addition to 270 second year “teacher interns.”
This information was revealed after Chicago Public Schools announced layoffs of over 3,000 school personnel due to budget cuts.
Why would CPS throw more money into recruiting recent college graduates with five weeks of training and no teaching certificates into the district when it lets go of highly-qualified, certified, veteran teachers?
- See more at: http://jacobinmag.com/2013/07/teach-for-america-mission/#sthash.9ugvpjTU.dpufIn Chicago, where they closed 50 (!) schools, they first are looking for more charter schools (and charter teachers; read, TFA).  From WBEZ:

Without fanfare, the district posted an official “request for proposals” to its website Monday that invites charter schools to apply to open shop in what the school district has identified as priority neighborhoods—large swaths of the Southwest and Northwest sides.

Those heavily Latino areas have struggled with overcrowded schools.

The district wants what it’s calling “next generation” charter schools, which could combine online and traditional teaching. It also wants proposals for arts integration charter schools and dual language charters. 

The NY Times is reporting today that Chicago Public Schools made use of 1200 new employees. That would be people who are posted in dangerous neighborhoods to make sure the kids whose schools closed are safe to walk to the next school. 

The first day of school in one neighborhood on this city’s far South Side brought a parade of security workers in neon vests, police officers on patrol, an idling city fire truck and, briefly, a police helicopter hovering above. All this to make sure that students from a shuttered elementary school could make it safely past abandoned lots, boarded-up houses and gang territory to get to their new school less than a half-mile away. 

Known as Safe Passage, Chicago’s program began after the beating death in 2009 of a 16-year-old student, Derrion Albert, after he left his South Side high school one afternoon. 

But with the closing of so many schools, city officials say the number of routes has more than doubled this year and the cost of the program has also nearly doubled, to $15.7 million.

The overwhelming security presence played out along similar routes near more than 90 other schools around Chicago, the nation’s third largest school district. 

To prepare, city employees in recent weeks demolished 41 vacant buildings along the routes, trimmed 4,900 trees, removed 2,800 instances of graffiti and fixed hundreds of streetlights. “The ultimate goal of all efforts — both in the building, on the way to the building and at home — is so kids will think about their studies, not their safety,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who spent part of the morning along Safe Passage routes around the city, said later in an interview. 

Sure, Rahm, those kids won't notice all those people in the neon vests.  

19 comments:

seattle citizen said...

In the new model, will they pay first and second year teachers professional living wages? Or keep them at current (low) beginning teacher pay rates?
What could possibly be the appeal to cash-strapped public schools and profiteering charters of having a rotating staff of low-paid short-timers? Hmmm....
Follow the money, or lack thereof....We get what we pay for.

Lisa said...

I heard the story about "Safe Passage" and how all those dangerous areas were quickly cleaned up. I would love to know whether it was more expensive to do all the demolition, tree trimming and cleanup all at once -- the whole thing begs the question of why the areas were left to fester in the first place.

I'd also like to know just where all those teachers will go for jobs after completing their two years. Depending on the economy, some may feel they would like to stay on as teachers rather than accept work as barristas and retail clerks ... but will they be welcome?

Eric B said...

Since it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at a task, and teachers are working roughly 2,000 hours a year, this means they're leaving just when they get good, if not before.

On a broader scale, the whole premise that "strong schools can accept teacher turnover" only makes sense if there is a core of experienced teachers that are willing and able to mentor incoming teachers. I'm not a teacher, but I know it's hard to mentor more than one person at a time while still getting other work done. To me, that means that you need about 50% of the teacher corps to be experienced to have any chance of success.

I'd love to see the dancing and spin after test scores come in for a school where all of the teachers having 2-5 years of experience.

Anonymous said...

I used to work for TFA (not as a teacher) and have always had concerns about their model. Some of their teachers stay in classrooms and do a great job of it. Others become advocates for education in other career paths, which is still helpful. But if it's me and my kid, I want an experienced educator who is committed to being a great teacher for the entirety of their career. Not someone who was hired because they're smart but cheap!

Anonymous said...

Off topic...I was looking at book reviews on the SPL website and came across this comment:

I read this book for my high school Advanced Creative Writing class and it is very typical of the books that Seattle Public Schools make us read. It's all about racial and religious identity with emphasis on the racial part. It doesn't really say anything that other books haven't said before. If you haven't been through Seattle Public Schools, you might enjoy it and it might be new to you, if you have, you'll probably be bored.

Is there some truth to this?

curious

Anonymous said...

I may be completely off base, but watching my daughter work as a CIT at a partly academic summer camp for low-income students this summer, I've changed what I thought was "most important" in working with struggling/challenged/minority kids. What I saw (and heard from her) tells me that it isn't about "experience" per se, nor is it "expertise" or mentoring, or years in the same plaxe. What seems to matter is people-teachers, aids, counselors-who UNDERSTAND their students.

If you know that Child A has a mother in jail, that Child B is being raised by a single, elderly grandfather, that Child C probably doesn't get breakfast before arriving, you can show the compassion and understanding they need to just get through the day. That helps them want to do their work, follow the rules (some have NO rules at home), concentrate, because this is the one place they are safe, fed, and cared about every day.

I could be wrong. I could have just seem snippets of youthful college high school students who may not have "expertise" and "experience" but who want to make a difference. Most won't return next year as they graduate or take other jobs. But THIS summer, THESE kids had the experience of knowing people wanted to help them. I SAW them do better academically (seeing the papers on the wall improve). I SAW angry kids calm down over the summer. I SAW them learn to care more for others-and themselves. But the general thinking seems to be that none of these teachers had the right to even be teaching such kids. Maybe not ALL "New" teachers should be kept from challenging kids?

Just Wondering

Anonymous said...

Gosh-excuse all the typing errors. Darn fake nails...

Just Wondering

mirmac1 said...

As I recall, Ken Zeichner was on the U-ACT crazy train when it left the station, albeit begrudgingly. I believe he was in the position to support his other faculty and say "let the Seattle branch of XYZ Online University" set up a costly, inadequate TFA-only program. But no, he didn't. Has he become enlightened now?

Melissa Westbrook said...

reprinting Anonymous (since we don't allow anonymous comments):
I used to work for TFA (not as a teacher) and have always had concerns about their model. Some of their teachers stay in classrooms and do a great job of it. Others become advocates for education in other career paths, which is still helpful. But if it's me and my kid, I want an experienced educator who is committed to being a great teacher for the entirety of their career. Not someone who was hired because they're smart but cheap!"

Just Wondering, who is keeping new teachers from students? No one I know. We hire new teachers out of UW and SU (and, of course, TFA) all the time.

Mirmac, you have to consider the position most of the faculty is in at UW before you call them out. It's a delicate balance.

Anonymous said...

Just Wondering said, What seems to matter is people-teachers, aids, counselors-who UNDERSTAND their students.

I would argue this is true for many students, not just low income students. A student is more likely to want to do their best for a teacher that is compassionate and supportive. Basic teacher competence is also needed, which doesn't always come with experience. Anecdotally, of my children's best teachers, some were in their first year and some had 20+ years experience. I can say the same for their worst teachers.

Daniel Willangham has a related post about "high quality" preschools and the effectiveness of rating systems. Researchers found the quality of teacher-student interactions were a better measure of student outcomes than years of teacher experience.

http://www.danielwillingham.com/1/post/2013/08/preschool-quality-can-be-measured-but-states-arent-getting-it-right.html

a parent

mirmac1 said...

Certainly Melissa. I considered the position of faculty as I read their emails, and came to that conclusion.

Maureen said...

Just Wondering and a parent, I would agree that an understanding relationship with a teacher underlies a lot of learning for poor children. This summer I read Improbable Scholars about the success of the public school system in Union City, NJ. The major point I took home from it was that the teachers who were most successful with poor kids had grown up in the city and often (literally) spoke their language (generally Spanish.)

These teachers weren't "the best and the brightest" by TFA standards (they graduated from small local, often Catholic, teaching programs), but they really understood what was going on with their students and the kids understood that they cared about them.

Just Wondering, I feel the need to point out (gently I hope) that when the summer is over your daughter will no longer be there for those kids. They will have to start all over again forming relationships with other tutors. Repeating this pattern, forming attachments to a totally new group of energetic young people every summer must be discouraging. Improbable Scholars mentioned how important it was for vulnerable kids to be able to grab a quick hug from their old 3rd grade teacher when they were dealing with 5th grade stresses. Continuity and experience is so important for all kids, but especially for those who don't have it at home.

Lisa said...

This is only an anecdote, but both my kids had the same kindergarten teacher. The eldest had her in her second year of teaching. We were pleased; she did a great job. The next child had her four years later. Wow, we were bowled over. Even with a larger class size she got through more material and had better classroom discipline, yet remained the same friendly, empathetic person that made her beloved the first time around.

Anonymous said...

I do know that new teachers are hired, but it seems in some posts (perhaps I was misreading) that the assumption is that new/inexperienced teachers are not good enough, really, to teach struggling/high needs students. I as only pointing out that at least in this one situation, I saw young people who don't even have degrees reaching kids who came from very challenging circumstances.

Maureen, I understand your point, but what would your alternative be? Some of the staff continue to work PT and some volunteers, like my daughter, do so year-round, so the kids do see some of the same faces over a long term. And some of the volunteers/staff are former campers-they DO get enough out of it to keep coming back, year after year. I don't know the term for when a teacher remains with the same class year after year, but it's not common. And people move, take new jobs, which grade the teach. I don't think it happens that often to be able to go back year after year and see the same teachers ANYWHERE.

Anecdotally, the best teacher any of my kids ever had anywhere had less than 5 years experience. The worst had more than a decade behind her. The worst teacher *I* had was decades in, and so on. There are likely examples of good and bad at every experience level, in almost any job.

Just Wondering

Melissa Westbrook said...

"that new/inexperienced teachers are not good enough, really, to teach struggling/high needs students."

No, that's not my assumption (I can't speak for others).

But, as experienced teachers can tell you, a new teacher needs mentoring and supporting (hence all the support TFA teachers get from TFA). If a school is struggling and has a large number of at-risk kids, that support may not be there for the teacher to be as effective as he/she could be.

Again, you seem to be referencing tutoring which is a different thing from being the teacher of record for an entire class.

Anonymous said...

Here is an idea if a young person who wants to be a Teacher or an old person who cares about age but has the desire to learn and commit to the craft, they apprentice, they come in as an aid for a couple of years and then if they want to do this go to school and develop the skills needed to master the classroom, come back and then co-teach with the supposed dinosaurs and see how that works and you can have bigger class sizes and have perspective, exchange and mutual learning. But see that costs money and its easier and cheaper to have a revolving door of 24-30 year olds who are using your kids and school as a stepping stone to move onto the next career, job or whatever. Disposable career, disposable profession. Fantastic. Do the rich want that in their private schools? I wonder?

-Just a Thought

Melissa Westbrook said...

Just a Thought, and that is precisely why I want the district (and the Board) to dump TFA. They are developing their OWN teaching residency - with a year of shadow teaching, etc. - for those who have a bachelor's (and are much less likely to be just out of college).

Why do we need two programs? Director Martin-Morris continues his "arrows in the quiver" line but with so few TFA and the amount of time and money the district needs to focus on its own STR program, why keep both?

Anonymous said...

Professional development is a total ruse.

You develop a professional through time spent studying, learning, and practicing.

Cramming does not produce learning.

Stop wasting money on ProDev that most teachers roll our eyes at. It's all first year stuff or things we could read in an email.

-Lemons

Melissa Westbrook said...

Lemons and that's the gripe I hear the most from teachers - the most PD is an incredible waste of time AND the things teachers would like to learn rarely seem to be covered.