Monday, April 29, 2013

Who speaks for Delaware teachers?

I've been thinking about this for awhile now, but Donald Gephardt's well-intentioned op-ed piece in today's WNJ has crystallized my thinking.

There's this, which is right on point:
We give no control of what goes on in the schools to the teachers, yet we give millions of public dollars to groups of people – many of whom have no educational credentials – to begin new charter schools, most of which are not doing any better than thepublic schools we already have.
 Unfortunately (at least from my perspective), his solution is rather ... academic ... instead of robust:

The core of the problem is that K-12 teaching has never been a profession. Teachers have no say in choosing and evaluating their colleagues. There is no incentive to “share the good stuff” between them. Perhaps it would motivate good teachers to stay – and to continually improve – if they were given more professional responsibility in their workplace.
As anemic as I find his solution, I am forced to admit that Dr. Gephardt's is, in fact, the most pro-teacher editorial that the WNJ has run in ... well, nearly forever.

So I wonder:  who speaks for Delaware teachers?

Certainly it is not the education reform movement.  Rodel CEO Paul Herdman just last week summarized the Vision 2015 position that pretty much all the ills of Delaware public education could be solved with better teachers.  In other words, as I observed then, the current crop of inadequate teachers is only a placeholder until corporate ed reformers "scour the country" to find better ones.  Once they find those superstar teachers, all will be fine and aside from spending millions on data coaches we won't even have to worry about school funding any more.

Nor does Governor Markell or Education Secretary Murphy speak for our teachers.  As Transparent Christina has just pointed out, despite all rhetoric to the contrary, the current administration has been cutting education spending--primarily on the backs of teachers rather than administrative or infrastructure expenses--since day one, while simultaneously misleading the public about that fact.  At the same time, DE DOE has engaged in a constant game of musical student assessments designed to hide the fact that ed reform (Rodel and Vision 2015) is simply not working.  Their answer:  more high-stakes testing, more data coaches, the Common Core curriculum, and bonuses for the few cherry-picked teachers who perform like dogs jumping through hula-hoops of fire in a Key West street show.

The Delaware PTA doesn't speak for our teachers, either.  Committed, virtually without any teacher input, to both the poorly researched Common Core Standards and Vision 2015, the PTA has unfortunately become primarily the organizers of astro-turf "grassroots" parental "support"for corporate ed reform.

Unfortunately, not even the teachers' own statewide union, DSEA, seems to be speaking out for Delaware teachers any more.  Senior DSEA officials sit in senior positions on the Vision 2015 board.  This is often portrayed as the need to be at the table rather than to be on the table, but the fact of the matter is that sitting on these boards as DSEA reps effectively neuters the organization's ability to criticize bad decisions--like the decision to ever allow Paul Herdman to write an editorial about teachers.  DSEA signed off on Race to the Top, with the state organization making sweeping concessions sight unseen that the locals would never have accepted.  DSEA has endorsed the bizarre Markell plan for the state to invade teacher preparation programs with meaningless bureaucratized changes.  And--possibly worst of all--DSEA has spent millions of dollars of its members' dues in political contributions to Delaware politicians who know that they can safely ignore issues important teachers because the checks keep coming no matter how they vote.

Which also brings me to the point that Delaware legislators have also failed to speak for teachers.  The sheer number of idiotic, anti-teacher pieces of legislation that have come out of Dover over the past decade should be evidence enough that the General Assembly is nothing more than a rubber-stamp for whatever administration is in power.  Does Governor Markell want to change the rules for teacher preparation?  Senator Sokola will faithfully introduce the bill.  Does the education budget do away with reading and math specialists in favor of more data coaches?  The "big head" committee obligingly cuts here and prunes there to support the plan.  Does the Governor prefer to have DOE run by a corporate ed reformer with no meaningful education experience outside Vision 2015?  The Senate kowtows by asking him only 45 minutes worth of questions (almost all of which came from one Senator) and then approving him in a landslide vote.

Because nobody speaks for Delaware teachers any more, what's happened is that the narrative has been constructed that teachers are the root of the problem in public education.

Did a high-poverty school go into the Partnership Zone?  Well, must have been the teachers' fault, so any solution will involve removing a large percentage of them, no matter what the parents or students say.

Did test scores fail to go up enough to satisfy the reformers?  Let's mandate data coaches, new teacher assessment programs, and selective bonuses.

Does US DOE want everybody to use the (as yet unfinished and completely un-researched) Common Core Standards?  Let's just impose them, regardless of the needs of a particular student, classroom, or school.

Do we have difficult recruiting new teachers in Delaware because of low pay, no respect, and a flawed high-stakes testing system?  No problem.  We'll bring in Teach for America, full of bright people with no training in education and no long-term commitment to either the field or Delaware students, and treat these folks like superstars, while effectively spitting on the people in the trenches now.

Do we want to forget that several years ago both Vision 2015 (or was it Vision 2012 then?) and the LEAD report said that we would get nowhere in improving Delaware education without a complete restructuring of the funding system for our schools?  Yeah, that's inconvenient, so we will just blame the teachers.

Folks, Delaware teachers have been making bricks without straw for years now.  I will grant you that in this profession--as in any profession--there are some people just serving their time, some mediocrities.  But by and large our teachers are committed professionals who struggle against the encroaching bureaucratization of our schools to bring imagination and learning to our kids.  You can watch your child's face light up some afternoon when he or she tells you about what their teacher did or said today.

My children have been coached, educated, inspired, and--yes!--prodded to greater things by Delaware teachers, the same teachers who have become the punching bags of education reform.

I don't wonder that we have a teacher retention problem in Delaware.  What I wonder at is the fact that so many great teachers stay here anyway.

Who speaks for Delaware teachers, the people who perform every day for our children?

Pretty much, these days, that's a lonely task left to bloggers and school board members.

Who needs to speak for Delaware teachers?

Everyone who votes.

Next year education needs to be a real issue in Delaware elections.  Next year we need to look for candidates who actually get it, that teachers are not the cause of education's problems, they are potentially the solution.

How do we do that?

Stay tuned.


Hube said...

Bravo, Steve. Another great entry.

As for Sokola, I always laugh now whenever I hear/read his name. In the late 90s, I went back and forth w/him regarding the then-nascent legislative musings of teacher "accountability." He wrote that he "knew what it is to be a teacher" ... "because he was a substitute for a year." Really.

We need more "experts" like him. And Secretary Murphy. (/sarcasm)

Delaware Watch said...

Who speaks for Delaware's children? I don't know.

NCSDad said...

DWatch hit the nail on the head.

NCSDad said...

Which is why I think we should empower parents with choice. Nobody, nobody, takes the education of children more seriously than parents. Those who don't, when forced to chose, will benefit from the choices of others. As a beneficial side effect, the parents that can't be bothered to make a choice will show themselves in need of state help while leaving the rest free from state meddling.

transparentchristina said...

NCS, choice is not a panacea. Ultimately it isn't the kids choosing, its their parents and their sins (choosing and choosing to not choose) get visited upon their powerless kids.

Choice is certainly a right, no doubt, but it has consequences that ripple out way past any one single choicing decision.

pandora said...

I have had it with Ed Reformers. They are forever looking to point the finger of blame and yell, "Ah ha!" Of course, their finger pointing only ever goes in one direction - usually the wrong direction.

Bashing teachers is the new sport of Ed Reformers. I really don't understand where they're coming from. Sure, there's the union busting angle, but is there more to it than that?

The education debate has been filled with propaganda (public schools and public school teachers are awful, charter schools and charter school teachers are superior (LOL on that one), Choice is fair, Neighborhood Schools Act was about bus rides (another LOL!), etc.)

My children attended private and public school, and, hands down, their public school teachers have been far superior.

So where are Ed Reformers actually coming from? Have they simply grown so big as an organization that closing up shop would result in the loss of a revenue stream? I don't get it. They remind me of the latest fad diet because they are constantly changing their claims. It's the curriculum! No wait, it's early childhood development! No wait, it's standardized testing! No wait, it's the teachers!

Honestly, they change their causes more rapidly than Visions changes the year following its name.

NCSDad says:

"Which is why I think we should empower parents with choice. Nobody, nobody, takes the education of children more seriously than parents. Those who don't, when forced to chose, will benefit from the choices of others."

You know, Pencader parents took their "choice" seriously. And when that crashed and burned (and it wasn't a great choice, even before the Lewis' debacle) they were begging for state meddling.

And this idea that parents will benefit from the choices of other parents is hooey. There is only so much physical school space, so, by its nature, choice is limited. In fact, imo, a key component of choice is the creation of dumping ground schools.

And the idea that parents are capable of making an educated choice when it comes to education simply isn't true. Hello? Moyer. Pencader, Warner, etc.? Parents are choosing these schools.

In my opinion, Choice lets school districts off the hook for a basic bit of educational responsibility. It allows them to hide behind "Choice" (while ignoring transportation issues and school capacity) and say, "Hey, the parents chose to remain, or choice into, our failing schools so they must be happy. We don't need to improve these schools - parents can choice out."

Choice only means something if you have it.

kavips said...

Pandora's question. Who are the Ed reformers.

Teach For America
The Gate's Foundation
The Broad Foundation
The Rodel Group
The Walton Family Foundation

The goals of educational reform?
opening up education to private investment....
downsizing and restructuring what is left...
making teachers scapegoats for the problems in education and society...
turning public education into a marketplace..
smashing or substantially diminishing the power of the teachers unions..
sell more to DOE's than can your competitor....

Bottom line: these policies have not given the promised results. One aspect alone, in Philadelphia, allowing charters into the mix has depressed the entire regions scores lower than that which existed before any reforms were implemented...

Upon study, it appears that given great marketing, we will by a product that does nothing but buy it anyway. Education Reform is our generation's "pet rock."

Melanie Curriden said...

The DPTA does not speak for my child. The DPTA support CCS that are not developmentally appropriate for all children. The national and Delaware PTA were given grants to promote CCS.

Anonymous said...

Kavips you missed a couple:

Pandora's question. Who are the Ed reformers.

Teach For America
The Gate's Foundation
The Broad Foundation
The Rodel Group
The Walton Family Foundation
Jack Markell
Delaware State Legislature

Anonymous said...

Teaching is a hard job - essentially impossible by some measures. It takes highly skilled, highly trained, and highly motivated people to do the job well. Do we have these type of professionals in our schools? Reform begins when teachers take responsibility for their students' academic achievement. Look at the data. And then look in the mirror.

Hube said...

My children attended private and public school, and, hands down, their public school teachers have been far superior.

And I don't mean to toot my/our own horn, but 1) thank you, pandora, and 2) I think the reason for that is just plain necessity. The sheer variety of kids -- academic ability levels, SES, cultural/racial diveristy -- basically forces public school teachers to test the bounds of their creativity and ability. Private/parochial schools have all the above, sure, but not to the same degree. And the biggest difference is that public schools have to accept what they get, and cannot get rid of constant trouble-makers nearly as easily as private/parochial schools.

Delaware Watch said...

Those who make the choice case often use the argument that no one cares for children more than parents. That's completely true but fundamentally irrelevant. Parents care more for their children's health more than physicians do, but it hardly follows that parents are in the best position to diagnose a child's health problem and prescribe a means of treatment. The world has an abundance of concern and a dearth of skill. That's the problem.

NCSDad said...

I chose which physician to go to (within limits). If doctors where run by the state, I'd have to go to the nearest one. And no doctor could earn more than another unless they had seniority. No reward for excellence allowed.

Delaware Watch said...

Choosing a doctor doesn't make you more qualified than that doctor to diagnose illnesses and to treat them regardless of how much you care for the patient. You also choose which school district to live in, but that choice hardly makes you an educational expert.

NCSDad said...

Talking past each other. If the professionals are evaluatable at all objectively then I have no problem relying upon the evaluations of others. But evaluation s without choice are meaningless as well.

I never claim to be able to teach. But teachers must be evaluated in some meaningful way other than longevity.

pandora said...

NCSDad says:

"But teachers must be evaluated in some meaningful way other than longevity."

How? I'm serious. How?

Test scores? Would we evaluate teachers teaching in high poverty schools the same as those teaching in affluent schools? If not, how would the evaluations differ?

Will there be different evaluations for special ed teachers? ELL teachers? Art teachers? Math teachers? Would we factor in a student's home life? If a student has an illness, like mono, or if they've suffered a concussion? Or a death in the family? If they've discovered drugs... or sex? If they've been bullied? And on and on it goes.

There are so many variables - most of which are out of a teacher's control. No evaluation would give accurate results without taking into account all these variables.

Education isn't a business. It's a progression - it builds upon itself over a long period of time.

NCSDad said...

The only place where an informed evaluation can take place is the Principals office. The principal knows the student profiles and composition. The principal observes the classroom. The principal should be held accountable. Therefore the principal should make hiring, promotion and salary decisions.

A young top-performer who goes above and beyond for his kids should be rewarded. Our current system does not allow for this.

The problem is not, and never has been the majority of teachers. They may get the life sucked out of them by the system is all.

The problem is, and has always been, the management - starting at the top. There is no accountability for administrators. Particularly those above the school level.

Anonymous said...

I see teacher evaluations very differently but then again I see it from a non-traditional view point. My wife teaches students with severe disabilities. These students will NEVER score at grade level. Their focus is on providing them as much daily practical knowledge as possible. She is constantly in meetings (another problem with our teaching industry) talking about common core and dcas and other metrics that will not affect the students. But when she meets with the parents is when she has, in my opinion, the true evaluation. They want to know that she is doing the best for them when they are not in thier own care; is she treating them with respect and love. Is she doing her best to get the most out if the abilities they have and most importantly is she keeping them safe. All the parents she has dealt with are more than happy with her and what is is doing and attempting to do for those kids. That's her evaluation in my mind. Coach of education, Markell, Rodell, etc can never set a goal system for her or teachers like her.

Tim Fox said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tim Fox said...

NCSDad said: "The only place where an informed evaluation can take place is the Principals office. The principal knows the student profiles and composition. The principal observes the classroom. The principal should be held accountable. Therefore the principal should make hiring, promotion and salary decisions."

I am commenting from my experience out of state in NYC, though I don't work in public school anymore. But, principals can be dangerous to empower in the way NCSDad suggests above. The problem is when a Department of Education follows of philosophy of the backlash against teachers reformists. Then you may get a politically placed principal with an anti-union agenda that puts teachers in an uncomfortable position between union and administration.

This was my reality living through 3 different administrators in my 4 and 1/2 years in a single NYC public school.

Unless administrators are also evaluated in part by teachers and hired in part by the teachers running a school, administrators have no business doing the same to teachers.