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:
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 the 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?