A Solution for Curbing Teacher Turnover in Secondary Schools, Whilst Strengthening the Profession and Making Tenure More Defensible – Part II

In Part I of this blog post, I proposed a new policy for secondary schools in Oklahoma City: new teachers should only teach one course during their first year of employment. As they improve, additional courses may be added to their schedule.

I’ve worked in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Oklahoma City, and from my experience in both places, I’ve seen that new teachers are often allotted the heaviest burden when administrators create schedules. New teachers are given the courses others don’t want to teach, and new recruits may receive as many as three or four courses for which to prep. Conversely, more experienced teachers may only receive one or two courses to prep for, despite their accrued expertise and rapport among students and families.

As these practices unfold on a local level, nationally, teachers are in very real danger of losing their hard-earned job protection.

Critics in the U.S. have all but indicted teachers for the public schools’ low performance, and many have demanded that tenure-rights be abolished. In an amicus brief submitted to the California Supreme Court, signatories recently opined about the tenure case, Vergara v. California:

The statutes at issue impair the fundamental right to education. They categorically prioritize the job security of teachers—regardless of their competence—over the educational needs, interests, and rights of California school children. They do so despite the existence of other ways, more consistent with the educational rights of the State’s schoolchildren, to protect legitimate interests in teacher job security. The upshot of handicapping the ability to efficiently identify and remove grossly ineffective teachers, and providing institutional bias in favor of incompetent teachers, is to contract the marketplace of ideas within public schools by institutionalizing educational mediocrity. The California Constitution, however, establishes public schools for the benefit of children, not teachers, and the Education Clause talks about the right to public education as “essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people,” not as a right essential to the economic security of the teachers selected by the State to make that right a reality.

I could write several pages in defense of tenure, but to keep this as short as possible, I’ll refer to NYU education historian, Diane Ravitch. She writes in her book, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools:

It is important to bear in mind that tenure in K-12 education does not mean the same thing as it does in higher education. A professor in higher education who has tenure can seldom, if ever, be fired…Tenure in higher education is close to ironclad. In the public schools, however, tenure means due process [emphasis mine]. There is no ironclad tenure for teachers. A teacher who has tenure is entitled to a hearing before an impartial arbitrator, where the teacher has the right to see the evidence and the grounds for the charges against him or her and to offer a defense.

For many, many reasons I will not cover in this post, tenure is necessary to ensure that teachers will only be fired fairly. However, in a system that grants tenure, seniority shouldn’t determine an administrator’s schedule. Using seniority to assign schedules is harmful to students and teachers. Whereas tenure plays an essential role in education, seniority simply does not.

If we are going to improve the rate of burnout for new teachers, we must change the way we treat them. We should continue to award tenure, but also be confident to give tenured teachers the more difficult assignments. This way, more newcomers may eventually join the prestigious ranks of the tenured, master-teachers. As instruction improves, the public’s perception of tenure should become fairer, and perceptions of the profession should rise.

Advertisements

A Solution for Curbing Teacher Turnover in Secondary Schools, Whilst Strengthening the Profession and Making Tenure More Defensible – Part I

On July 9, 2016, The Oklahoman published one of my letters to the editor, entitling it “A Proposal to Help New Teachers.” I’ve included additional research below to add more perspective to the issue of teacher turnover, and have broadened my proposed solution to touch upon tenure and the teaching profession at large.

Nearly half of all beginning teachers will leave their classrooms within five years, only to be replaced by another fresh-faced educator.

Teaching has become a fantastic career to go into…so long as your plan is to leave the profession within five years or less. Until very recently, most folks believed that upwards of 50% of teachers leave the profession within five years. However, according to a new longitudinal report by the National Center for Education Statistics, the rate of attrition is closer to 17%. The Washington Post’s Emma Brown explains how the real number could be somewhere in between, but regardless, teachers leave their profession at a rate that is staggeringly higher than that of others with professional degrees.

At a recent meeting of the Oklahoma City school board, members discussed with new superintendent, Aurora Lora, the national teacher shortage that has been especially felt by Oklahoma. According to the US Department of Education’s most recent report, Oklahoma has a dearth of teachers for Art, Early Childhood Education, Elementary Education, English, Family/Consumer Science, Foreign Languages, Mathematics, Music Physical Education/Health, Science, Social Studies, and Special Education.

As a third-year teacher, I see a problem in secondary schools that I think exacerbates the issue. Simply put, teachers with little or no experience are often given the most difficult assignments. It’s commonplace for new teachers to receive the dregs of an institution’s schedule. Rather than receiving one “plan” (meaning one course to prepare for), first-year teachers are often given three to four courses for which to prepare. That means inexperienced teachers must prepare three to four different tests each week, create three to four sets of PowerPoints each day, grade three to four homework assignments for 120-plus students, and set three to four learning goals for their differing courses. Conversely, some of the most experienced teachers are given one to two courses to prepare for, despite their accumulated knowledge and rapport.

 I propose that first-year teachers receive one teaching assignment for their first year in the classroom. If they do well, they should have the opportunity to add a second course during their second year of teaching. This policy would not violate the tenure rights 0f veteran teachers in any way, although some might become upset that seniority no longer factors into teachers’ schedules.

 

Disgruntlement aside, wouldn’t it make more sense to give the most experienced teachers the most challenging assignments? In my next post I will explore why this change might be a way to make tenure more effective for school districts, whilst building prestige for the teaching profession at large.

Diffuse Radicalization by Accepting Syrian Students

Would he make up something which resembles the truth because he doesn’t know the past? – Plato

One of the most concerning things to me about the Syrian refugee crisis is that many children are being denied the education they need and deserve in order to become productive global citizens. Rather than learn from past mistakes, Western nations are foolishly responding to the crisis with xenophobic and Islamophobic policies that may result in more global violence.

This subject is of particular interest to me, not simply because I advocated for Oklahoma to become a welcoming home to Syrian refugees in September and November of 2015, but because a significant number of my own students are refugees. I have seen the faces of children affected by war, and believe it is the duty of educators and the global polity to devise a solution so that young minds are not preyed upon by extremists who cite the West’s deference as a reason to radicalize.

I’ll be drawing primarily from Karen Armstrong’s groundbreaking work, Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence. Karen Armstrong’s Fields of Blood asserts that “religious violence” is oftentimes misrepresented as the product of a group’s religion, rather than as the permutation of industrialization, forced modernization, and the destabilizing forces of post-colonialism. Armstrong notes Alastair Crooke’s argument from Resistance: The Essence of the Islamist Revolution that “[t]errorism has often cropped up in the Muslim world when the nation’s boundaries do not accord with those set up by the colonial powers for the state” (Armstrong 349). When colonial powers have withdrawn or dissolved their control of foreign lands, they have often left chaos and all the ingredients for mass bloodshed in their wake: a failed society, structural inequality, and a history of wrongdoing.
One of the final genocides of the 20th century occurred during the Bosnian War (1992-95), and “[u]nlike the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust, this mass killing was conducted on the basis of religious rather than ethnic identity” (373). Upon the death of Yugoslavia’s communist leader, Josip Broz, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and Croatian President Franjo Tudjman divided the country, with Bosnia left in the crossfire; when Bosnia, a majority-Muslim country declared its independence as a secular state, Serb and Croat nationalists herded Bosnian Muslims into concentration camps. When a peace agreement was finally signed in 1995, “…the world was left with a troubling memory. Once again there had been concentration camps in Europe, this time with Muslims in them. After the Holocaust, the cry had been ‘Never again,’ but this did not seem to apply to Europe’s Muslim population” (375).

Robert Fisk opines in a 2014 Independent article, “After the Atrocities Committed Against Muslims in Bosnia, It Is No Wonder Jihadis Have Set Out On the Path To War in Syria” that the West’s weak response during the Muslim genocide in Bosnia demonstrates a legacy of inaction that has led to radicalization.

The question we should be asking is whether our refusal to harbor Syrian refugees will lead to an even greater threat by ISIS and other like-minded groups? Are we creating even more opportunities for a generation of young people to be radicalized rather than educate them in our schools and incorporate them into our communities?

Fortunately, there are havens in Seattle and Toronto where Syrian families are being integrated successfully into Western communities. However, this simply is not enough. We have a duty to the well-being of our country and to our world to expand our hospitality and humanity to ensure that all children–regardless of religion or creed–receive an excellent education in a safe space.

Will we have the courage to do so?

 

 

“It’s hell.”

“It’s hell.”

I was taken aback by the woman’s poignancy as she described the public (and private) schools in her homeland of Korea. I’d been trying to think of a diplomatic way to describe many of the high-achieving school systems in Asia, but my new friend wasted no time mincing words.

My friend, who is a licensed teacher working on her second master’s degree in an education-related field, explained that she and her husband had elected to keep their daughter in a U.S. public school so that the junior high girl was not subjected to the testing-mania that is rampant in many Asian countries. Decisions like hers might come as a surprise to Americans, seeing as China, Korea, Japan, Taipei, Vietnam, and Singapore boast some of the highest standardized test scores on earth.

Our conversation caused me to search out my copy of Professor Yong Zhou’s fantastic book, Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon: Why China has the World’s Best (and Worst) Education System in the World. The irony Zhou notes is that while American education reformers are doing their best to catch up to the test scores of Asian schools (many of which have a narrowed curriculum that promote authoritarian values), Eastern educators are being pressured to mimic Western pedagogy (which promotes individualism, critical thinking, and creativity).

Chinese parents have spent their life savings to send their children to study overseas or in Western-style schools in China rather than keep them in “the world’s best education system.” Education has been widely recognized as the primary culprit for China’s lack of creative and innovative talent, and a major concern for China’s success in the future.

Keith Baker, former analyst for the U.S. Department of Education broke down the absurdity espoused by American education reformers in his Phi Delta Kappan article “Are International Tests Worth Anything?”:

For more than a quarter of a century, the American public has been barraged by politicians and pundits claiming that America’s schools are disaster zones because we are not at or near the top of the league standings in test scores. This claim is flat out wrong. It is wrong in fact, and it is wrong in theory. For almost 40 years, those who believe this fallacious theory have been leading the nation down the wrong path in education policy. It turns out that the elementary teachers who have said all along that there is more to education than what is reflected in test scores were right and the “experts” were wrong.

Tests are useful ways to gauge students’ understanding of specific material. However, education reformers who wish to put all the nation’s eggs into the standardized-testing basket are ignoring global trends as well as widely-accepted education and developmental theories.

What will you do to reverse the tide?

 

 

“Please turn to…err, hmm…”

This morning Oklahoma’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Joy Hoffmeister, released a memo announcing the state’s suspension of textbook funding for next school year. You may read the first paragraph of the news release below:

OKLAHOMA CITY (June 8, 2016) – The state Legislature’s elimination of all funds designated for school textbooks has forced the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) to recommend a one-year delay of textbook selection. Although $33 million was appropriated for textbooks in Fiscal Year 2016, legislators zeroed out the line item for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
Ironically, Hoffmeister’s last news release “Applaud[ed] Public Education Achievements in Legislative Session” (that’s from the title of her press release). I’ve quoted part of that release below:
Not least of this session’s accomplishments was a flat budget appropriation for PreK-12 public schools.
“It was imperative that, while our state faced a truly historic budget shortfall, we fund kids first,” said Hofmeister. “It took tremendous effort on the part of legislative leaders and the governor to cushion the impact on Oklahoma schoolchildren. Other agencies received gut-wrenching cuts, and despite significant challenges ahead for public schools, we believe this budget represents the best-case scenario under difficult circumstances.”
Now, I’m about to say something that may seem utterly and totally mad. Please keep in mind, when I began teaching in Oklahoma City, there were literally NO textbooks provided for my courses (I teach English for newcomers to the United States).

Perhaps this is an opportunity for the state to rethink its curriculum. Perhaps, teachers could be hired (since they have deep content knowledge of their subject areas) to develop texts that are truly teachable. Because the money isn’t currently there, perhaps the state could suspend its payment for the development of these texts until the next fiscal year. I’m willing to bet that Oklahoma educators could create a fantastic curriculum (and receive much deserved reimbursement) for the 33 million dollars the state was slated to spend for the 2016 fiscal year.

I say this because I have been in the position myself in which I had to write my own curriculum. In fact, I am currently writing curriculum for my school district (I’m receiving modest reimbursement, which I appreciate, but when you compare my wage to that of the massive textbook companies, the contrast is stark.) Why not pull from the talent the state already has? Why purchase a product that teachers don’t even find useful (in many cases)?

I am not saying that it is okay that the legislature slashed funding for textbooks, I’m really not. They failed Oklahoma children, and those who voted for the budget should not be reelected to office. What I am trying to say is that Oklahoma educators aren’t as dumb as some might think. We love our subject areas, and our students; we also know what works! Why not give us a chance to prove our metal?

Follow the Money to Charter-Town

Below are remarks I delivered to the OKCPS board on April 25, 2016 about the district’s proposed charter expansion:

I am not a conspiracy theorist, I simply follow the money. My mother taught me from a young age to think critically about issues involving money and power, and that’s why I’m here. I know when I see private funds buying public policy. I am horrified by the fact that the Inasmuch Foundation, despite their charitable vision, has essentially purchased the district’s resolve to privatize education.

How can you seriously believe that you are offering equity of voice at community meetings when the facilitators of the conversation have been funded by charter proponents? How can you approve of the fact that concerned citizens were only allowed to express their concerns using yellow scraps of paper, stickers, and felt-tipped markers?

I attended the first public meeting hosted by KIPP Reach in which the heads of KIPP claimed that they serve the same types of students as other schools in their community. In fact, they even provided a handout with the state report card for their school, as well as the state report cards for other schools in the community. They did not provide demographic data, they simply assured folks that the populations were similar. I chose to look up the stats in OKCPS’s annual report, and was incensed to find that KIPP dared to contrast their shiny report card grade of “A” with Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary’s less flattering “F.”

demographicsUpon little investigation, I learned that the homeless population reported for KIPP is 1%, while MLK’s is 17.2%. KIPP’s special ed population is measured to be 5.6% of the school population, while MLK’s is measured at 14.4%. Additionally, MLK’s Gifted and Talented program makes up 1.5% of students, while KIPP’s program makes up 8.9% of students.

If KIPP was really concerned about the same students as other neighborhood schools, they would not have misrepresented their student sample as similar to nearby schools’. We cannot trust an organization that makes public claims that they cannot back up with valid data.

To usurp the resources and facilities of existing neighborhood schools is both ethically and morally wrong. I urge you to reject the proposed expansion and instead to support the educators, schools, and families who are already working to improve Northeast OKC schools.

 

Teachers Aren’t Missionaries: They’re Professionals

I had an interesting conversation with an Oklahoma school board member the other night. The member was extremely upset that the board had been berated by the local union’s president for being “asleep at the wheel.”

At one point, the board member exclaimed, “Do you know how much money I receive for the work I do for this board? Zero!”

It took me aback. After a second, I asked him, “Do you know how much money I receive for being a professional educator? $34,000.”

His response was so insulting, I couldn’t believe my ears:

“Yes, but that was your choice. You knew that teachers don’t make a lot of money.”

I wasn’t sure how to respond at the time. What I would like to have said is that I did not make the choice to be paid a lower wage than other professionals; but rather, people like him, people who are powerful and wealthy, people who make 6 figures at their day job and are not taxed at the same rate as the majority of other Oklahomans, they’re the ones who made the choice to defund education.

I did tell him that it isn’t the case that teachers make less than other professionals in countries like South Korea.

He responded, “if you’re going to leave the country, you should go to Finland, the teachers there work in a wonderful system!”

I grinned like a Cheshire cat and said, “Yes, and they are very, very unionized.”

 

El Inicio

I’m starting this blog as an outgrowth of some of the work I do in Oklahoma. We’ll see what comes from it! Below are the public comments I gave during the Oklahoma City Public Schools’ board meeting last night, June 6th, 2016 about the current charter expansion proposal:

I’d like to acknowledge a problem that has been troubling me regarding the portrayal some Board members have made about the opponents of charter expansion. Again and again members of the board have said things like, “we’d love to see this much participation on a regular basis, not just when charter schools are being proposed.” I understand the sentiment behind this statement, but I can not help but hear the dual, implicit message that we, the people, have somehow shown up too late to receive a seat at the table. During board discussions, charter opponents have been characterized as “emotional” and even as unknowledgeable about the role of charter schools in American education. This has been especially frustrating for me, because many of us have cited academic research, government data, and historical context to support our position. KIPP does indeed have great reading and math scores. However, when KIPP has been asked to give context for its success, the organization has fudged on the facts.

During the KIPP presentation at the May 16th board meeting, Mr. Tracy McDaniel argued that expanding school choice fulfills social justice outcomes. When he cited Jonathan Kozol’s monolithic text, Savage Inequalities, my jaw hit the floor. I am familiar with Kozol’s work and was shocked because in Savage Inequalities Kozol argues against school choice as well as well as against charters’ corporate sponsors, noting that:

“The same political figures who extol the role of business have made certain that these poor black people would have no real choice. Cutting back the role of government and then suggesting that the poor can turn to businessmen who lobbied for such cuts is cynical indeed. But many black principals in urban schools know very well that they have no alternative; so they learn to swallow their pride, subdue their recognition and their dignity, and frame their language carefully to win the backing of potential ‘business partners.’ At length, they are even willing to adjust their schools and their curricula to serve the corporate will…A new generation of black urban school officials has been groomed to settle for a better version of unequal segregated education” (Kozol 81-82).

If we as a district wish to effect change, we must act boldly, not pander to the philosophies of The Walton and Inasmuch Foundations to receive funds that traditional public schools would have been entitled to under sensible tax policy. There is too much at risk when you create a dual system for public education that the UCLA Civil Rights Project has found to exacerbate inequality and racial isolation. All students deserve an equitable education that is funded and held accountable by the public.