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.

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.


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.