Archive for August, 2010

A Response to “Teachers and teachers unions: Get on board or get out of the way”

August 16, 2010

Earlier this month, the Seattle Times published a column by Leonard Pitts, called “Teachers and teachers unions: Get on board or get out of the way.”  Mr. Pitts praised the mass firings of teachers in Washington, D.C. and Rhode Island, and blamed teacher unions for not embracing “accountability” based on high-stakes student test scores.  KEA Vice President Connie Compton posted the following response:

Mr. Pitts,

First, please review teacher contracts (they are easily found on either association websites or the human resources section of school district websites). Almost every contract has a process for dismissal of “bad” teachers. If teachers who cannot do the job remain in the classroom, it is because administrators are not doing their jobs. Most teachers do not want to work with ineffective teachers as it impacts our work as well. Union leaders often help to counsel ineffective teachers out of the profession. Unions assure there is Just Cause and that Due Process Rights are followed. Research shows that states with unions have higher test scores than states without unions.

Second, when you look at those contracts, look at the new evaluation systems for teachers that have been implemented in the past several years. For example, in Kent, the “Certificated Evaluation Model” is two thirds of the contract with very detailed rubrics expecting a high level of performance in multiple facets of the profession. The problem with the evaluation system used in Washington DC (and that being proposed in Seattle) is the heavy reliance on test scores. When our children are infants, we accept that they take their first steps and say their first words at different ages because not all children develop the same. Test scores expect that all children do develop the same. As a special education teacher, I know all too well the differences and challenges many students face. From Traumatic Brain Injury to genetic conditions, many, many factors impact student growth. Yet these children are assessed on the same tests as their grade level peers and expected to make the same growth or a school may be labeled as failing. Additionally, English Language Learners are expected to be in the same place after just one year in our country. For several years my school had a significant population of students who came from a nomadic tribe without a written language and no formal schooling. Many of these students also experienced malnutrition and malaria during infancy, both of which can impact brain development. No matter what grade students entered the school system; one year later they were expected to be reading and writing in English at same level as their age peers. No Child Left Behind and Rhee’s teacher evaluation model do not allow for these challenges in the classroom.

Furthermore, test scores do not allow for external factors. Can Rhee assure that every teacher fired in DC had equal access to quality, research-based curriculum and materials that meet the needs of each unique learner in the classroom? Did each of those teachers have the support of counselors to help meet the needs of children with behavior challenges? Did all of those children come to school every day? I had 4 different students last year who each missed over 30 days of school – equal to 6 weeks of classroom time! Did all of those children have someone at home who read to them as toddlers and preschoolers and now makes sure their homework gets done? Did each of those children have quality medical care? I had a student who failed the school vision and hearing screenings, but his parents refused to take him to the doctor even when offered free services. Then there are the life events that teachers have no control over. One year I worked with a student who had a back injury and missed multiple days of school and when she did come to school she was in almost constant pain. Have you ever tried to read a book when you hurt? This year I taught a brother and sister whose father left, then their mother lost her job, then her house and finally they sold many of their personal belongings, even their pet dogs. Many days the children came to school in tears and consumed with stress. Should their test scores determine my pay or whether or not I have a job?

I am not against accountability, but accountability is a very complicated issue and cannot be judged on a single test score. Additionally, overuse of test scores has inherent issues. Campbell’s Law states, “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”

Finally, I urge you to read “The Death and Life of the Great American School System” by Diane Ravitch. Ms. Ravitch clearly explains the problems and fallacies of No Child Left Behind and the various new directions public education has taken.