Tag Archives: waiting

My comments on Joel Klein and Michelle Rhees manifesto “How to Fix Our Schools”

23 Oct

Some of the nation’s top educators have written a manifesto about how to fix our public school system.  These are some of the same people involved in the film “Waiting for Superman”.  You can read the manifesto in its entirety by clicking here

These leaders in education want to hold teachers responsible for student performance.  This makes sense.  In any job, employees are judged on performance.  Yet the problem is much bigger than these leaders have addressed. 

Yet, for too long, we have let teacher hiring and retention be determined by archaic rules involving seniority and academic credentials. The widespread policy of “last in, first out” (the teacher with the least seniority is the first to go when cuts have to be made) makes it harder to hold on to new, enthusiastic educators and ignores the one thing that should matter most: performance.

I whole-heartedly agree that teacher performance should be the biggest factor in determining who stays on-staff at any particular school.  But how do we measure that performance?  Consider the following.  In the state of Texas, students must pass the state’s standardized tests, called TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills).  Such TAKS tests take place several times throughout a child’s education, and children can be held back in certain grades–or not allowed to graduate high school–if they do not pass these tests.  Clearly it would make sense to examine student scores to get a feel for teacher performance.  For example, students of Mrs. Johnson averaged 36% on the 10th grade TAKS.  Obviously, Mrs. Johnson hasn’t done her job.

But why hasn’t Mrs. Johnson done her job?  Perhaps Mrs. Johnson is a poor teacher and should’ve been booted out many years ago.  This undoubtedly happens in the education system, and this must end.  As the manifesto says:

A 7-year-old girl won’t make it to college someday because her teacher has two decades of experience or a master’s degree — she will make it to college if her teacher is effective and engaging and compels her to reach for success.

It makes sense that students of such teachers are more likely to be successful.  Apparently Mrs. Johnson wasn’t effective, engaging, and didn’t compel her sophomores to reach for success.

But what if she did?

One of the biggest issues the manifesto fails to address is student apathy.  This is most likely more a problem the older the student gets.  There are many teachers out there who are well-trained and can perform their hearts out for their students each and every day, but if the student doesn’t take responsibility for their education, the teacher isn’t going to be able to make a difference.

Let’s consider Mrs. Johnson.  Mrs. Johnson is a “great teacher” according to her peers.  She is so great, in fact, that this year the administration has decided to put her with the neediest students–those who are learning English and have learning and behavioral disabilities.  Mrs. Johnson did so well with her previous group of students, and they scored so well on their TAKS, that clearly Mrs. Johnson’s skills need to be applied to those who need the help the most. 

Mrs. Johnson knows her students well, has good classroom management, and follows all the rules for the children with disabilities and language difficulties.  She employs Bloom’s taxonomy.  She uses multiple intelligence theory.  She differentiates instruction every day.  She tiers and uses flexible grouping.  She isn’t perfect, but she utilizes all the school’s training and current educational research on how to make her students succeed.  Most of her students enjoy her and her class, but in spite of her effort, they rarely complete assignments in class, and homework is a joke.  She tries to remove the students disrupting class by referring them to their principal, but often there are no consequences for their actions–either because the principal doesn’t care or, in the cases of those with disabilities, scared to take action for fear of a lawsuit.  Her assessment scores are poor, and her TAKS scores at the end of the year are low as well.

Mrs. Johnson’s colleague, Mr. Bowen, also incorporates all of the above teaching methods in his class.  He teaches pre-AP and AP classes.  His students want to go to college, and though they aren’t perfect, Mr. Bowen doesn’t have a huge amount of trouble getting his students to complete their work.  Their TAKS scores are several points above passing.  In fact, Mr. Bowen doesn’t even review any TAKS problems or strategies with his students.  He doesn’t need to.

Budget cuts must be made the next year; who does the school fire?  Based on the above, the least effective teacher appears to be Mrs. Johnson.  Clearly, she didn’t do enough to make her students pass the TAKS.  Her job was to get the kids to learn and pass TAKS.  She didn’t accomplish this, so obviously she needs to go. 

The difficulty with this scenario, though, is who CAN get these kids to pass?  Once Mrs. Johnson is fired, it is likely that whoever replaces her will face the same problems.  What’s to be done?

I realize we shouldn’t feel too sorry for Mrs. Johnson.  It’s rough luck, but the schools DO need to judge their teachers on something.  Maybe Mrs. Johnson will get a great job at another school where the students are more eager to learn and take advantage of her enthusiasm.  Or maybe she won’t. 

Clearly holding teachers responsible for student performance will help weed out the truly awful teachers that exist.  My question is…then what?  How do even the BEST teachers get kids to WANT to learn and succeed?  What do we do about the students that truly do not care and thus hinder the students that do want to learn?  Many schools are scared to take action against such students.  What do we do about administrative policies that hinder, or even promote, these problems?

%d bloggers like this: