"Last week a teacher in my school announced that he is leaving the profession. He has taken a job in the private sector. He said that he felt stuck, with no way to move up in his career without moving out. Another colleague of mine told me a couple days ago that he doesn't think he can keep teaching full time. He has very high standards for himself, and in his second year, he is finding it difficult to sustain the level of energy that it takes to do his job well. Unfortunately, these types of stories are not uncommon in public schools today. Too many students are losing their teachers to burnout and lack of career mobility."
Alone among states, California has permitted passing a primarily multiple-choice exam as one path to become a school or district administrator.
That will change. The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) on Friday voted to require aspiring administrators to pass a more challenging “performance-based assessment,” showing how they’d handle complex situations that administrators face on the job, like designing a school improvement plan and evaluating teachers. The new test will replace the current exam, the California Preliminary Administrative Credential Examination, when the contract for administering it expires in October 2014.
Still, the most significant obstacle they face is the very same myopic policy suggested by Mr. Obama’s erstwhile opponent, Mitt Romney, in the weeks before the election: we grade our schools, he said, so parents “can take their child to a school that’s being more successful.” As for the parents, teachers and children who can’t make that choice, they’re left to salvage what remains.
Creating opportunities for teachers to work together, to teach in teams, to share in professional development, and to be more involved in educational decisionmaking are ways to bring out the best in teachers. Again, there are examples on the ground that such an approach works.
New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman has lauded Race to the Top as one of President Obama’s two most innovative domestic initiatives. As superintendent of California’s 12th largest public school district, I must respectfully disagree. I would argue that Race to the Top is hardly innovative – government using “carrot and stick” incentives to spur change is a centuries-old concept. In fact, I would go a step further: Race to the Top’s heavy-handed, top-down mandates create division and derision within the public education community at precisely a time all sides should be coming together.
Using surveys and social network analysis, I discovered a robust and closely linked group of advocates and neighborhood organizations that share information with both the charter sector and LAUSD. There is policy consensus among a very diverse set of education leaders and stakeholders that LAUSD should encourage charter-like autonomy for traditional public schools. Of course, consensus about an idea can seem easy when the real battles are fought in implementation. How much autonomy? Will autonomous schools operate with "thin" labor contracts? Will principals have discretion over which teachers to hire? Despite these questions, LAUSD is moving ahead, most recently with a new MOU negotiated between the district and the teachers' union, which establishes a procedure for school level autonomy on issues like curriculum, length of school day, and union contract provisions. Moreover, student achievement in LA is steadily improving, according to state level assessments (API) as well as NAEP scores.
I have volunteered to help Diane Ravitch collect and organize letters for the Campaign for our Public Schools, which will culminate on Thursday, October 17. All the letters collected by then will be sent to the White House and to the Department of Education. Instructions on how to send a letter are at the bottom of this post.
The letters are pouring in. Each one reveals another facet of the lives of our schools in 2012. Today I am sharing a letter sent in by Shelley Barker, of Snohomish, Washington. Please read, and then take a few minutes to write a letter of your own.
"the effect of choice systems is to draw students whose parents have higher expectations, more income and higher education levels away from the lowest performing schools only to leave high concentrations of the poorest students in those lowest performing schools. That is certainly true in the District of Columbia, probably the most aggressive choice and charter system in the United States. Average performance is not changed, but the better off students do better and the initially worse off do even worse. Performance, in other words, is simply redistributed. Is that what we want from our schools?"
Truth is, the problem with the American student is the American adult. Deadbeat dads, pushover moms, vulgar celebrities, self-interested politicians, depraved ministers, tax-sheltering CEOs, steroid-injecting athletes, benefit-collecting retirees who vote down school taxes, and yes, incompetent teachers—all take their turns conspiring to neglect the needs of the young in favor of the wants of the old. The line of malefactors stretches out before our children; they take turns dealing them drugs, unhealthy foods, skewed values messages, consumerist pap, emotional and physical and sexual traumas, racist messages of aspersion for their cultures, and countless other strains of vicious disregard. Nevertheless, many pundits and politicians are happy to train their rhetorical fire uniquely on the teachers, and the damnable hive-feast on the souls of our young continues unabated. We’re told not to worry because good teachers will simply overcome this American psychic cannibalism and drag our hurting children across the finish line ahead of the Finnish lions.
ACT member Jane Fung, writing at EdWeek, tackles issues of staff turnover and stability: "Along with teacher turnover, our school has had four different principals, a new assistant principal every year, seven district directors, and four district superintendents."
The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing has elected Linda Darling-Hammond as its chair, placing one of the nation’s foremost authorities on education in a position to shape the state’s policies affecting the recruitment and training of teachers and principals in a year where major changes are in the works.
The ACT report, "Promoting Quality Teaching: New Approaches to Compensation and Career Pathways," recommends creating a “third tier” that teachers could aspire to – becoming “master teachers” who, for example, could help train and evaluate new or struggling teachers, or redesign curricula to be more relevant for the district or school, while still remaining in the classroom for part of the day.
"I hope these new funds will not be used to further the destructive agenda that other philanthropists have set. Do not embrace the idea that due process for teachers is the enemy of quality. Do not yield to the technocratic vision of perfectly aligned standards, curriculum and tests. Do not try to raise test scores by rewarding or punishing teachers. Do not advance the privatization of education, but rather, support our public schools as the surest vehicle by which this is made available to all. Insist on this for every child, not just those with high test scores.
"Continue to develop another vision, one driven by authentic, open-ended learning, driven by student curiosity and imagination. Look for ways to elevate the voices of classroom teachers and students in education policy. By working with and empowering the creative teachers and students of the nation, you can be a guiding light leading us out of this dark age and into a new era. Thank you for your vision - we need it now more than ever."
This exclusive online-only story package explores the growing interest in the issue of teacher leadership, highlighting programs and initiatives designed to help teachers advance in their careers and exert more influence in schools.
To sum up, it’s all about figuring out when a given strategy is needed, and when to leave well-enough alone. I’m not going to pretend I have that all figured out, but a new list of standards is not the answer to that particular problem, listening to students and adjusting my practice is.
If we are serious about making the modern educational landscape more personalized and customized, at some point we have to start creating new symbols that reflect our commitment to personalization and customization.