“You know the rules. No jazz before a rumble.”
“You should never wear your best trousers when you go out to fight for freedom and truth.”
As the week comes to a close I’ve been ruminating about policy at both the local and state level in regard to teachers, or as the state still refers to them, “Human Capital” – a term that was never considered appropriate by teachers,
Several years ago as districts struggled with recovering from the financial blows wrought by the recession, it was a popular – albeit unsubstantiated – belief that there was a concentrated effort nationwide to weed out veteran teachers in favor of newer younger models. I like a conspiracy theory as much as anybody but tend to subscribe to the trope of “Never ascribe to malice that which can adequately be explained by incompetence.”
However, as Sherlock Holmes was fond of saying, “Once you eliminate everything that is not the truth, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” Or something like that.
It has been become accepted that the nation’s school districts are suffering a teacher crisis. There are simply not enough people willing to do the job under the conditions that exist today. This has been a growing crisis for years but has now reached a critical point.
I hate to use business examples in regard to education issues, but I think it’s appropriate here. Say I run a bar and I run into staffing problems. My first response would be to identify the causes of those issues. Is it because of my business growing and thereby increasing my staffing needs, or is it because my employees have become dissatisfied with being employed by me? If it’s the latter, I work to identify the root causes of that dissatisfaction and how it can be rectified, but before I even do that, I work to stop the bleeding.
I recognize that I’ve spent a lot of resources on my staff as far as training and compensation. Much of my success can be attributed to their grasping of my vision and executing it. Finding new people, training them, and instilling that vision, is very cost-prohibitive and would also serve to distract from my desired focus – growing the business. So it would be imperative that I held on to my veterans while augmenting their ranks with new staff. That new staff would optimally be made up of experienced employees.
That’s not how we are addressing the teacher shortage. We are focused almost uniformly on putting new bodies in front of classrooms. TNDOE is currently pushing it’s “grow your own program(GYO)” as a means of addressing the shortage. I’m not knocking the strategy – Lipscomb is doing groundbreaking work in this area – but it doesn’t do anything for keeping experienced teachers in the classroom.
David Donaldson the TNDOE’s Human Capital guy – that’s his email address, not my critical shot – has been regularly tweeting the glory of the GYO program but when questioned on what the plans were to retain veteran teachers, the proposed action quickly became pretty generic. Most of it has been been given lip service for several years.
Improved principal PD and opportunities for teachers to lead in schools without leaving the classroom have long been frequent promises in the dark that have failed to be borne out in the light of day.
Even GYO, the promise that Donaldson is trying to stoke excitement over is not being fully honored. Pictures have popped up on social media of meetings with TA’s in Williamson and Montgomery County that show hundreds of potential candidates in attendance. This is in spite of the fact that less than a third will secure positions in the program based on financial restrictions.
See the DOE is pushing the initiative but they are not financing it. Instead, they are leaving it to individual districts to find the funding in order to implement the strategy. Its often said that a budget is a reflection of your priorities. So if I’m supposed to believe the TNDOE’s rhetoric that GYO is a priority, where is the funding?
The state education department is requesting 15 million dollars from the state this year for new ELA and Reading materials – materials that are useless without teachers to implement them – yet there is no meaningful investment in a program that has shown promise in putting more teachers in more classrooms. Imagine if that aforementioned 15 million went to funding the establishment and expansion of districts GYO programs. It could easily double, and perhaps triple, the number of teachers available for assignment.
Instead of rushing to hand over money to private entities – textbook companies, consultants, and testing companies – the TNDOE should address the shortcomings of the current BEP formula. The result would not only be greater teacher retention but also a clearer picture of exactly what the needs of Tennessee’s students are and you could apply appropriate solutions. Solutions that would address actual needs and not just stretching the dollar.
Couple fixing the BEP with untying teacher and school evaluations from testing outcomes, and you’d likely see even more teachers stay in the classroom. It’s not like other states aren’t already exploring these possibilities. It might be nice to actually lead for a while instead of always following.
These are simple, and apparent fixes, that would not only impact teacher attrition rates but would also positively affect student outcomes. It seems like a no brainer to me…if your actual goals are to increase teacher attrition and student outcomes.
There is something else we haven’t tried in four decades of stagnant scores,
Professional autonomy for K-12 teachers and teacher educators is a process we have not tried, but one far more likely to give our schools and our students a better chance if we also acknowledge that social and educational equity need the same financial and administrative focus we have given accountability since the early 1980s.
As blogger P.L. Thomas points out,
Formal education is a reflection of and a perpetuating force for inequity in the U.S. Public schools are not game-changers.
Therefore, it is true that far too many students are not being taught to read well enough, and that on balance, public education is failing far too many students.
Those failures are about inequity—inequity of opportunities both outside and inside schools that disproportionately impacts poor students, black and brown students, English language learners, and special needs students (the “science of reading” movement has correctly identified these vulnerable student populations, in fact).
As such, accountability measures allow us to assign blame for issues while failing to find solutions.
That’s where I slip back into my conspiracy theories. Younger teachers are cheaper because you don’t have to pay them as much. Get them in and out of the profession before they have families and you reduce benefit costs as well as compensation costs. As an added bonus, they are much more malleable.
More experienced teachers have learned through doing, what works in the classroom and what doesn’t. They are capable of creating their own lesson plans and effectively engaging in collaborative planning. That ability makes them much less likely to embrace scripted curriculum.
Scripted materials are preferable to many administrators because it gives them more control while at the same time decreases their dependence on the skill of individual teachers. Furthermore, if you are making the majority of your decisions based on data derived from a standardized test, you want to eliminate as many variables as possible.
You may not be able to standardize students, but you can standardize curriculum and de facto teachers. If you doubt what I’m saying, think of recently proposed innovations like putting a bug in teachers’ ear while they teach or filming them in the act of instruction. Standardization sold as replication.
And if you think it’s not important to know the players, guess who was an early proponent for the bug in the ear idea. Our good friends TNTP.
Time and again, we hear that teachers need feedback and support. And no wonder: it can be hard to face a challenging calculus lesson as the only adult in the room. By letting me be a bug in their ears, our teachers are getting coaching support when they need it most: right in the middle of class.
We need real solutions that serve the actual needs of kids and teachers. We don’t need more schemes and gimmicks that do nothing but serve the interest of private entities.
At the beginning of the decade, Bill Gates and his billionaire pals took us for a ride with Common Core. At this juncture, most recognize it for the disaster it was. Some, including Gates, believe that all that it is required is a pivot. In that case, I’d heed the words of Ze’ev Wurman, an education policy expert who advised a previous U.S. administration,
“So Bill Gates’ pivoting is not just a matter for Mr. Gates losing his own money,” Wurman said. “It is an admission that he actively helped to misdirect some 4 TRILLION educational dollars over the last seven years, and that he harmed tens of millions of students during that time by imposing the mediocre and intrusive Common Core upon the nation.”
I still don’t know if the weeding out of veteran teachers is ignorance or intent. If it’s the former, we need to educate ourselves. If it’s the latter, it needs to be stopped. We need to employ common-sense solutions. Solutions that begin with, and depend upon, retaining as many of our veteran teachers as possible.
ARROGANCE BEFORE THE FALL
Speaking of sobering, this week interim-director of MNPS Adrienne Battle took steps to hold Chief Officer Tony Majors accountable for his actions over the last several months.
Majors has been with MNPS for over 30 years, and over most of those years, he served admirably. But over the last several years be failed to adhere to the warnings of Flavor Flav and he started to believe the hype. The hype that rules and codes of conduct were for other people and not him.
Majors has for the last 3 years served as leader of RBI. According to News Channel 5, in a suspension letter, Dr. Battle says that Dr. Majors was directed to resign in July 2019 from his role with RBI due to a “potential conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict of interest,” but that he failed to do so. That was an act of insubordination and coupled with previous failures to act in a manner consistent with the director’s directives has led to this week’s actions. You can read the full suspension letter here .
The thing that baffles me the most in all of this is why when confronted with the fact that his son received a 3500 dollar scholarship from RBI, Majors defended the action. Surely he is aware that at the very least there is an appearance of impropriety.
If he’d acknowledged that, and then flipped the script by not only agreeing to repay the scholarship but also offering to double the amount, allowing RBI to thereby offer an additional scholarship this year, we’d be having a different conversation today. Instead, he left Dr. Battle with no other course of action.
The difficulty of Dr. Battle’s action can’t be understated. Majors was her principal when she was the AP at Glencliff. The two have a personal relationship, as well as a professional one. This week’s actions should serve as notice that no one is above reproach and that Dr. Battle will put the district before all else. It’s a welcome notice.
A quick perusal of Tuesday’s MNPS board agenda shows that under the consent agenda is a proposed legal settlement of $425K. This will be the second of three settlements with one still pending and brings the total to date to 750K. These settlements are a result of the mishandling of sexual harassment complaints by the former director of Schools Shawn Joseph’s team. Not included in the settlement numbers are the district’s legal fees which are rumored to be around the same number and growing. Do you still think it was all about race?
Speaking of HR Departments, MNPS has hired a new Chief. Per the Tennessean,
Chris Barnes, a former North Carolina educator and human resources administrator, will take over as chief of a department that has received plenty of scrutiny over the years, including a scathing board commissioned audit in 2019 that cast light on hiring issues and low district morale. Former Superintendent Shawn Joseph appointed Tony Majors to head the human resources department soon after.
Personally, I’m excited by this news. On paper, it seems that Barnes is the real deal and has all the tools to finally fix a department that has been in disrepair for nearly a decade.
Some of you might be preparing to, or have already, observed the states proposed ELA materials and textbooks that are housed over at MNEA. One thing on the list is CKLA. Here’s a little something for you the read beforehand, Problems Surrounding Amplify’s Core Knowledge Language Arts to Teach Reading. The adoption of CKLA continues to be rife with red flags.
Hume Fogg students participate in a monthly meeting called ProjectCiv. It’s an opportunity to discuss political matters & promote civic engagement in a time when they say it is needed the most. The librarian in charge, Amanda Smithfield, helps educators across the country come up w/ their own plan. It’s a model deserving of replication.
Dr. Jean Gray Litterer had an incredible impact on thousands of children and teachers during her 20 years as principal of Hillsboro High School and nearly half a century with MNPS. Her leadership, her gentle encouragement, and her smile will all be missed. RIP
Madison Middle School becomes the latest beneficiary of Goat Yoga. Sure looks like fun
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