Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Here are the recently released NM Effective Teaching Task Force Recommendations for evaluating teachers and school leaders. I haven't had the chance to read them thoroughly yet, but they seem fairly reasonable. The one thing I'm wondering about, though, is that teachers in un-tested (by a Standards Based Assessment) grades have 25% of their evaluation based on their school's letter grade A-F. I guess that has the potential to get teachers to care about how their school does as a whole, but it seems more likely to de-incentivize working in traditionally low-performing schools. I definitely think, considering how many low performing schools there are in New Mexico, that we need to create incentives for our best teachers to be working in our most difficult schools - and not the other way around.
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
I have taught entrepreneurship and business to low-income students for the past 30 years, and have often thought about the teachers who have had an impact on my teaching philosophy and career. I would like to present four great educators who touched me personally.
1. Jaime Escalante
Born in Bolivia, Jaime Escalante came to this country in 1970 to teach math. As his accreditation in Bolivia was not recognized here, he had to recertify his educational credentials. In the meantime, he worked nights as a dish washer. His first teaching position came in 1974 at Garfield High School in Los Angeles, which is located in an extremely low-income area. By 1978, he was teaching his students advanced calculus. Four years later, 18 of his students passed the Advanced Placement exam in calculus, an astonishing number considering their backgrounds. However, many had the same mistakes on the same problems, which made the authorities suspicious. Each of his students was made to retake the test and each one passed it -- again. Seventy-three of his students had passed the Advanced Placement exam by 1987. Jaime became an instant legend through Stand and Deliver, a wonderful movie in which he was played by Edward James Olmos. I had begun to read about Jaime in the mid-80's and he instantly became an inspiration -- his effect on my career has been incalculable.
I was a 32-year-old teacher in New York in 1986, when I called Garfield High and left a message for Mr. Escalante. That night, I got a call at home, and through a thick Spanish accent I heard:
"Is this Mr. Mariotti?"
"This is me."
"It's Jaime Escalante. You wanted to talk to me?"
I almost fell over. The legend was returning my phone call. "I'm a special ed teacher in the South Bronx," I told him. "I really admire you. I'm going to in L.A. to accept an award and wanted to visit your classroom."
He said, "Of course."
Two weeks later, I was waiting in the lobby of Garfield High when Jaime walked up and gave me a hug. "Let's go, Steve." He showed me his classroom, a large, auditorium-like space, with each row of seats up a step, so everyone would have an unobstructed view of the front of the room. On the wall I noticed blown-up photos of the Los Angeles Lakers.
In his office Jaime showed me the large filing cabinets he used to stay organized. He had a lesson plan and handouts for each class in a folder. On any given day, he pulled out the appropriate folder and was good to go. We went back to the classroom. I sat in the back row, so I was looking down over the entire room. Jaime walked up a couple of steps, and seemed to be talking to me as well as to the students.
It was a brilliant presentation. He used three overhead transparencies: one to present the objective, one to show a sample problem, and one to demonstrate a more difficult example, which he would make explanatory notes on with a Vis-A-Vis pen. (To this day, these pens are the only writing instruments I use -- with the clips bent back, as Jaime did.)
The students would then break into groups to solve the problem, after which two of the groups would be called to present. In the last two minutes of the class, Jaime would give a lightning quiz that the students would self-grade in 30 seconds. He followed this same routine every day that I was there.
Many of my own classroom techniques were eventually based on watching this great educator. I learned the importance of emphasizing punctuality (later I would call it the "Lombardi rule" -- after football coach Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers -- but I really learned it from Jaime). I saw the importance of providing role models for the students, which is why Jaime had pictures of Einstein and Galileo and Newton on the walls, along with Lakers stars. He taught me the importance of group work in the classroom, and always being prepared. I also learned the value of drills combined with constant self-evaluation. Perhaps most importantly I learned the significance of visuals in teaching; he had basic mathematical formulas posted all over the room. In just 48 minutes, Jaime utilized teaching strategies that could reach any learner in the class.
He explained that he followed the same format every day so the kids would get to know the routine. He stood by the door and shook the hand of each student that came in. He closed the door the moment the bell rang, and no student was allowed to enter late. He had a "do now" problem already written on the board; the class was silent as each student thought about the problem. When the bell rang and after he closed the door, he would take out of his desk a large stuffed animal and randomly toss it. The first kid it touched had to go up to the board to solve the problem in writing. He tossed the toy four more times. Five students would then be at the board simultaneously working on the same problem, while the rest of the class watched.
You could hear a pin drop while they were working. Then, one by one, each student would present his or her answer and show how it was arrived at. Once the five had presented their solutions, Jaime would give the class new material.
Jaime had me over to his house for dinner twice, and we ate lunch together almost every day. In one of the highlights of my teaching life, he let me give a 20-minute lesson on math and business. Jaime was the greatest educator I ever knew personally. I was proud to call him a friend and mentor. He died on March 30, 2010. The last time I spoke to him was in the late 90's, when he was teaching in Sacramento. The last thing he said to me was: "Get the routine and the audio visuals right and assume the students can do anything." I have never forgotten that.
2. John Holt
A great book can change one's life. I read John Holt's How Children Fail in Ann Arbor at the University of Michigan library in 1977. No book has ever had a bigger impact on me. Holt was a genius. It made me think that I wanted to be a teacher at some point in my life. That came to pass seven years later, in the South Bronx, when I had created a program to teach entrepreneurship to low-income children. Holt's concepts and methods had an important influence on my practice, especially the importance of driving fear from the classroom. So many students fail because they are afraid to make errors because they will be ridiculed and judged.
Holt attended Harvard, became an elementary school teacher, and then attracted a great deal of attention in 1964, when he published How Children Fail. In his three groundbreaking works (the other two were How Children Learn and Escape from Childhood: The Rights and Needs of Children), he argued for a teaching methodology that was student-driven. Holt believed that children had an innate love of learning and could teach themselves almost anything. He argued that the job of the teacher was to be a guide, coach, and reference source.
When I came across Holt's book in Michigan, I was in my second year of MBA studies, but decided to add classes from the School of Education. Our professor asked us to go to the library to find and read any book on education, and that's how I found Holt -- totally by chance. I wrote half a dozen letters to him with comments and queries in regard to teaching and education. He returned each with a written answer next to the paragraph that contained the question.
I continued to follow his work and I subscribed to his newsletter. The first time we spoke it was on the phone, in 1979, shortly after he had published Never Too Late: My Musical Life Story. In that book, he writes about teaching himself the cello at the age of 56, partly to discover how people learn. I spoke about my learning issues with letters and colors and he told me of his own. We laughed about how hard it was to admit one's weaknesses. After that, I called him maybe once a year just to chat. He would always speak to me and the conversations were always stimulating. I remember that in 1983 I thanked him for his life's work. I have never forgotten what he said:
"Thank you, Steve. I have enjoyed getting to know you."
"But we've never met," I said. "Yes we did. We exchanged ideas on teaching. How could we have been closer?"
Since I became a teacher through one of these crash course summer trainings, I can't say that I disagree with them completely - but it is crazy to think that just because one attended school as a student that one has the skills necessary to run today's most difficult classrooms. Yet, are 4 year college programs really doing a much better job than the summer crash courses? I've never been through a 4 year education concentration program, but based on today's dire circumstances, I assume that teacher training programs could - across the board - improve.
So... what do I think a teacher training program should look like? Well, I really like the Teach For America model where you teach for 1 period per day, receive feedback every time you teach, lesson plan in groups, and attend classes when you're not teaching. I wonder if simply elongating the process would help teachers leave training programs better prepared to teach.
I got a degree in biochemistry, and I'd say I was very ill prepared to become a biochemist. I would have needed to spend a lot more time in the lab, earning my PhD. What's the difference between becoming a biochemist and teaching? I guess I would have spent my time in a lab under a professor, who would spend nearly 6 years guiding me to my independence as a biochemist. Meanwhile, I would be doing work to support the lab - benefiting my professor as she imparted her knowledge to me.
Teaching - during college as well as the "graduate" part of the program during someone's first few years on the job - clearly doesn't provide effective mentorship. I've been asked to mentor other teachers before and I simply can't do it well, while running my own classroom. There needs to be something better in place than just saying one teacher is another's mentor - with no training, benefit, or oversight. It seems natural that becoming a mentor teacher - teaching significantly fewer classes throughout the day - and working as more of a manager - with higher pay - would be a next step/promotion after being a full-time classroom teacher, with kids all day. Has any school district tried something like this? A structure with a principal and then a set of master teachers who teach maybe 1 or 2 periods per day and spend most of their time observing, providing feedback, and mentoring all of the other teachers in a building? Is this too much of a business model?
Monday, August 29, 2011
We would love to hear what you think. Take a look at these three stories about the ruling, one from Education Week, one from the NY Times and one from Huffington Post:
Then let us know your reaction to this news. Is it much ado about nothing? Is it a ridiculous waste of union and public resources to litigate this question? Is the union right? Wrong?
Friday, August 26, 2011
When I hear about "excellent teachers," I'll admit that I consider myself one of them. Maybe I shouldn't, but I do work really hard in general and I constantly make changes to improve my teaching techniques and content. I communicate with parents and I have high expectations. The truth is just that getting students in traditionally low-performing schools to perform as well (on high stakes tests or otherwise) as students from traditionally high-performing schools is THE HARDEST THING EVER. It takes so much more than just being smart, cool, or organized. It takes consistent, relentless, creative hard work that encroaches into all other areas of your life. And people have conversations about how our schools are failing and our teachers need to do a better job like it's nothing.
I don't intend that we give up, but we need to keep in mind the difficulty of the task at hand when discussing the future of public education. It only took me 1 summer to start forgetting what it's like in the classroom. Just because I had some successes getting last year's students to care about math doesn't mean I have less of an uphill battle starting off this year. It seems like anyone who's in a position to make major decisions affecting education needs to spend time in some of the toughest classrooms and talking to the teachers who are in charge of them.
Thursday, August 25, 2011
It's always hard to interpret data that goes against one's expectations. My mind immediately begins to think about the "why." Although I'm sure early childhood experts have better "whys" than I possibly could, I'm thinking.... perhaps it has to do with what happens between kindergarten and the third grade follow up. Perhaps it has to do with the gap that already occurs in children who enter Head Start around age 3 or 4. If Head Start is run completely on tax dollars, it seems that the federal government should have data to support its effectiveness. However, I'm certainly not going to say "can the program if its not getting results." As a teacher of high schoolers, I know how difficult it is to turn things around for kids who have been behind for 9 or 10 years of school already. Head start is currently our best option to make a difference while the gap in performance for low-income and minority students is still small.
And it seems like the new Race to the Top was written with similar ideas to mine. Head start isn't enough, so lets let states improve their pre-k and early ed. programs on their own. New Mexico's programs could certainly do with a more coordinated effort (I have no idea about quality). I recently tried enrolling my son in the state-funded Pre-K program, and it was difficult to find centers that offered the program and then far more difficult to find a program that wasn't already full. We had luck though, and Jeremiah will be starting preschool in two weeks!
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
I always get a little scared when "education" and "capitalism" are uttered in the same sentence. I really don't think that business practices are the solution to fixing an "industry" that doesn't really have clear-cut products or a bottom-line, per se. I do think, though, that when communities get involved in their schools - things are more likely to change. Is there a lesson about public education to be learned from carrot mobbing? At the very least, students could use carrot mobbing to help generate change in their communities.... but how about something more fundamental? Any ideas?
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Socorro/ Tackling School Success One Absence at a Time
By Suzanne Barteau
August 20, 2011
When school leaders were asked in July what parents could do to help their children succeed academically, almost all of them answered the same way: make sure your children get to school every day, on time, and stay until the very end of the last class period.
"We can't teach them if they're not in class," said Midway Elementary Head Teacher, Cari Scholl.
Reducing absences, tardiness and early pick-ups were top priorities from Zimmerly Elementary School all the way up to Socorro High School.
How important is it that children don't miss school?
"It's huge," said Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Wilson. "It has an impact on both the child who is absent and on all the children in the class as a whole."
When teachers have to take time to help a child who missed classes catch up, Wilson said, it has the effect of taking teaching time away from the other students in the class and slows down everyone's progress.
"Obviously, that's been a part of the profession forever," Wilson said, "But the more lightly we take the importance of attendance, the more disruptive it is to the entire classroom and to the individual child's progress."
If children who frequently miss school are at risk of falling behind, children who are poor are at even greater risk.
- According to reports published by the National Center for Children in Poverty in 2008 and 2010, low-income children are not only more likely to have chronic absences, they are also less likely to recover when they fall behind.
- Other studies, compiled and promoted by an advocacy group called Attendance Works as part of a nationwide effort called the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, suggest that students who fall behind are more likely to drop out of school.
The Socorro Consolidated School District calculates local poverty statistics from Free and Reduced Lunch forms given to families at the start of every year. A family whose income is 130 percent or less than the Federal Poverty Level — $22,350 for a family of four — qualifies automatically for free lunch. A family whose income is 185 percent or less than the FPL qualifies for reduced price lunches.
"Data we compiled at the end of last school year for the year ahead showed 1,321 students out of 1,928 were eligible for free or reduced lunch," said Associate Superintendent Anton Salome. "That means 600 either were not eligible or didn't fill out the form."
Overall, close to 70 percent of the district's children can be classed as low-income, although the rate is different at each school. Cottonwood Valley Charter School had the lowest rate, at about 45 percent, and San Antonio Elementary School was next lowest, with about 62 percent.
Attendance rates also vary from school to school. Two years ago at Zimmerly Elementary, for example, 34 children out of 202 had more than 20 absences and a couple were absent 40 days or more, Wilson said.
Poverty is not something the schools can address directly, but each of the schools is trying in their own way to improve attendance.
"They all have some pretty unique approaches and campaigns that all have elements of encouragement and consequences," Wilson said. "At Midway, for example, every Friday they have an assembly where they recognize the students, and at Parkview they've had drawings."
All the schools, Wilson said, routinely make phone calls to the parents to notify them when their children are absent.
"We've switched over to an automatic dialer, so we can make those calls immediately, every day," Wilson said. "And then there are the legal requirements in state statute, with letters home and eventually with referrals to the district attorney."
Attendance isn't just a school problem, Wilson said. It effects the community as a whole.
"Attendance leads to graduation," she said. "If kids don't graduate, the economic impacts to the community are huge."
For one thing, Wilson pointed out, the lack of an educated workforce can make Socorro appear less desirable when recruiting new businesses for economic development.
If attendance increases the odds of school success, then school success also increases the odds of lifting children out of poverty. A report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2010 indicated that people without a high school diploma earned, on average, almost 60 percent less per year than people with a bachelor's degree, and 30 percent less than people who had managed to at least graduate from high school. On the flip side, the unemployment rate for people without a high school diploma was three times that of people who had a bachelor's degree.
According to Attendance Works, communities across the country are recognizing that helping parents and schools work on improving attendance is in their own best interest, and are coming up with creative ways to help. In New York, for example, a campaign called WakeUp NYC was launched last year that places automated wake-up calls from celebrity athletes such as Magic Johnson and Jose Reyes to chronically absent students in 25 schools.
In Socorro, parents and business owners are doing their part as well, by donating small prizes to schools that can be used to reward good attendance.
Monday, August 22, 2011
Friday, August 19, 2011
As the article states, professional development for teachers is such a slippery slope and, in this data-driven age, is still such a guessing game in that there's no real way to know which PD is effective in improving student performance. There are too many factors at play, including levels of PD implementation and then levels of teacher implementation of the strategies learned in PD into their classrooms. However, as a graduate student and as a Teach For America teacher, I've certainly experienced PD that positively impacted my students' learning. Most of which involved someone observing me teach and then providing me feedback about what I could do better. All of which involved my own willingness to accept criticism and then to make changes to my classroom practice. That said, I've also been partnered with a master teacher in my school district as part of a mentoring process and didn't change my teaching practice at all as a result - making up BS observations and reflections to put into my "mentor binder."
I do know that the main type of PD that occurs - in-services and demonstrations of new activities and techniques - never makes much difference on my practice. It might give me an idea of a new activity to try or a new way of reviewing vocabulary, but it never asks me to really examine my own practice and improve the way that I teach. I'm not sure what the factors are that separate "good, effective coaching" from "just another thing to BS the day before it's due coaching" but I suspect that the coach's level of commitment to the process makes a big difference. At WNMU and TFA, the people who observed me and gave me feedback were no longer classroom teachers - it was their main job to help teachers become better - not to maintain a classroom themselves. It's probably very hard to be a good coach when you have a classroom to run! I also think that the teacher being coached has to know that someone will care about the changes that are being made in their class - and will not simply check off the observation as being complete. Last of all, how do you make teachers WANT to change a practice that they've been honing for the duration of their career? I was coached as a brand new teacher - I knew I needed help. It's probably not going to go over so well for someone who's essentially been left alone in their classroom for the last 5-25 years.
Anyway, I was happy to read about the above-mentioned study and I hope its results are highly publicized and included in future discussions around PD.
Thursday, August 18, 2011
Only 13 percent of New Mexico schools made “Adequate Yearly Progress” in educating our future work force. Our Latino/Hispano Education Improvement Task Force sounded the alarm about this crisis three years ago.
There should be no higher priority than to educate our children. Lawmakers, business leaders, educators and the community all agree on this point. Yet, New Mexico fails to educate more than half of our student population. Without an educated workforce, is it any wonder we are one of the poorest states?
Gov. Susana Martinez promised “bold education reform”, then brought in Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera and eight other outsiders to fix us. Skandera promised a bold plan by April 2011 – four months ago. That’s fine, but do they really think a group of outsiders will fix New Mexico’s crisis?
We are not blaming anyone in particular. We believe all New Mexico stakeholders share responsibility – and will share the consequences – of our broken education system. As members of our community, we ask: What can we all do to solve this crisis? Our statewide task force has no high-powered paid consultants, but we would like to offer our own bold 10 point plan.
1. First, address the “New Reality.” Our “ethnic minority students” compose nearly 75 percent of New Mexico’s population and are actually now the permanent majority. This new reality must be addressed with concrete proposals that address why schools are failing the vast majority of these ethnic populations.
2. Create a statewide climate for educational change. There are 89 school districts in New Mexico. Every community should initiate a local campaign to eliminate the achievement gap by addressing its unique needs and resources.
3. Implement the mandates of the Hispanic Education Act addressing the Latino education crisis in New Mexico.
4. As a result of Serna vs. Portales (1974), the federal courts mandated that bilingual and bicultural education be taught, and that every educator demonstrate cultural proficiency skills. These proficiencies must go far beyond organizing a taco day or celebrating ethnic holidays.
5. Every high school graduate should be proficient in two languages. Most of the global community has at least dual language skills. Let New Mexico lead the way in this country.
6. Start using accurate numbers to count dropouts. Schools only count dropouts during the last four years of school. Dropouts need to be counted for the other eight years. How can we identify solutions without accurate numbers?
7. Address the individual needs of children and stop jamming them into universal “one-size fits all “educational models. Then assess and keep track of their achievement growth through guidelines that address their linguistic, cultural and economic backgrounds.
8. Provide state, city and county employees one hour a week release time to tutor and mentor an at-risk student. This, alone, would provide individualized attention to at least 150,000 at-risk students!
9. Actively involve every parent in all stages of their child’s education at every school.
10. Invest in education. Education budgets have been slashed to their lowest level ever. Properly fund an adequate education for every child. Redirect existing resources – money and human – to educate our students properly. Or, tap our financially sound “rainy day” permanent fund to confront our education crisis. As taxpayers, it is our responsibility to adequately fund appropriate and sufficient education for children from preschool through post-secondary education.
New Mexico has been declared the flagship state in addressing the Latino education crisis. The failure to acknowledge and assure the education of our majority population costs every New Mexican. We have a moral and legal responsibility to reverse this reality.
We challenge everyone to improve on our bold plan. Better yet, we challenge every community to design and implement a bold, responsive and responsible plan. The future of our state depends on it.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Over the last decade, New York City has been the site of a system-wide high school reform effort. Since 2002,
- the school district has closed more than 20 failing high schools,
- opened more than 200 new secondary schools, and
- implemented a centralized admission process for their 80,000 high school students.
At the heart of these reforms lie the new "small schools of choice" (SSCs) — small, academically nonselective, public high schools that were opened between 2002 and 2008. Serving approximately 100 students per grade in grades 9 through 12 and open to students at all levels of academic achievement, the SSCs in this study were created to serve the district’s most disadvantaged and historically underserved students.
This report presents encouraging findings from an unusually large and rigorous study, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, of the effects of SSCs on students’ academic achievement in high school.
- Higher on-track to graduation rates in small schools than non-small-schools after only one year
- Increased graduation rates in small schools over non-small-schools
- Positive effects for all demographic groups, including males of color
About the Report:
Title: Transforming the High School Experience: How New York City’s New Small Schools Are Boosting Student Achievement and Graduation Rates (Executive Summary) (26 pages, 544KB, PDF)
Prepared by: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Title: Transforming the High School Experience: How New York City’s New Small Schools Are Boosting Student Achievement and Graduation Rates (Full Report) (189 pages, 2.42MB, PDF)
Prepared by: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Monday, August 8, 2011
I know it sounds stupid, but those types of meetings don't happen naturally in schools. Really. Teachers meet and discuss the current bell schedule, a certain student's discipline problem, or what snacks we want to provide for parent-teacher conferences. Logistical items. Since leaving college and Teach For America, not once have I been in a meeting where teachers discussed their actual teaching practices in a way that wasn't just bragging or complaining. In a way that invited constructive criticism and room for improvement.
Aside from changing recruitment practices and higher ed. teaching degree programs, helping teachers within a school learn from one another is the most important change that could be made to turn around schools today. From what I've seen in public education so far, teachers almost never watch one another teach. If they do, it's very difficult to provide constructive criticism and there is no incentive to actually act on that criticism. I understand - it's difficult to invite criticism about something as personal as teaching style. But the current system provides very few methods or incentives for improvement. Just blame and once-a-year test scores that are difficult to tie in with actual daily teaching practices. If it were part of the teaching practice to be observed, to receive regular feedback regarding your teaching practice, and to be expected to act - in some way - on that feedback, I think things would be drastically different.
Sunday, August 7, 2011
I just read the above blog post. OK... now I feel bad about my whiny post from 2 days ago. I already felt kinda bad directly after writing it, and now I'm debating removing the post out of embarrassment. I won't, though, because I do actually feel that way a lot of the time and because I do think that teachers should be valued more and paid more.
However, I'd like to thank Marilyn Rhames and her colleague for reminding me that I always need to consider my impact on the lives of my students when making decisions - including the decision to complain about my career choice.
I start back to school tomorrow, after spending the summer time home with my family. Of course, it's bittersweet. Now that I have a family, I'm not the same teacher who can spend every waking moment thinking about how to improve my lesson plans, tracking methods, and homework return rate. I've had to strike a balance. I am excited, though, to begin the school year anew - to have a chance to act on the ideas to improve my teaching that I was too lazy to implement in the last few months of last school year. It's great to have the summer off from work, but it's almost equally great to have this fresh start every school year. A real chance to make changes in the way things are done. I don't think other jobs provide such an obvious opportunity for reflection and improvement. I'm looking forward to tomorrow.
Saturday, August 6, 2011
The above-linked article discusses Jeb Bush's former Florida policy to grade schools A - F rather than using just the current pass/fail designations of NCLB. New Mexico is one of the states that has agreed to use the A-F scale and which is working on a waiver to use the scale in place of federal AYP.
The positives: A-F is slightly more nuanced than pass/fail. That's the only positive that I see so far...
It's possible that more will go into the grades that just a schools standards based test scores. That would be great. Things like student and parent satisfaction with the school. Otherwise, it seems to me that test scores aren't very different from the status quo. If they're just another way to display state test scores without actually doing anything to help schools improve those scores, then I don't see the point.
Friday, August 5, 2011
A tentative contract agreement between Albuquerque Public Schools and the Albuquerque Teachers Federation is the best that could be expected given budget constraints, ATF President Ellen Bernstein said Wednesday.
The agreement makes some minor changes to the teachers’ contract, but the most dramatic change – an increase in the amount teachers must contribute to their retirements – was mandated by the state Legislature as a cost-saving measure.
Bernstein was critical of state lawmakers, while saying APS had been a good negotiating partner.
“APS and ATF worked well together, solving problems and making future plans,” Bernstein said in a news release. “However, as everyone knows, the state Legislature and governor slashed education funding again this year. This is the third consecutive contract without any salary increases. In addition, the state saved over $100 million on the backs of school employees by shifting the state’s portion of the retirement costs to the employees – again. The year’s decrease is an average of $60 of take-home pay a month. This decrease in pay is a demoralizing financial blow to all of us.”
Teachers also will not receive cost-of-living raises, which are guaranteed only when the budget allows. This is the third consecutive contract without raises. Teachers can still earn raises by advancing through the three-tier licensure system, earning advanced degrees or attaining National Board Certification.
Bernstein said the lack of raises and the additional retirement contributions come as teachers brace for an expected 7 percent increase in class size.
“The upshot is, truly everyone’s going to be doing more with less,” Bernstein said. “More kids, fewer supplies and resources, and less money in their paychecks.”
She did point to a few bright spots in the contract.
- The district has restored the stipends teachers receive for doing extra tasks like coaching or being instructional leaders. The stipends, which are called differentials, were cut by 15 percent in last year’s budget. They have been returned to the full amount for the coming year.
- APS also agreed to a small increase in preparation time for elementary and middle school teachers. Under the contract, schools must make a good-faith effort to add the planning time this year. If that is not possible with their schedules, they must add it by next year.
The agreement must still be ratified by union members, and a vote has been scheduled Aug. 8-12. The contract must also be approved by the APS school board, which is expected to vote at its Aug. 17 meeting.
Bernstein said she is urging her members to approve the contract as the best possible agreement under the circumstances.
“I wouldn’t put it out there if I didn’t think they should vote ‘yes,’ ” Bernstein said.
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
I believe this... and not just because I'm an alumna of TFA. Not only does Teach For America recruit some of the most prestigious college grads in the US to its ranks each year, it turns some of them down, because they don't rate high enough in particular characteristics like organization or perseverance. To me, it only makes sense that TFA corps members do better than a lot of recent college of education graduates. That's not to say that every TFA corps member can outperform every college of ed. graduate - but I think the odds are in TFA's favor. And that's what TFA's selection criteria is all about: odds. They un-apologetically look for the qualities that, on average, will lead to higher levels of success in the classroom.
I appreciate how the above-linked article ends:
"It is also clear that teacher quality is not an immutable characteristic. Research has shown for a long time now that teachers improve over their first few years on a job, and a more recent study indicates that quality feedback helps teachers to get better. A focus on strategic hiring, in other words, does not absolve principals or school districts of giving teachers support and professional development to improve. (TFA, for one, invests thousands of dollars in professional supports for each of its teachers.)
Finally, the paper notes that "improved selection is only beneficial to the extent that there exist effective teachers who are unhired." The bottom line here is local labor markets affect selections, and that the ability to be choosy only works when there is a surplus of folks seeking a position."
TFA corps members may do better during their first year than non-TFA teachers, but I believe that difference disappears within a few years on the job. In my opinion, not very many people are great teachers during their first year. TFA corps members are maybe just "less bad."
One of TFA's best qualities is that they recruit people into the profession who wouldn't otherwise have considered teaching. Including me. TFA can be choosy because so many people want to join their institution. Right now, I don't think colleges of education can.... at least to the same extent. What can we do, as a nation, to change that?
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
That said, I have no idea how state governments could afford to pay teachers more, considering the current financial situation in the country. I'm wondering if there couldn't be greater incentives for teachers, like more leniency in forgiving student loans, discounts on health care or... SOMETHING.
I'd also love to see more of a "ladder" to climb for ambitious teachers who do want to take on leadership roles within their school and/or school district. It seems silly that New Mexico's 3 tiers in teaching come only from creating a portfolio and dictate no changes to a teacher's role whatsoever. I'm thinking that roles like department head or educational coach could become more clearly defined (and meaningful) and could allow teachers 1 extra period off from teaching per day in order to observe novice teachers, organize meetings, and manage various facets of the school. Each of these positions could be considered a promotion, and could come with a significant wage increase - not a joke-worthy stipend of $500/year spread out of 26 pay periods.