You’re a senior in college and you begin to worry: a few months before graduation and I don’t know what I want to do with my life. The courses about how we’re destroying the biosphere were more politics than science, Should I go to law school and become an environmental attorney? Or, an MBA, earn a fortune quickly and spend my time fighting the environmental marauders? Law firms are laying off lawyers not hiring lawyers, the same for Wall Street, and, my college loan debt is already staggering.
I apply for Teacher for America (TFA) and find myself in an inner city school, it’s by far the most stimulating and difficult thing I have ever tried. I have always succeeded in school – I “aced” every course, my SATs were impressive and now I worry every day whether I can make it. I stay late every day voluntarily tutoring kids, meeting with the other TFAers, planning lessons, my job is my life. I love it, I hate it. One day I want to quit, the next I can’t wait to get back to my kids.
The principal always seems overwhelmed, tragedies are the commonplace, the kids talk about shootings and gang gossip, and I become an enormous rap fan.
The TFAers stick together, a few senior teachers offer advice, others are cynical, a few downright unpleasant.
My school isn’t working – I want to change the face of education.
My two year TFA commitment is up and I get accepted to an elite grad school for a Masters in Public Policy. We read Paolo Frere “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” Jonathon Kozol and Andy Smerick become my heroes.
I wanted our community to know that our activities don’t have to be dictated by decisions made a hundred years ago, especially when those decisions have led to consistently heartbreaking results…. the solution is right in front of us—it’s at work every single day, in cities from coast to coast. We just need to take it from its limited application and scale it…. it will allow us to do what should have been ages ago: bring an end to the failed urban district ….In the simplest terms; chartering should replace the urban district.
Every school, including district-run schools, must have a performance contract with an authorizer. An operator can run its schools as it chooses but a separate entity assesses the performance of its schools.
Smarick sees support from two urban superintendents,
“When Arlene Ackerman recently left as superintendent of Philadelphia’s district, she wrote the following: “I’ve come to a sad realization. Real reform will never come from within the system because too many powers that be (the teachers’ union, politicians, consultants, vendors, etc.) have a vested interested in maintaining the status quo that is failing our children. Meaningful education reform must be forced upon the system from outside by giving parents of all income levels real choices about where their children go to school.”
Late last year, when Jean-Claude Brizard left as CEO of Chicago Public Schools he wrote, “Transformational change will require a radical redefinition of the district…The fact is the public school district is an outdated model.”
You get an education analyst internship at Education Pioneers and a job with a foundation or a think tank or a political policy consulting firm or an elected official. A few years later you’re work for an urban department of education or a state commissioner of education determining school policy.
From the US Department of Education to the office of Governors to State Commissioners of Education the reform mantra is “if it can’t be measured it doesn’t exist.” Test it, measure it, evaluate it, from teachers to schools to school districts, if it’s working close it down. Curriculum and teaching practice are left to the folks in schools – you really don’t care how they get there as long as they do.
In New York State an enormously complex principal/teacher evaluation plan nears approval in all districts in the state. On February 22nd the Governor, as he does each year, will submit a pro forma midyear adjustment bill that will include third party binding arbitration for districts that have not negotiated plans, i. e., New York City.
The Governor’s staff insisted that if a teacher receives an ineffective grade on the 20% based on student tests and the 20% “locally negotiated” they must receive an overall ineffective grade regardless of the grade on the 60% which is primarily principal observations.
As the results of teacher evaluation plans are rolled out, low and behold, the results are strikingly the same as previous principal observation-based systems.
Education Week proffers,
In Michigan, 98 percent of teachers were rated effective or better under new teacher-evaluation systems recently put in place. In Florida, 97 percent of teachers were deemed effective or better.
Principals in Tennessee judged 98 percent of teachers to be “at expectations” or better last school year, while evaluators in Georgia gave good reviews to 94 percent of teachers taking part in a pilot evaluation program….
The early results offer several possible interpretations. As scholars have pointed out, there is no consensus about the percentage of teachers who should be identified as underperforming or superior in any given year.
“I do think we are still in a space of trying to do the research … as these systems are being implemented, making sure that we are following up on things like alignment between the different measures,” said Laura Goe, a research scientist in the Learning and Teacher Research Center of the N.J.-based Educational Testing Service.
“We just don’t have enough large-scale research studies yet to say that this is the right way to do it at the school level, the district level, or the state level,” she said.
Countless millions of dollars later the primary cog in Rubik Cube of teacher evaluation doesn’t seem to fit.
I have a radical suggestion – find highly experienced successful teachers, principals, school district leaders and state department of education staff and rely on their judgments – and, yes, admit that while poverty is not destiny it’s a hell of an obstacle.