I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Is Better Teacher Training Really the Solution--- Or, is it the Convenient, Politically-Correct Solution?

...That is the question that needs to be answered.  Secretary of Education  Arne Duncan is making this a big push on his swing out to California, rolling out fresh mandates from DC that will eventually trickle down....  From this morning's L.A. Times story:

"U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on Tuesday announced new guidelines to improve the preparation of the nation's teaching ranks that will require states to rate the performance of training programs and shift federal funding to those that receive high marks.
The proposed regulations would allow states broad flexibility to develop measures of performance but demands that emphasis be placed on teacher outcomes, such as employment, retention and success in the classroom. That could include evaluating training programs based on the test scores of K-12 students taught by their graduates, a model that provokes heated contention in the education community."

I've heard this sentiment locally and at national conferences-it is a story about how teachers are coming out of education school unprepared for the realities in the American K-12 classroom of 2014. 

But is an intensive focus on these schools of education really the solution?  Or, is it the convenient solution, absolving local districts, parents, students, current teachers, current administrators, unions and everyone else practically of any responsibility for the current state of American public education?

Joel Klein agrees with this sentiment, that teachers need better preparation.  He stated it at a recent conference I attended.  In NYC, with its Union dominated schools--there are many applicants for every opening.  The pay and benefits are really good, people compete for jobs there to get into that system--so that district can be selective.  I get that.

Similarly, in other countries like Finland, there are 9 applicants for every open teaching slot according to a fascinating presentation I recently watched from Andreas Schleicher.  Teachers there ( and in many other high performing systems worldwide)  are valued by their society, they enjoy great salaries and esteem--so they can be selective, too.  (Schleicher gave an amazing presentation comparing different educational systems worldwide.  Unfortunately, this video is not published online anywhere.  I found a similar presentation he gave from Missouri in 2012, which is linked here )

So what is going on here in America?  We don't pay teachers enough, apparently.  We don't provide them with enough professional development, apparently.  Last but not least, we don't prepare them well enough in education colleges in the U.S.  Yes, that is the new clarion call to fix the issue.  Start punishing the Education Colleges.  Could a changing society be a bigger factor in why teachers are leaving the profession and their replacements are not coming forward in sufficient numbers?  Could the real problem be much more simple, yet infinitely more controversial?  I think so.  Nevertheless- the convenient, PC fix du jour is, let's demonize colleges!

....But wait.  Fewer students than ever are going into education.

 I'm all for holding the bar high, but won't this exacerbate shortages if we start shuttering education schools?  How will those shortages be fixed?  We already cannot recruit enough candidates locally to fill our classrooms.  Minority hiring? we're lucky to get a handful each summer to take contracts--and we're trying really hard!  I mean, even though nobody can give me a cogent rationale for why having a teacher force that mirrors the population they serve, is ABSOLUTEY ESSENTIAL!!  I'm told by everyone, and everything I read, says that's the problem.  But I don't buy it.  Until someone can logically answer the question "Why does it matter if Asians teach whites, Blacks teach Whites, or Whites teach  Blacks--what difference does it make if all teachers are qualified and effective?" I will not buy that politically expedient, liberal talking point that I feel is a disingenuous, fallacious lie.  Rubbish.  Regardless, even though we

 work hard at it-minority hiring  is becoming more and more challenging locally.

So when I read the LA Times story about "fixing" education schools and "holding colleges of education accountable"--as this is the new magic bullet for fixing schools-- excuse me for being a skeptic. 

What I've seen locally is that we have great student teachers--many of whom are pressed into service before they even graduate due to shortages in challenging schools and our desperate need to put teachers into classrooms.  Some of these student teachers are fantastic!  Diamonds in the rough! 

Others are not ready---but we can over come this if these teachers to be are willing to stick it out and we support them.  We can overcome this if they work with us.  If we start really pressuring these colleges, I fear few will raise the bar as ASU in Flagstaff has admirably done.  The path of less resistance will be to open new programs of study that garner equivalent financial support from the Feds, with less of that pesky oversight.  We'll get more liberal arts graduates like me!! Yay!! 

But wait---we'll still  have a need for teachers, and we have to fill the slots!

So I propose we build up our Alternative Certification departments, troops to teachers, long-term subs, and continue using student teachers as teachers--we're going to have to pull out all the stops locally to cover shortages.  And YES--we have to pay teachers more for taking challenging assignments at inner-city schools, or else the chronic shortages at such schools with dysfunctional, apathetic populations will continue unabated.  (I'll never stop beating that drum until we get that done locally--thus far we have failed!)  I also propose we create law and order schools where discipline is priority one, not pacification of radical, oppressive and out-of-touch social justice organizations--which is sadly what our current practice appears to be.  Newsflash--dysfunctional environments where discipline is eschewed for PC reasons at the expense of adults working there--that's a recipe for teacher churn we've perfected!  We have that box checked!

And NO, Arne Duncan won't be saving the day with a new D.C. mandate.  He'll garner golf claps from the establishment (the ones who aren't being blamed currently for the problems, at least...) , he'll get educrats at the state and local level that will take the feds' money and put his plan into action, but none of this guarantees anything. Game-plans with money (and strings) attached don't always translate into victories.  Look no further than the total wreckage in American Special Education Policy implementation nationwide to see what I mean.  Yeah, its a wreck.

So can we at least talk about nature vs. nurture here?

I firmly believe there is something to be said for great teachers being born---which I have seen and experienced firsthand.  Let's break the model, find people with passion, pay them, and support them and get them in the classrooms.  Let's recruit the right person, not the right academic credentials or ethnicity to fill quotas--  let's get the right teacher no matter where they've come from, no matter what they look like.  Can we please just, for the love of God, use some common sense here??  If we don't, we already know what the result will be.  We've all seen that movie-we've all seen the "teacher" that has all the right training, degrees, and or ethnicity to check a box-- yet once placed in a classroom, looks like a deer in the headlight. 

We can't legislate this, we have to get down and dirty, locally, and challenge the ridiculous narrative that is being forced down our throats on "who" should be hired.  We MUST hire the best with no PC filtration, and support them, weed out those who've made the wrong career choice, and not try to demonized institutions that are trying to prepare teachers to fill our schools.  Ensuring Education schools do their jobs is a part of the solution, a small part, but not the answer entirely.  Everybody knows that.

It's just much easier and convenient to blame education schools than it is to confront certain social dysfunctions, politically correct platitudes, and societal changes-- for fear or risk of offending certain constituencies.

That is the real problem that nobody will confront. 

So we continue to play pin the tail on the donkey to find convenient recipients of blame, like a weird game of musical chairs and the one that is left seat-less gets the blame.  Today it is, apparently,  the education schools' fault!  Congratulations!


Gulagathon said...

Most of my life I've mainly had white teachers, and as a black guy, it never really mattered whether the teacher was black or white. As a child and student, it was a natural thing to know to respect adults and teachers. I've lived up north, and down here in Florida. It all depends on how the kid is raised on whether he'll treat the teacher with respect or not.

Nowadays, they say that having a teacher that reflects the population, is based on a black teacher dealing with a black kid who can't control himself, and has bad behavior problems.

They say that a black teacher will understand better when a black kid is raising hell in the classroom, and know how to deal with the student. But just like any other human being, a black teacher will get tired and fed up of a disrespectful student with a horrible attitude. You can get cursed out so many times, before you've had enough of the disrespect, even if the kid is the same race, you want that kid OUT.

If the school districts really supported new teachers, instead of putting constant pressure on them, we'd probably be able to retain more of them. If the leaders in the schools would grow a spine, we'd be a lot better off.

Jeff Bergosh said...

I agree with you about the support for teachers at the school level. I also want for schools at the site level to have more autonomy in implementing their plans for student learning. We do the opposite of that--everything is highly structured and dictated downward from the bureaucracy. Interestingly-that is the opposite of what other local school districts, particularly the really successful ones, are doing throughout the rest of the world. They have horizontal hierarchies, we have vertical, oppressive top-down "management" It's not working in many instances. About the notion of having a [fill in the blank, school staff, police force, government employee pool, et al] that mirrors, percentage wise, the populations they serve--I'm not buying that at all. When I have to see a doctor-it does not matter if he/she is Asian, Black, White, or any race. The only thing that matters is -Is he qualified. If a black police officer responds to a call of my property being vandalized--that doesn't matter, as long as he is a qualified police officer that knows his job. When I take a college course and the class is huge and the professor is Asian-----that does not matter as long as the teacher is qualified to teach the subject he/she is teaching. The liberal garbage about a lack of percentages in some fields is simply garbage, so far as I'm concerned. It should be all about getting the very best [fill in the blank] for the job. Demanding percentage quotas and using this as the "reason" why this or that is not working, is one big cop-out and nobody can quantify how/why diversity is "essential" I think it is garbage.