Monday, July 12, 2010

Teaching our Children--a Continuation

Two articles this week that have me thinking--perhaps more then they should. The first article was written Michael Winerip and was published in the New York Times (July 11, 2010), entitled, A Chosen Few are Teaching For America. In an informative piece, Winerip reports that a number of graduates from prestigious universities are NOT being chosen to become a teacher in the Teach for America program.  One rejected graduate had to settle for her second choice, a Fullbright scholarship.  Another rejection will be going the University of Virginia's Law School.  Apparently, being accepted to Teach for America is harder than being accepted to an Ivy League grad school.

Now as far as my limited inquiries (not research) have gone, most if not all of the people accepted for Teach for America are not education majors.  Their goals seem to be business, law, international relations and politics.  I do not have firm data on this last bit of information.  But I was looking to see how many of those accepted wanted to be a teacher.  I found nothing to support this concept.  I did sense that the beginning salary of a teacher in those districts that Teach for America had a program was an inducement, about $45,000 dollars for a beginning salary.  Also it may be an inducement to have this type of work experience on your resume.  

Winerip writes, "Research indicates that generally, the more experienced teachers are, the better their students perform, and several studies have criticized Teach for America's turnover rate."

Okay, I'm miffed.  Why is it if you come from an Ivy League School it is assumed that you will be a superior teacher?  And how does this improve education in general?  What is Teach for America trying to prove?  That anyone can be a teacher?  I don't think so.

One of the areas that education majors have to take, learn and understand is the curriculum.  Yes, you can teach elements of physics to a kindergarten child but it must, must be in a manner that that child can understand.  On the flip side, you can teach physics to a high school science class as well but in an entirely different manner.  We have two entirely different organisms that we're dealing with--one a five or six year old just learning to learn and the other, a fifteen, sixteen or seventeen year old who knows they are sophisticated and smart and have little idea of what physics is about.  This is what an education major starts to learn--how to approach learners.  

The problem with Teach for American is that they are giving the people they accept two years of on the job training.  I don't want that for my K-12 students! They deserve better.  They deserve a teacher from an accredited College of Education.  Education graduates have an understanding of what we need to teach our children and maybe have some idea of how to get started teach the curriculum on day one.  That is the classroom I want my grandchildren in.....

I'm still in a pondering mode on the second article by Nick Anderson of the Washington Post.  The article is entitled, "Gates Foundation puts its stamp on education,"  [disclaimer: I have met Bill Gates once--liked his book about the future.  I also met Bill Gates Sr., had a discussion with him about principals and technology.  Very small man.  I like him.]  The problem as I see it is that money and lots of it can bring us to strange places.  

At the moment the Gates' Foundation is giving money to school districts and schools with an eye to evaluating teachers and effectiveness.  They have a formula for this evaluation of looking 40 percent student evaluations, 30 percent principal evaluation and 30 percent peer evaluations.  I'm not on board as yet.  I think we need to also have some sort of evaluation of the community in which this school resides.  This formula will work in Bellevue where Mr. Gates, Jr. lives.  But I doubt if it would work in a small farming community where there is basically a very low tax base.  I don't think it will work.

But something in Mr. Anderson's article did catch my eye.  The Gates Foundation is giving money to support the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, the so-called unions.  Yes, there are strings attached to the money but what a break through....   I have long contended that the unions (I prefer to call them associations as in the Washington Education Association) are not the problem and not the cause of poor evaluations of the schools.  I may be wrong here about those schools that are under the control of a mayor as in New York City.  I have not studied this to any degree but my sense is this is another ball game entirely.  

I was once the president of a local education association.  Maybe three hundred teachers in a small community outside of Seattle.  If I remember correctly, no one else wanted the job and I got it.  About ninety-five percent of the teachers were members of the association.  Mostly because they received teaching insurance from the state association and that they could become members of a credit union.  Banks didn't like teachers even though in my district the bank president was a member of the school board.  So here I am president of the teachers' association.  What was my job?  

My first step was to go see the superintendent.  He had hired me several years earlier as a music teacher.  We were friends.  Not close but friends never-the-less.  I told him that I was the new president--he congratulated me and said what were we going to do this year?  I mentioned that I would like to improve the education of our students.  He liked the goal and proceeded to outline a possible plan of what the school board might do, what his office might and could do, and what the teachers' association might do.  We tweaked it a bit and I bought it.  We shook hands and proceeded to get started.  He wanted somethings and I wanted somethings.  My wants were a pay raise--we hadn't had one is several years.  But I also wanted to see more effort of cooperation between schools so that we would be all on the same page so to speak in our curriculum.  So the association started a number of curriculum committees to address what we were teaching and where it fit into the curriculum.  The teachers were happy with this push and although it was an added task many were happy with it.  They didn't know at the time about the proposed pay raise--that would come later.  We essentially organized our curriculum and presented it to the school board who was quite satisfied with the project.  The pay raise went though without a negative vote.  It was a win-win year.  Unions or Associations don't have to be opponents.

By the way, the five or so percent of the teachers that were not members of the education association were for the most part new teachers who could not afford the membership dues.  Beginning pay was low enough and they were struggling for the most part.  There were a few teachers who didn't join just because they never joined anything.  You get those in any profession.

So I applaud the Gates Foundation for this effort to support education associations.  Smart move.  I'm still not a fan of the teacher evaluation program though...  As usual I think just supporting what we have and encouraging the teachers (and associations) will produce the biggest gains in education for students.

Yes, yes, next time more on the curriculum.  It is a tough subject.

Many thanks to all those teachers who serve on curriculum committees, school policy committees and the like.  It comes out of your hide but you do it anyway for the betterment of children.  Thanks.

1 comment:

  1. I just posted the speech that Diane Ravitch recently delivered before the NEA. She gave me permission to reprint it in its entirety. In it, she expresses many of the points that you make. It is a powerful, impassioned talk that I think your readers will find interesting. Just go to: