Posts Tagged ‘social mobility’

Shelby County TN’s Teacher Shortage No Mystery: Underfunded Schools + Test-Driven Reform + Poverty

September 14, 2021 Comments off

Chalkbeat writer Samantha West did an admirable job of writing about the shortage of 227 teachers in Shelby County TN without mentioning the huge elephant in the room: TN is ranked 43 in the nation in per pupil spending on public schools and Shelby County is suing the State because it’s funding formula shortchanges them, because the test-driven reform has taken the joy out of teaching, or the schools face not only the challenge of Covid but the unrelenting challenges associated with poverty. Ms. West reported on a recent school board meeting where Yolanda Martin, the Personnel Administrator for the district, offered an explanation for the departures and the steps the district was taking to address the problem:

The most frequent reason teachers gave in exit surveys, Martin said, was pursuing a new job opportunity, though many former employees gave no reason for leaving, according to district data.

“What we do know is this is a laborer’s market,”Martin said, noting the district is continuing to prioritize offering incentives to help retain staff and keep them from seeking employment elsewhere.

“[The data] pretty much mirrors what we’ve seen in the past, but obviously not to this magnitude right now,” Martin said. “So we can suspect what that could be, but based on the data we have, these are the main indicators as of now.”

To retain remaining educators, the district offers ongoing professional development, annual 2% raises, and new teacher induction programs, among many other tactics. Using data, Martin said the district also tracks which schools have the hardest time keeping teachers so they can find ways to offer more support to school staff and leaders.

I understand why Ms. Martin does not provide what everyone knows is the real reason: there are few teachers who can resist moving to a fully resourced school that pays them a much higher salary to teach the content they love to teach in a way they want to teach it without having to worry about how the students will do on a standardized test.

Well heeled districts that enroll children of affluent well educated parents pay teachers well, offer good benefits, and offer world-class opportunities for professional growth.

Well heeled districts that enroll children of affluent well educated parents do not teach-to-the test. They don’t have to because the children enter school ready to learn and do not experience the life-altering stress that children raised in poverty encounter on a daily basis. 

Well heeled districts that enroll children of affluent well educated parents are always seeking good teachers and, from all reports, are experiencing burnout and turnover now— albeit on a smaller scale than districts like Shelby County that serve children raised in poverty. The difference is that well heeled districts that enroll children of affluent well educated parents can recruit with relative ease. 

And here’s what is especially sad: because this is “a laborer’s market” in ALL career areas, and because teaching is less and less perceived as a viable career choice, fewer and fewer college students are pursuing education as a career. As long as test scores are seen as the focal point of teaching and rabid conservative parents monitor each and every lesson taught in social studies the situation will not improve…. especially for those underfunded districts serving children raised in poverty. 

DeBlasio Poised to Jettison Gifted and Talented Status Quo. How Far Will He Go?

September 10, 2021 Comments off

Readers of this blog know that I am strongly opposed to identification and separation of “gifted and talented” students from their age peers for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which is that school districts inevitably conflate the results of easy to administer standardized tests with “giftedness”. I have witnessed NYS’s preposterous, complicated, and byzantine system for identifying “gifted” students as a grandparent as well as a (presumably) expert perspective as one who served as a public school superintendent for 29 years. Today’s NYTimes article highlights several elements of the NYC’s flawed system, emphasizing the particularly egregious practice of testing 4-year olds for “gifted programs” which, according to a quote in the article, “…allow children to get on a conveyor belt that moves a small slice of New York’s students through a parallel educational track, apart from their peers, starting in kindergarten.” This practice effectively requires parents to begin coaching their 2-year olds on the alphabet and number skills when they should be exploring the world around them independently. Of all of the options available to outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio the most appealing is likely the abandonment of pre-school tests, postponing the identification of “giftedness” until a child is entering, say, 4th grade. 

Whatever NYC decides, it will result in pushback from vocal, moneyed, and influential parents all of whom suppose that their infants and toddlers would qualify for this program. My experience is that changing a system of tracking is far more difficult than launching a program for enrichment where tracking is non-existent… and when the racial composition of the “gifted” classes comes into play the tracking and identification of “gifted students” is a political nightmare for school boards and school districts. 

The next few weeks should be interesting. I hope they are not explosive. 

John McWorter’s Focus on Phonics Overlooks Biggest Problems Facing Reading Instruction: Failed Funding

September 4, 2021 Comments off

I recently subscribed to education columns written by NYTimes columnist John McWorter and received his first op ed piece yesterday. Here’s what I wrote in response to his column, which exhumed the zombie arguments of phonics-versus-whole-language:

Your recent article on reading instruction was a sad reminder of past experiences I had as a graduate student and school administrator.

As a graduate student at Penn in the early 1970s I encountered an example of how the left ignored evidence for irrational reasons. I had done research on the effectiveness of Head Start as part of a course on public policy and gave a presentation that presented evidence that the Bereiter-Englemann preschool DISTAR program was effective, particularly when combined with explicit instruction on how to meet the expectations of classroom conduct. Some members of my class were appalled at my willingness to support an educational approach based on behaviorism (e.g. one woman cited the “fact” that B.F. Skinnner used Skinner boxes to educate his own children as evidence that ANY methods he advocated were untrustworthy). Others in the class were upset because I was advocating an approach that supported the educational status quo as opposed to many of the new progressive approaches that were emerging at the time. Others saw DISTAR’s emphasis on behavioral expectations as reinforcing the current White culture as opposed to the African-American culture…. and no one was pleased that my findings included a reference to the Moynihan Report in describing the various factors that contributed to poverty, a report I mistakenly thought was universally accepted.

As a school superintendent in the 1990s our district became embroiled in the “Reading Wars” which pitted phonics against whole language. We had some board members who believed phonics was the “one true way” to teach reading while others saw that approach as stifling. My attitude (and that of the 24 elementary Principals and the reading specialist in our district) was that one-size-does-not-fit-all: different children needed different approaches to reading instruction. We expected teachers to adjust their approach based on those unique needs.

Dogma in reading approaches, like dogma in any area, leads to “war” and the time and energy spent fighting those wars too often becomes a means for political leaders to avoid facing to the real underlying problems facing public education: a lack of resources. Until all schools have the same resources as the most affluent school districts any debates on instructional approaches are immaterial. As of two years ago, 12 states had active suits against the funding formulas and several others (including NH where I live) have legislatures who LOST suits but failed to provide the funds needed to fully implement the agreed upon settlemnets. In my state, mandating phonics would provide no help to districts who could not afford the reading materials needed to implement the program… and it is no surpris that those districts are the ones with the lowest reading scores. THAT is scandalous and needs to be fixed first.