Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Cleaning house


An AP story in today’s O-R notes that some teachers unions are now getting on board with what Timothy Knowles, director of the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute, calls “more aggressive interventions in failing schools.” In other words, the unions are becoming more willing to participate in things like merit pay and cutting ties with underperforming teachers. While cleaning house might seem like a natural step in places like the Philly school referenced in the story (more than 90 percent of the high school’s 11th-graders last year couldn’t read or do math at grade level), there is the question of who will replace the fired educators. Raising salaries to attract better instructors might work to some degree, as might the prospect of merit pay, but the effort in Philly also involves making the school day longer, adding some Saturday sessions and holding classes in July. Those aren't selling points for most prospective employees. And let’s be honest. If you’re a top-notch teacher and have the choice of working harder in an inner-city school or plying you trade in a leafy suburb, which job are you going to take? There was another story that moved on the AP wire today about an impoverished school district near Providence, R.I., that has decided to fire every teacher, guidance counselor and principal at Central Falls High School, where only about half of the students graduate and only 7 percent of 11th-graders were meeting basic math standards last year. The union there says it is pondering its legal options. The union might have a point. Surely, there's at least one teacher there who doesn't deserve to be canned. But at the same time, when your school is a total disaster, bold moves are necessary. It will be interesting to see if this move toward accountability takes hold in our region, which is a staunch union area. We might have gotten an indication recently when not a single school district in Washington and Greene counties met the eligibility standards for grants that could have brought in six-figure checks. In many cases, the reason was that teachers unions refused to sign off on the proposal. One of the concerns was that student assessment data would be used in teacher evaluations. In fairness, there also were worries about what would happen if the federal money dried up. But it’s been pretty clear to me that unions have little interest in tying evaluations of teachers’ performances to the achievements of students. Teaching is a tough profession. Dealing with kids can be a pain, and dealing with their parents, especially those who don't give a damn, can be even worse. But the pay these days is pretty damn good, and teachers tend to have Cadillac health-care plans, wonderful pensions and, yes, plenty of time off in the summer. Back in the olden days, when I went to school, I had some excellent teachers who made learning fun and knew how to get information across. But I had others who couldn't teach a fish to swim. They shouldn't have been allowed to feed at the public trough for 30 years while failing their students. Every workplace – from newspapers to schools to factories – has its weak links. When private companies are involved, it's up to the managers and owners to weed them out. When those weak links are being paid with tax dollars, the public should have the right to expect they'll be removed.

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3 Comments:

Blogger PRIguy said...

Several years ago, I was looking at different career opportunities, and teaching seemed interesting. So I tried doing some substitute teaching to test the waters. It was an interesting experience, eye-opening as well.

I don't know what the wages are in PA for teachers, but here in Virginia, the pay isn't all that good. Starting salaries in the county I live in are about $30,000 per year which I admit is good for someone fresh out of college, but not spectacular. If one has a master's degree, they get an extra five grand. In short, the average pay among the teachers I briefly worked with was less than forty grand per year, and that's for teachers who had twenty years or more under their belts.

I don't know what the solution is to the problem in Philly (or anywhere else in the country for that matter), but higher wages would help. Most teachers do it for the love of teaching so I think if the pay was better, most might not mind logging a few Saturdays.

Here's what I do know from my brief venture into education: The number one complaint that the teachers I talked to had was the parents. Teachers are expected to be mentors, huggers, teachers, disciplinarians and babysitters, but when it comes time to exercise some discipline, it better not be on MY kid. The other big problem they talked about was being required to teach to keep the money flowing in as opposed to being required to teach so kids can learn. In Virginia, we have Standards of Learning requirements. These are required things that must be "learned" by the students. Why? Federal funding. If the schools don't get accredited, they lose federal money. There is tremendous pressure on the teachers to make sure the SOL standards are met. But the teachers "teach to the test," that is to say that they drill into the kids heads what the SOLs require.

Teachers are underpaid. I can't imagine teaching middle or high school kids. They are pretty much out of control, and I'm sure it's worse in crappy parts of cities. I wish I had a solution, but nothing is going to happen as long as federal funding is tied to the students' performances.

February 24, 2010 at 7:33 PM  
Anonymous x anonymous said...

Teachers are underpaid?

you know a teacher bitching about brats in school should be like a nurse bitching about blood. you should have known better before you took the job!

Look, teachers are some of the most important people in a state, don't get me wrong. I just think teachers are over paid. Just like the cia, fbi ect... The cia and fbi failed us on 9-11, so what did we do? we gave them more power and funding. I call bs. Just like teachers! ei: In a county where the median income is $20,000, why should a teacher earn 3 times that amount? it's like sucking off the tit of the community that they have failed.Yet if the community is dumbed down, they wouldn't know better, so they keep paying the teachers. If they would have done thier jobs, wouldn't the majority of the kids be smart and uplift that counties median income?

I wish I could not work as much as a teacher and get paid for it. I wish I got two weeks off for Christmas. I wish I got every holiday off and the summer. I wish I had in-service days. I wish I could get tenure. Most people wish they could stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter when they work! I think the teachers should grow up and stop acting like the kids they teach and count the blessings they have.

Please remember those who can do, do! Those who can't teach.

February 25, 2010 at 11:47 PM  
Anonymous say what! said...

couldn't agree more with x. performance base pay should be based on that county/state median income! would love to hear from a teacher on this subject.

February 28, 2010 at 7:39 PM  

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