Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Ill Wind Out of DC

In Washington, D.C. at the end of last week there were two shameful deeds that happened to educators. The first is the termination of 241 teachers by the Washington, D.C. School District due to low performance as measured by their students' test scores. This number seems to fluctuate in the press ranging from 226 to 250. In any case that's about 6% of the district's 4,300 teachers. An additional 17% of the teaching staff are on notice for possible termination next year.

The district is heavy into the "let's judge teachers by student test scores" and call it "innovative reform" mode. The idea was rolled into a new teacher evaluation system and then rolled out without a pilot or much training for teachers. Anyone familiar with the inner-workings of the education system around the country would say that's typical modus operandi for far too many districts. The difference is that ruthless administrators like Michelle Rhee of D.C. now feel empowered to terminate en masse.

Meanwhile, the US Senate was giving educators another kick. They removed federal funding for education jobs from the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act. The House had put funding in the bill to stop massive educator layoffs that are happening around the country. This funding would have included $28 million for Delaware to help more than 400 educators here who received RIF notice or termination of temporary contract this year. However, many Senators did not support the jobs funding, including Senator Tom Carper. Senator Carper did not like the provision that paid for the educator jobs by reducing money for Race To The Top, and the Teacher Incentive Fund. So, the reform programs can roll along with fewer educators to implement them.

Speaking of fewer educators, if the Michelle Rhees of the country get their way and we continue to terminate experienced teachers in large numbers, guess where we will get their replacements? Most probably out of one of the accelerated certification programs. These programs allow "the best and the brightest" graduates to become teachers with just a few weeks of training. These bright lads and lasses will treat your school like a Peace Corp assignment for a couple of years of resume building on their way to the corporate or academic world.

No data supports the idea that "teacher out of a box" produces results, even using the myopic standard of test scores. That does not seem to impede the "reformers" from telling their story.

Let's hope that the ill wind out of DC has shifted for the better this week. The American Federation of Teachers (not the NEA) who represents the teachers in DC are fighting the above mentioned terminations. Proponents of the federal education jobs money are searching for another bill upon which to attach the provision as an amendment.

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