Monday, September 6, 2010

Teaching in America - under assault

Occasionally, because I live in a community that continues to support public schools with public funds and other outward signs that education is still central to building our community (like renovating schools and building new ones), I think that perhaps I over-inflate what I see as an attack on public education in this country.
And then I am brought to my senses by others in the field who are witnessing very real, and very alarming changes in the tradition of public schools.
We all need to pay attention.
They will be coming for us next, particularly if (when?) the Race to the Top goals are realized.
Last week I participated a Round Table sponsored by the Teachers' Letters to Obama facebook group.  Guests for the night were three teachers:  A history teacher from a reconstituted school in Los Angeles, a blogger who came in to teaching to "save" a failed school from "lazy" teachers and received an unexpected education instead, and a classroom teacher in a high performing (by current standards) KIPP school.
Today are just a few facts learned from the Los Angeles high school:
The reconstituted school was required to fire 50% of its teachers in order to get funding.  The teachers were summarily fired. Who was hired?  Currently there are 30 substitutes working in this high school and many of the other teachers are Teach for America--twenty-something newbies who promise only two years to the profession - if they make it that long.
But the teachers were lazy and deserved firing, right?  Our guest, Chuck Olynyk, described his working conditions.  One class of 49 AP students and four books.  Few working computers.  4900 students in one building built for no more than 2000.  Rotating schedules to accommodate all the children.
And with all of that, the teachers had recently organized smaller schools so they could mentor students, forming relationships they hoped would pay off in increased student achievement.
And it was working.
Now the school is reopened, with fresh paint on the walls, and perhaps more computers which actually work.  Only the teaching force has been decimated and those who are teaching are largely non-credentialed.
This cannot be good for the students.   But this is the promise made by RttP as the preferred turnaround model for challenged inner city schools.
Seems to me that the best method for improving the school would have been to support the students and teachers already in the building with the new paint, computers, and lower class loads.
But new, young, un-credentialed teachers are much easier to control if you want to make sweeping changes without resistance.
Is this the true goal of current reform?