Sunday, February 28, 2016

Some Ideas on Confronting the Teacher Shortage

I was happy last Friday (Feb. 26) to serve on a panel for a seminar of The Louisiana Education Policy Fellowship. The participants in the fellowship program are individuals who serve in various leadership positions in education or education related fields.

The purpose of the panel discussion was to examine the future of the education profession through the lens of different teacher preparation models and support organizations. I was representing the perspective of the Louisiana Association of Educators substituting for LAE President Debbie Meaux. Other panel members included Alice Thomas, Center for Development and Learning, 
 representatives from Teach for America, and the Leading Educator group.

Some of the key questions posed to the panel were the following:

1. What accounts for the teacher shortage in the U.S.?
2. What is the best avenue for teacher preparation today? Are alternative pathways effective?
3. How can we retain teachers?

Here are my observations of developments of the past few years that have had a very negative impact on the teaching profession.

     Claims of guaranteed dramatic improvements in student test performance based on replacement of ordinary teachers with "miracle teachers" have done a serious disservice to the profession. (See this New York Time article about The Myth of the Hero Teacher). The problem is that self serving reform organizations have used junk science assumptions to  mislead charitable foundations into making huge contributions to promote reforms that focus on schemes like the eradication of "bad" teachers.  Such misguided school reform has resulted in the teaching profession being targeted and punished for supposedly holding children back with their "low expectations".

     There is zero real evidence for example, that verifies that "three great teachers in a row can close the achievement gap". Entire faculties have been fired and replaced to try to prove this theory only to produce exactly the same or worse results in student test scores as before.  Exceptions are often based on instances of rampant cheating. 

     All the takeover schools in the Baton Rouge area and Shreveport have failed dismally and have been repeatedly reorganized. In some of the takeover schools, so many parents pulled students out that the  schools had to be closed. The New Orleans RSD, the poster child for the success of takeover schools, have the highest dropout rate in the state and test scores are in the bottom 20th percentile of a state that ranks 48th in the country.

I offered participants the following 7 recommendations for dealing with those issues and for beginning the process of saving the teaching profession:
  1.      Stop doing those things that are driving good educators out of teaching. That means stop requiring teachers to do almost nothing but rehearse students for state tests, and stop blaming and shaming teachers for students who have excessive absences, and who fail state tests because of parents who don't care, and stop evaluating teachers using student test scores and stop canceling teacher step increases to fund defective merit pay plans.
  2.          Develop strategies for keeping quality teachers in the at risk classrooms where they are most needed. That means start providing incentives to teachers who teach the most at-risk students. Stop rating schools as "D" or "F" because high poverty students generally perform at lower levels than more privileged students. 
  3.      Insist on a true 5 year professional teacher education program producing college of education graduates including a supportive internship/mentoring program for their first year of teaching.
  4.      Allow teachers, not politicians and testing companies to enforce education standards. Do away with excessive emphasis on annual testing and the tyranny of testing companies over our schools. Standards are lower now that state tests have secret, extremely low cut scores and students are allowed to be coached to pass bogus credit recovery courses even though they have learned almost nothing.
  5.      Provide equal support, respect ,and recognition for all areas of teaching; not just two subjects. Math and English are important, but we should not sacrifice arts, music, social studies, and vocational studies so that students can be rehearsed for only math and English tests. Students should be encouraged to excel and succeed in other important areas, and the system should equally respect all teachers.
  6.         Build healthy teamwork in our schools rather than unhealthy scapegoating of teachers for factors over which they have no control. Merit pay and tenure cancelation based on VAM is flawed and ignores the skills of our best teachers and should be scrapped. The most successful business models emphasize team building instead of test based shaming and blaming. 
  7.      Provide attractive salary and benefits for all qualified and effective teachers. Treating teachers as professionals means a professional salary, good health insurance and an attractive retirement system. That's how Louisiana should attract and retain high quality teachers.