Thursday, March 8, 2018

Congratulations to West Virginia Teachers

Hooray for West Virginia Teachers!

I and many other supporters of public education are very pleased that the West Virginia teachers got unified and stood up to the politicians in demanding better salaries and health care funding. It was obvious from the news coverage that the parents, students, news media and the general public overwhelmingly supported teachers in this effort. But it only happened because teachers stood together as a Union! Teachers in West Virginia have learned that the only time teachers get treated as professionals is when they stand together and demand fairness.

West Virrginia teachers are returning to their classrooms now with tremendous pride and self respect.  Teacher solidarity is something that is very rare today as the teaching profession in most states is routinely bashed and humiliated by politicians in the name of education reform.

In Louisiana during the Jindal administration, teachers were told that they would be empowered to negotiate for their salaries individually based on their effectiveness as teachers. Jindal and John White implied that group action would no longer be necessary as teachers would finally be paid based on objective measures of their value to students. VAM (Value Added Measures) would allow individual teachers to negotiate handsome salaries or to move to other school systems like free agents. Teachers were led to believe that they would be respected and empowered as professionals.  In Louisiana, two sweeping laws were passed in 2012 that established merit pay for teachers based on their effectiveness in raising student achievement. Seniority for preference in layoffs and other matters was done away with, and step increases for years of experience were cut back to pay for the merit pay scheme. How has that worked out in Louisiana?

Since the state did not provide one penny to fund the new merit raises based on VAM (Value Added Measures) and SLTs (Student Learning Targets), local school systems chose to dismantle valued step raises to fund the relatively meager merit pay bonuses. So teachers lost a major incentive for remaining in the profession as test prep was substituted for creative teaching.

When John White first was established as the dictator of public education policy in Louisiana, he often talked about empowering teachers based upon their effectiveness. How has that worked out?

When VAM was implemented for only one year as 50% of a teacher's evaluation it turned out to be a hot mess and often penalized some of our best teachers. Now the plan is to use VAM as only one-third of the evaluation, but nothing has been done to correct the flaws in the system. So now a very bad plan is going to be used at a lesser impact. How can that do any good?

Teachers everywhere need to be respected and empowered because the job they do is one of the most important in our country.  Teaching works best as a collaborative effort rather than a competitive effort. No one has ever found a merit pay system for teaching that works. Louisiana's Jindal/White reforms were no exception. The VAM system for determining merit pay has proven to be extremely unreliable, while the SLT system is extremely easy to game. So no one has confidence that merit pay has any merit. Meanwhile teacher average pay in Louisiana is declining because of the destruction of step increases based on years of experience. As a result of these so called "reforms" Louisiana is experiencing a growing teacher shortage.

What we learn from the West Virginia teacher strike is that no one empowers teachers other than teachers standing up for themselves as a unified group.

Hooray for the teachers of West Virginia! I hope Louisiana teachers will follow their lead.