Commentary: Teachers Are Not the Problem, We Are

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schoolscat.pngThe other week Tom Torlakson, who is running for State Superintendent of Public Instruction, really had some thoughtful things to say about education.  One the things he said that stuck in my mind had to do with teachers.

“We owe a lot to teachers.  I’m fed up with the blame game, pointing fingers, blaming teachers, the teachers are the problem,” he said.  “Teachers aren’t the problem, teachers are the solution.”

It was a line that got a lot of applause, but it was a friendly audience.  The prevailing public sentiment, at least in some quarters, seems to be the view that public education is failing, and that bad teachers are to blame.

The Governor candidates have hit on the issue of school and teacher performance.

Jerry Brown has talked about weeding out bad teachers and providing incentives for better and more creative teachers, but also focusing on providing preparation and support for average teachers, who in most instances are the ones educating our children.

Unlike a lot of others, he talks about training teachers and strengthening recruitment.

Meg Whitman, on the other hand, looks at education as though children were widgets and teachers were on an assembly line.  She wants to “provide special bonuses to high-achieving teachers, administrators and schools to attract high-quality professionals into teaching and to reward those teachers who are doing an excellent job.”

She also claims, “California suffers from a lack of math and science teachers who are actually educated in those disciplines. To fill the gap, create and strengthen alternative pathways to the classroom that allow professionals with math and science backgrounds to receive expedited accreditation to teach in public schools.”

It is of course not just about teachers, but about schools.

Jerry Brown wants to “Hold schools accountable for outcomes – not for how to achieve those outcomes – by simplifying the Education Code so that school districts have more flexibility on how to best meet state standards.”

He also wants to continue to focus on narrowing the achievement gap and reducing the state’s dropout rate.

Meg Whitman wants to grade schools by instituting “a system that grades schools from A to F so parents can easily understand how well their children’s school is performing. Post the grades online and give parents the option of transferring their kids out of failing schools or converting them to charter schools.”

“If a school receives an F grade, allow parents in that school district to immediately petition to turn the school into a charter school. It would only require a fast-track election and a simple majority vote to change the status,” she says.

This is not just a California thing.  Last week in the Washington Post, Chancellor Joel Klein of the New York City Department of Education, Chancellor Michelle Rhee from the Washington DC Public Schools and 14 other leaders in education from across the country wrote a “manifesto” on “How to fix our schools.”

They write, “It’s time for all of the adults — superintendents, educators, elected officials, labor unions and parents alike — to start acting like we are responsible for the future of our children. Because right now, across the country, kids are stuck in failing schools, just waiting for us to do something.”

I cannot disagree, although we may disagree on the number and frequency and definition of those failing schools.

It caught my attention when they wrote, “The glacial process for removing an incompetent teacher — and our discomfort as a society with criticizing anyone who chooses this noble and difficult profession — has left our school districts impotent and, worse, has robbed millions of children of a real future.”

They continue, “There isn’t a business in America that would survive if it couldn’t make personnel decisions based on performance. That is why everything we use in assessing teachers must be linked to their effectiveness in the classroom and focused on increasing student achievement.”

The easiest thing in the world is to blame the teachers.  Are there bad teachers?  Of course.  There are bad people in every profession. 

Is it difficult to remove bad teachers?  Yes it is.

Are there ways that schools can better deal with teachers who are not performing well?  Probably.  Herein lies my problem with this whole approach.  From my experience, one reason there are bad teachers is that they get little support, little direction, little training, little help.  They are stuck into bad circumstances and told to perform.  And when they don’t, we do not provide them resources to improve their performance.

The other problem I have is that while I may know a bad teacher when I see one, the ability to define and measure bad teachers is extremely problematic.

This gets to what I really want to talk about here – the problem that we have is that school performance is not just a function of the job that teachers and schools are doing to educate children, but a function of the job that parents and society are doing getting children to the point where they can be educated.

If we want strong schools, we have to stop cutting school funding every time we have a budget crunch.  We cut funding and then we wonder why schools are not succeeding.

People want excellent teachers, but compare a teacher to a doctor or lawyer.  Most teachers have comparable education and training when compared with a lawyer, while perhaps slightly less than a doctor. But their salaries, even if they are prorated to a twelve-month calendar, which I think is extremely problematic, are not comparable.

Forget about prorating salaries, if you want top professionals to aspire to be teachers, you have to pay them like top professionals.

That is not to say that there aren’t good teachers out there, but it is a point that should be emphasized.

But it does not matter how much we fund schools or how much we pay teachers, if the students coming into the system are beaten down by society’s ills.  And yes, a good teacher may be able to save a few exemplary students in rough circumstances, but the enormity of the burdens on these children is overwhelming.

I have seen it first hand.  Some people have said if the children just work really hard, they can overcome their circumstances.  And some people, the lucky and most capable, can.  The real problem is how much psychological damage these circumstances can cause.

Kids growing up in substance-abusing households lack not only skills and developmental advantages, but also lack a support structure, a positive environment, stability and emotional well-being.

Schools can only do so much for these kids.  We need to do the rest.

So for me, teachers are not to blame for failing schools.  And schools haven’t failed us, we have failed them.  Education is an absolute priority for me.  But the biggest thing that needs to change is the way we deal with society, because we could have the best schools in the world, but a lot of these children still aren’t going to make it.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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51 thoughts on “Commentary: Teachers Are Not the Problem, We Are”

  1. Mr.Toad

    Most teachers are not the problem but how to move the one’s who clearly are not up to the task out while protecting the rest from being forced out for reasons unrelated to their teaching abilities is a vexing problem.

    Its amazing to me that people like Meg Whitman want to have a grand jury approach to fraud and waste in public finances but doesn’t raise the issue with schools but instead focuses on the teachers. I saw “Waiting for Superman” last night and was glad to see Michele Rhee reduce Central Office staff and return that money to the schools with more teachers, counselors, nurses and librarians. I was glad to see her fire principals. This is a more holistic approach to reform.

    The obsession with test scores and teachers feels so oppressive. I’ve had administrators tell me how to teach and while listening I thought if this person knows so much why aren’t they in the classroom? Its a question that rarely gets asked, why are all these people getting paid education dollars not in the classroom?

    Finally, and to your last point as well David, I missed the celebration for having our test scores go up so much. I was busy washing the blood off my shirt from when I helped break up a gang fight (thank god for the no tolerance law on weapons) and stressing over the kid who needs to be 5150 while I pondered how to implement the No Child Left Behind teaching method the district is telling me I need to use three to five times an hour in my classroom. I’m not making this up.

  2. wdf1

    I saw “Waiting for Superman” last night and was glad to see Michele Rhee reduce Central Office staff and return that money to the schools with more teachers, counselors, nurses and librarians.

    Michelle Rhee resigned this week after Mayor Adrian Fenty lost his bid for re-election. Resentments over Rhee were a partial factor in his loss.

  3. wdf1

    Significant positive changes in education probably take longer than a lot of people are willing to wait or to support. One of the ultimate measures for the success of a grade school education is graduating from high school and transitioning into an acceptable next stage — college, vocational school, military, or maybe a job. It takes 13 years for that to happen, going from kindergarten to 12th grade. During that time, one or two new educational fads or trends will arise, as well as at least a couple of economic downturns. To determine if you’re doing something right, educationally, you really have to be willing to commit to and fully fund a comprehensive educational plan for 13+ years to fairly judge it.

  4. Dr. Wu

    [quote]Schools can only do so much for these kids. We need to do the rest.[/quote]

    The first statement is obvious, but the second is puzzling. What can we do about the increasing number of single-parent households or parents with substance abuse problems? The schools are probably the best hope but I agree they can only do so much.

  5. E Roberts Musser

    Mr. Toad: “Finally, and to your last point as well David, I missed the celebration for having our test scores go up so much. I was busy washing the blood off my shirt from when I helped break up a gang fight (thank god for the no tolerance law on weapons) and stressing over the kid who needs to be 5150 while I pondered how to implement the No Child Left Behind teaching method the district is telling me I need to use three to five times an hour in my classroom. I’m not making this up.”

    You hit on one huge issue that never seems to get addressed. Too often teachers spend 90% of their time disciplining 1 or 2 hardnosed unteachable kids in their classroom. These kids cut class half the time, come in just long enough to chat with their friends or cause mayhem. Yet teachers are expected to “handle it” in house. Often when the teacher sends these kids to the office, s/he gets little help from the administration or is told to stop sending so many kids to the office.

    I can remember when I was an 8th grade Math/Science teacher. This one girl would come to class about 50% of the time or less. She would sashay in wearing very sexy clothes to try and get the boys attention. Then she would plop herself down and start chatting with her neighboring classmate (always a boy). Teachers were discouraged from sending kids to the office by our administrative staff. I would have to continually tell this student to keep quiet. After several weeks of this nonsense and spending inordinate amounts of time disciplining her, I had had enough of this insolent girl who was keeping the rest of the class from learning.

    The next time she walked into class and started chatting up her friends, I said something like “Miss So and So, what gives you the right to come to school when you feel like it, just so you can visit with your friends whenever you want, and disrupt class for everyone else so they can’t learn? If you cannot behave yourself like every other student here, then don’t bother coming back to school. Got it?

    Miss So and So became very insulted, got up from her seat, and stalked out of class, never to be heard from again. And frankly I was glad to see her go. Kids like that need to be put elsewhere. Teachers cannot be expected to try and teach kids that are so incorrigible, they cannot be reached without extra help. This same girl, in another classroom, was engaging in heavy petting with some boy in the back of the classroom. She was a real piece of work. But I was the only teacher willing to buck the system and “encourage” this kid not to come back to school. Had the principal discovered what I had said to her, I probably could have been fired.

    In another instance, I was told by the prinicipal I had to pass a student who had showed up less than 50% of the time, and failed every test he took. Nor did he ever do any class work or homework. Had I not agreed to raise this kid’s grade to a D, I would have been fired. I was a brand new teacher, and was absolutely boxed into a corner. The principal’s excuse was it would be better to pass this kid along to high school and let them deal with the problem. I felt like I was compromising the integrity of my grades, but I also needed to keep my job.

    In another case, I had constant run-ins with a male student who was very big for his age, and a real troublemaker. Eventually he was caught by the police carrying a stolen television set over his head walking down the middle of the street. I also broke up a fight in which my student had a knife, that I had to take from him. And I suspect what teachers put up with these days is far worse than what I dealt with back in the seventies. Now kids carry guns, are often high on drugs/alcohol, and disabled kids are mainstreamed but often not ready to cope with a regular classroom. And now teachers cannot do much to discipline their students, bc the law does not allow many options in the way of discipline.

    There are so many things teachers have to cope with in the classroom – disruptive students, a nonresponsive administration, more and more responsibility to teach things outside their area of expertise, directions on how to teach materials (“the new math”) that may not work, greater number of students in a classroom, a lack of textbooks and other school materials, etc.

    I don’t deny there may be some “bad” teachers, as there may be “bad” anyone in any profession. But that is a very subjective notion, and it probably doesn’t really address the real problems going on in our educational system, many of which I have mentioned on previous posts. Call me cynical, but I think teachers are conveniently being made scapegoats so that politicians don’t have to look too hard at themselves or the school administrators, who probably have far more to do with the reason our schools are failing.

  6. hpierce

    [quote]I felt like I was compromising the integrity of my grades, but I also needed to keep my job. [/quote]

    People who do what you describe, whether they say they don’t want to “rock the boat”, fear for job/promotions, whatever, DO compromise their integrity. In my experience, there are an unfortunate number of teachers who have little, no integrity.

    They are, in my opinion, enablers. The principal should have had disciplinary action up to, including termination.

    The Nuremburg defense just doesn’t cut it for me.

  7. E Roberts Musser

    hpierce: “The Nuremburg defense just doesn’t cut it for me.”

    With a family to feed, would you have given up your job over a grade, taking into context you are a first year teacher who doesn’t understand all the ground rules? Would keeping this boy in the 8th grade have made him any more likely to graduate from high school? Would he have been better handled at the high school level, where they were better equipped to deal with him? (These were all the arguments I was given (as a raw recruit to the teaching profession) by the administration to justify their decision.)

    Would I have done it again, knowing what I know now, with years of experience under my belt? Probably not. But these are the sorts of things teachers are faced with – take marching orders or lose your job. If you have a family to raise, it becomes a difficult decision. Have you ever had to make that kind of a decision (change your decision or lose your job), and if so, explain and tell us what choice you made?

    Some years later I faced a similar choice as a systems analyst for a small consulting firm working for the defense department. My decision could have meant a faulty weapons system being developed, and way down the line someone getting killed. I put my job on the line, made my stand in refusing to go along, and received a raise in salary bc of it. Apparently they were impressed by my sense of integrity. (Who knew?) By then I was a single mother with 3 kids, so I had even more riding on that decision. But I was more sure of myself, more experienced, and learned from previous mistakes.

    Have you ever made a mistake hpierce, or were you always perfect? IMHO, everyone makes a mistake now and again, some people more often than not. The smart ones are those who learn from their mistakes. The stupid ones are those who repeat their mistakes over and over again. Just my thoughts on the subject…

  8. E Roberts Musser

    hpierce: “They are, in my opinion, enablers. The principal should have had disciplinary action up to, including termination.”

    The much more likely scenario is that I would have been fired for insubordination…

  9. hpierce

    [quote]With a family to feed, would you have given up your job over a grade, taking into context you are a first year teacher who doesn’t understand all the ground rules? [/quote]

    I am a professional, with licenses. If asked to violate my professional opinions, personal integrity, I would challenge a superior’s edict. Since they have the power to ‘change’ grades, I think I would have confronted them and said, “if you want the grade changed, do it yourself”. If they took a job action, I would probably have exhausted my administrative remedies, and if I probably would have “gone public”.

    No I am far from perfect, but there’s a big difference between making a mistake, and blindly “following orders” and then expecting to ‘get a pass’ to justify my lack of integrity because I was being “bullied”.

    If teachers cannot stand up to venial/corrupt administrators, God help our educational system.

  10. Frankly

    “Jerry Brown has talked about weeding out bad teachers and providing incentives for better and more creative teachers, but also focusing on providing preparation and support for average teachers, who in most instances are the ones educating our children.”

    “Meg Whitman, on the other hand, looks at education as though children were widgets and teachers were on an assembly line. She wants to “provide special bonuses to high-achieving teachers, administrators and schools to attract high-quality professionals into teaching and to reward those teachers who are doing an excellent job.”

    In other words…

    Jerry Brown wants to give the teachers unions more… more training, more investment in recruitment.

    Meg Whitman wants to provide incentives to attract high-performing employees and to reward them for their performance.

    These are two nuanced, but extremely different, approaches toward improving teacher performance and education. One is the standard issue ideas of a public-sector union mindset; the other is the standard issue ideas of a private-sector competitive mindset.

    I have been doing a little traveling these last few weeks, and through several encounters with local inhabitants, I developed some personal epiphanies related to human drive and ambition. First off, I still hold the perspective that humans have the continuing capacity to grow and develop personally and professionally. I also still hold the perspective that in this country, if you want something bad enough, and you are driven toward that single purpose and work hard to accomplish it, you have the highest probability of achieving it than if you lived in any other country past or present. Lastly, I believe that the US has worked as well as it has largely because of the industrial revolution that transformed us into a market-based society… one that benefited from a purer form of economic Darwinism than had every existed before. Essentially, it was the US-style pursuit of profit and wealth that had lifted the standard of living for much of the population of the US… and the world; and the primary reason the US has become the third most densely populated country on the planet.

    Considering all of this I have little patience for whiners and moochers. Entitlement thinking is the antithesis of the competitive drive that makes for improvement and advance. Union people and public sector employees deliver that entitlement concept loud and clear… the message that they deserve more, and certainly never less. They dig in their heels to resist any attempt at managing their performance and linking it to their pay. They reject the same economic Darwinism that benefits other professions and would eventually result in higher-paid teachers.

    My epiphany was that there are people that, for whatever reason, lack drive and determination to pursue greater economic property by competing in a market-based system. They may lack some competitive gene or ability to metabolize the stress inherent in competition; or maybe their personal and/or social upbringing creates some behavioral barrier. Or, maybe they chose a more relaxed lifestyle that removes them from the rat race. For the sake of this thesis, I will call these “low-drive” people. These are not bad people, or untalented people… these are just people not really interested in competitive growth and development toward higher prosperity.

    I think low-drive people have gravitated to teaching as a profession; and high-drive people landing a teaching job, are quickly de-motivated by the majority against them.

    My question: can we truly improve education with a higher number of low-drive people than exist in other complex organizations and businesses? I think the answer is “no”… absolutely no. There is nothing more important in my mind for protecting our general standard of living and prosperity than the quality of education. It needs a huge does of economic Darwinism. We may have a need to find work for many low-drive people, but it should not be education. Meg is correct, and Jerry is not.

  11. Don Shor

    Jeff: “I think low-drive people have gravitated to teaching as a profession…
    My question: can we truly improve education with a higher number of low-drive people than exist in other complex organizations and businesses?”

    This is an unbelievable generalization. Neither provable nor falsifiable, but really stunning in its sweep and offense.

  12. Frankly

    “Don: This is an unbelievable generalization. Neither provable nor falsifiable, but really stunning in its sweep and offense.”

    You miss my point. However, I admit that I lack the tact and writing talent to make it without being offensive to some.

    For a bit of “proof”, ask yourself why all self-professed underpaid and overworked teachers would stay working as a teacher and not go find another job. Sounds like low-drive to me. A job is a job… not a lifestyle.

    I do think you help make my point though… teaching should not be some protected professional class any more than should be Wall Street banking. You want my support, then show me the results. Teaching, in general, is failing the country. So, hence, the generalizations.

    Go to work for any large and complex organization (I put education in that camp) that must compete to survive, and you will find a much smaller percentage of low to moderate performers. Performance competition provides a filtering mechanism that sends most low performers and many moderate performers packing… to look for the profession that would be a better match for their capabilities. To many teachers are in the wrong profession, but seemingly lack the drive to do anything about it.

    By the way, Michele Rhee just resigned after the DC teachers unions spent millions to elect a new teacher union-friendly mayor who promised to dismiss her.

  13. Frankly

    “Don’t get in a morality debate with a jesuit,meg, you’re not going to win. “

    It is a competency debate. Just check the Oakland crime rates for proof that Brown rot follows Jerry where ever he goes.

    Besides, the “morality” debate is a false media stunt favored by the Democrat party practice of using the media and trial lawyer base to maintain their power. Good luck with that.

  14. Mr.Toad

    Meg stepped right into the hypocrisy trap then compounded the problem by trying to blame Brown who turned the tables by telling her to take responsibility. All those mea culpas from when Jerry went to the Jesuit seminary really paid off. Jerry did it during the Univision debate. Nailed her, if you will, in front of a huge spanish language media audiance for being a desgraciado. If you don’t know the word maybe you should but just let me say that coldly dumping your kids nanny after nine years without any severance when you are a billionaire and about to run for governor qualifies you as one. She lost the latino vote and with it the election. That is how it works you know lose the latino vote lose the election. So just keep on bashing those immigrants and spend another decade in the political wilderness. Oh well she can spend another 140 million bucks and buy her own island and run it like a ceo or an authoritarian dictator. Maybe from there she can springboard a run for president or vice with Romney. Just hope that Tom Tancredo isn’t on stage during the debates.

  15. J.R.

    Fixing the problems in the schools is not difficult. It just requires throwing out some of the ill conceived ideas that have ruined public education. Such as:

    Mainstreaming children with learning disabilities.

    Letting public employees unionize.

    Stopping teachers from imposing discipline in the classroom.

    These ideas alone would go a long way to fixing the problem.

    I completely agree with David. The problem is not the teachers, but people (and teachers unions) who oppose these steps, at the expense of the children locked in failing public schools.

    PS The idea that Jerry Brown would take any serious steps towards fixing the schools is so naive that it is impossible to take it seriously.

  16. wdf1

    I saw “Waiting for Superman” last night…

    I haven’t yet seen the movie, but would like to. One common summary of the movie that I hear is that it touts charter schools as doing better work than public schools. The Harlem Children’s Zone (& Promise Academy) is one charter organization that gets lots of mention. I’ve read many good things about this school and the work they do, and I appreciate their successes. But here’s an interesting angle on that school:

    [quote]The film dismisses with a side comment the inconvenient truth that our schools are criminally underfunded. Money’s not the answer, it glibly declares. Nor does it suggest that students would have better outcomes if their communities had jobs, health care, decent housing, and a living wage. Particularly dishonest is the fact that Guggenheim never mentions the tens of millions of dollars of private money that has poured into the Harlem Children’s Zone, the model and superman we are relentlessly instructed to aspire to. Those funds create full family services and a state of the art school. In a sleight of hand, the film magically shifts focus, turning to “bad teaching” as the problem in the poor schools while ignoring these millions of dollars that make people clamor to get into the Promise Academy. As a friend of mine said, “Well, at least now we know what it costs.”

    Source: [url]http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rick-ayers-/an-inconvenient-superman-_b_716420.html?view=print[/url]
    [/quote]

    Harlem Children’s Zone spends $16K per student in their system.

    Source: [url]http://www.nydailynews.com/opinions/2010/10/13/2010-10-13_the_truth_about_our_schools_harlem_childrens_zone_ceo_geoffrey_canada_on_waiting.html[/url]

    By contrast, DJUSD spends $7K to $8K per child.

    We as Californians appear to be unwilling to put up that kind of money to have a successful school system.

  17. wdf1

    Jeff Boone: Teaching, in general, is failing the country.

    How do you define that (failing the country)? Was there a period of time when teaching was not failing the country? Were the teaching standards the same then as now?

  18. Frankly

    “Harlem Children’s Zone spends $16K per student in their system.
    By contrast, DJUSD spends $7K to $8K per child.”

    Certainly we need to adequately fund education, but let’s put this “spending more results in better results” argument to rest.

    DC schools spend $26k per student ($23k after dropping the cost of special education). However, the average DC voucher school only charges $6,620. The cost about 1/4 what the public schools cost and still do a better job.

    “wdf1: How do you define that (failing the country)? Was there a period of time when teaching was not failing the country? Were the teaching standards the same then as now?”

    http://chronicle.com/article/High-School-Dropout-Rate-Is/65669/

    http://www.geographic.org/country_ranks/educational_score_performance_country_ranks_2009_oecd.html

    The dropout rate has been increasing every year since the 1970s and our ranking in science and math has plummeted compared to other countries we compete against for industry and jobs.

    More importantly I think are all the missed opportunities to leverage all the advances in information technology. Teaching remains an antiquated human labor-based model that continues to fall behind the pace of learning required. The advances threaten the old union labor model and therefore are blocked, refused and rejected. Public school may certainly be no worse than it was decades ago; but that is the problem.

  19. Frankly

    “PS The idea that Jerry Brown would take any serious steps towards fixing the schools is so naive that it is impossible to take it seriously.”

    J.R., right on!

  20. jimt

    great comments by E Musser.
    I was a high school student back in the 1970s in Washington state.
    At that time & place there was a pretty good balance with regard to discipline; teachers were still allowed to moderately discipline the kids, repeat offenders were typically suspended. I never heard about any lawsuits.
    I suspect that now between fear of lawsuits and the policing duties of admins, the teachers can’t do much about discipline problems, so the classroom often falls to lowest common denominator of behavour.

    If teaching was like it was back in the 1970s, I would consider teaching high school math/science in the future. But with the regimentation of the teaching profession, and the need to teach to the test (for test score results), I would not want to be a teacher under these conditions.
    By changing teaching so that it operates under these conditions, you must consider the type of person that is going to be attracted to the profession. For most, I suspect it is a much less fulfilling job than in the past, when a much greater degree of freedom & creativity was allowed by teachers (in turn the best engineers, scientists, and doctors in the world emerged from this past way of grade 1-12 teaching).

  21. wdf1

    The dropout rate has been increasing every year since the 1970s and our ranking in science and math has plummeted compared to other countries we compete against for industry and jobs.

    Interesting list, especially in showing that so many socialist, high-tax countries rank ahead of us. Why is that?

    Your first link doesn’t document dropout rates since the 1970’s. I tend to doubt that older statistics on dropout rates are reliable. More recent stats maybe reliable but still suspect. How would you know if someone dropped out or not? or rather transferred to another school?

    What do you think of funding for Davis schools in particular?

  22. wdf1

    For a bit of “proof”, ask yourself why all self-professed underpaid and overworked teachers would stay working as a teacher and not go find another job. Sounds like low-drive to me. A job is a job… not a lifestyle.

    One of the biggest criticisms of the current system is the high turnover rate among teachers, particularly in more stressed districts. So it would appear that a lot of underpaid, overworked teachers are finding other jobs.

  23. wdf1

    More importantly I think are all the missed opportunities to leverage all the advances in information technology. Teaching remains an antiquated human labor-based model that continues to fall behind the pace of learning required.

    I know you’re fond of online education, and I think there are some advantages to that model, particularly some higher education settings.

    But teaching, much like parenting and mentoring, is labor intensive. Teaching is not just downloading information into a person’s brain. It’s about giving encouragement when needed, adjusting assignments, often just listening to the student say what’s on his/her mind. It’s about learning to interact constructively in groups with other students, and intervening when things aren’t going well. In a K-12 setting, most students respond better to live, in-person interaction. I don’t think delivering most or all content by screen interface would be successful at this time. But maybe when robots are made to imitate human behavior and responses more completely…

  24. E Roberts Musser

    hpierce: “I am a professional, with licenses. If asked to violate my professional opinions, personal integrity, I would challenge a superior’s edict. Since they have the power to ‘change’ grades, I think I would have confronted them and said, “if you want the grade changed, do it yourself”. If they took a job action, I would probably have exhausted my administrative remedies, and if I probably would have “gone public”.”

    Believe me, I argued with the principal about this student until I was blue in the face. He didn’t budge one centimeter. It was my job or the grade. And at the time I had no idea there were “adminstrative remedies”. But I got a little smarter as time went on. When an incorrigible, who had been transferred to our school from the elementary school, joined two of his friends and took over another teacher’s portable classroom (not mine), then beat the kid up who the teacher sent to the office to get help, I was the one who took matters into hand.

    I went around the school principal, called the mother of the kid who was beaten, and told her to raise heck with the Supt. of Schools, bc the teachers were unable to convince the principal to do anything about the incorrigible. It worked – the incorrible was suspended. It took me a year, but I finally figured out that if you can’t get justice going through the front door, you try the side window. But a first year teacher doesn’t always understand the ropes. It takes time to learn. And none of the other teachers (including males) were willing to speak up I might add. That adds to the new teachers naivite in thinking there is nothing else that can be done beyond appealing to the principal.

    And what if the adminstrative remedies you suggest were unsuccessful? What then? Do you honestly think justice prevails in the workplace? If you do, then you are incredibly naive…

    hpierce: “I am a professional, with licenses. If asked to violate my professional opinions, personal integrity, I would challenge a superior’s edict.”

    As a teacher, professional license notwithstanding, you are not the final arbiter of how and what is taught in your classroom.

  25. Frankly

    “I know you’re fond of online education, and I think there are some advantages to that model, particularly some higher education settings.”

    It is really quite a bit more than that. High-performing teamwork. A new focus on providing top-level customer service and excellence. Six-sigma. Efficiency. Innovation in methods for both teaching and administration. A performance management system that constantly floats the cream to the top, and sweeps the whey to another profession. Technology is only a piece of the puzzle.

    I realize that teaching youngsters requires a human touch: counseling, coaching, directing, motivating, guiding, helping, comforting. Frankly, I think too few teachers are actually very good at these things and just go through the motions of delivering the same curriculum in an uninspiring way. I have no problem paying six figure salaries to talented teaching professionals that consistently do all these things well and produce top-level outcomes.

    Getting to this point requires vision and leadership. The type that Michele Rhee was providing until the DC teachers unions railroaded her out.

  26. E Roberts Musser

    To Jeff Boone:
    1) Many (like me) gravitate to the teaching profession bc we love to teach. It is a passion for many, many teachers. We like the idea of relating to children, doing good in the world, making the world a better place by educating our youth. We are not “low-drive” people as a profession. Many teachers work long hours for OK pay, and do not get paid for all the extra hours we put in for administrative duties, grading homework, lesson planning, tutoring after school any students having trouble, etc.
    2) If you want to attract the most intellectually qualified to the teaching profession, you have to pay far more than $60,000 per year. And being intellectually gifted does not necessarily make one a good teacher. Ask any college student. Some of the most brilliant professors are terrible teachers.
    3) On-line teaching can only be used in very limited circumstances in K-12. I have had college courses via television, and I hated them. Absolutely detested them, and didn’t feel like I got very much from the televised lecture. Where I did my learning is in the individualized labs with a live teacher (grad assistant) they had to go along with the television lecture. If you advocate on-line teaching as a panacea, I think you need to sit and observe in a classroom for a few days. You will better understand why an on-line approach will not work for K-12. I’d give specific reasons, but I’d be here all day.
    4) Unions – While I was teaching, I was one of five teachers in my school who refused to strike. The five of us beleived we had an obligation to live by the contract we had signed not to strike. When the strike was over and the teachers got the raise they wanted, the five of us who had not joined the strike were shunned, maligned to students, the air was let out of tires, one woman was confronted at her home by a group of strikers blocking her driveway, my car was pounded as I crossed the picket line, students were told to disrupt classes by striking teachers. I HAVE NO LOVE FOR TEACHERS’ UNIONS. Personal, anecdotal, but my ugly experience colors my thinking about teachers’ unions.

  27. Frankly

    “One of the biggest criticisms of the current system is the high turnover rate among teachers, particularly in more stressed districts. So it would appear that a lot of underpaid, overworked teachers are finding other jobs.”

    Turn over is only a problem when it is the good employees leaving. The primary reason good teachers leave is that they are surrounded by too many low-performers and bureaucrats. Think about it… it does not matter how hard you work, how talented you are at your job, how many great ideas you come up with… your pay will only increase if you can stick it out, blend in, and grow your seniority.

    There are copious studies on employee retention and loyalty, and compensation level is always several steps below other criteria.

    Even so, I have no problem paying more for a better product. You want higher pay, then do more. DC schools prove that throwing more money at the peoblems does not fix the problems.

  28. Frankly

    “1) Many (like me) gravitate to the teaching profession bc we love to teach. It is a passion for many, many teachers. We like the idea of relating to children, doing good in the world, making the world a better place by educating our youth. We are not “low-drive” people as a profession.”

    Elaine, I agree. These are not the characteristics of a low-drive employee. Typically, when a person starts a career, he/she is low-competence and high-enthusiasm (drive). Then, as competence increases, there is the ability to actually make a difference. So often in bureaucratic organizations, the air gets let out of the tires with the competent and enthusiastic employee starts to experience all the roadblocks. From this point there are two directions: the employee can quit, or, the employee can lose the drive and learn to just toe the line.

    My oldest son decided he wanted to be a teacher. He is a caring, creative and enthusiastic kid that always demonstrated a talent working with youngsters. We were proud of the choice and very supportive. We warned him though that he might want to consider teaching a 7-10 year job since he would burn out. He decided the state schools offered the best teaching programs. He selected Chico State over Sonoma, Sac and San Diego… all schools with good programs cranking out teachers. He took his first semester of classes and was completely turned off after experiencing the type of students he would have to collaborate with… and getting a better sense of what he would expect as an employee of any school district.

    My thinking on the business of education is that we would all be better off allowing more privatization because it would be an engine of much greater innovation. Public education is too controlled and manipulated by the political process and teachers unions. More privatization would offer more choice for both teachers and students.

    In terms of what is not working well enough today, I It is not the teachers so much as it is the dysfunctional system. However, it is a system that attracts, grows and retains a higher percentage of low-drive employees. I stand by that opinion.

  29. wdf1

    He selected Chico State over Sonoma, Sac and San Diego… all schools with good programs cranking out teachers.

    Why did he decide that those programs were good? Something to consider — the people starting in a program are not necessarily the ones who finish, or who end up getting a teaching job.

  30. wdf1

    Even so, I have no problem paying more for a better product. You want higher pay, then do more. DC schools prove that throwing more money at the peoblems does not fix the problems.

    I would probably like the opportunity to teach in the Davis schools, and I think I could do a decent job. But the salary wouldn’t allow me to pay mortgage and basic expenses in Davis. And it’s a modest home. If the state would throw more money our way, and it went into raising salaries enough, I’d be willing to reconsider. But the legislature doesn’t appear to be inclined to do that any time soon.

  31. wdf1

    My thinking on the business of education is that we would all be better off allowing more privatization because it would be an engine of much greater innovation.

    Are any other countries that are performing better than the U.S. (your link above) using a privatized system? Seems like we oughta be checking out what they’re doing that we’re not.

  32. Frankly

    “Why did he decide that those programs were good?”

    School councilors, independent research, and opinions from other teachers we know. The word was that the state programs do much better jobs teaching students to get a job as a teacher.

    He selected Chico for a couple of reasons (not our top pick). One reason was that we have a second home in Chester (next to Lake Almanor) which is half-way between Chico and Davis. He determined that San Diego was too big and too far away from family, Sacramento was too big and too close to family. Sonoma was too small with a few old high school friends attending that complained about it. He didn’t like the UC quarter system. He still likes Chico and I think he has matured beyond what many UCD kids experience given he has had to learn to deal with more of the non-academic distractions.

  33. Frankly

    “I would probably like the opportunity to teach in the Davis schools, and I think I could do a decent job. But the salary wouldn’t allow me to pay mortgage and basic expenses in Davis. And it’s a modest home. If the state would throw more money our way, and it went into raising salaries enough, I’d be willing to reconsider. But the legislature doesn’t appear to be inclined to do that any time soon.”

    How about a job where you make $65k plus another possible $40k or more of compensation tied to a performance bonus program that measures:

    – Parent/student statisfaction
    – Education outcomes
    – Peer assessment
    – Principle assessment

    And that has a component tied to the overall school and district performance.

    And teachers earning little or no bonus would be put on job warning and given time to improve or be let go.

    But, you would also probably have to work 12 months of the year, with some days of unpaid overtime, with a 3-week annual vacation and retirement at age 65 with zero healhcare and pension after having funded your own 401(k) after a 4% annual contribution from your employer. This is the standard situation for well paid professionals in private industry these days.

  34. Frankly

    “Are any other countries that are performing better than the U.S. (your link above) using a privatized system? Seems like we oughta be checking out what they’re doing that we’re not. “

    That is a fair question. I don’t know, but are there any of these countries where the unions hold as much political power and influence for maintaining the status quo? What is the population density of these other countries? Might we have a different set of challenges?

  35. E Roberts Musser

    Jeff Boone: “My thinking on the business of education is that we would all be better off allowing more privatization because it would be an engine of much greater innovation. Public education is too controlled and manipulated by the political process and teachers unions. More privatization would offer more choice for both teachers and students.”

    I’m all for charter schools, vouchers, anything that will drive some competition into the system to force it to improve. Da Vinci seems to have worked well, for instance. I know charter schools in some areas of the nation have worked extremely well.

    wdf1: “Are any other countries that are performing better than the U.S. (your link above) using a privatized system? Seems like we oughta be checking out what they’re doing that we’re not.”

    I’d like to know the answer to this one too. YOu have to be careful tho. I know at one time we compared our schools to those of Japan, and decided we should think about tailoring our schools to be more like theirs. Until a story came out having to do with how they discipline kids to force them to do well (too gory to tell here). Then we abandoned the idea of copying Japanese schools…

  36. wdf1

    How about a job where you make $65k plus another possible $40k or more of compensation tied to a performance bonus program that measures: etc.

    I would take a look at it. I think you are definitely requiring more money into the system, however. Our society expects good K-12 education for all. Can you make such a system accessible to all?

    Personally, I think most Davis teachers I see are working pretty damn hard and don’t get paid what they’re worth.

  37. Alphonso

    You are over simplifying the “problem” if you only focus on teachers.

    Take a look at the star test scores for three districts – Cupertino, Davis and Woodland. Cupertino blows away Davis and Davis blows away Woodland. Probably the youngest (and therfore most energetic) teachers are in Woodland yet those scores are worst. The teachers have to pull the students through the system but the parents have to do some pushing. Cupertino has a heavy mix of Asians. The race of the people is not important, but backing up their kids is a significant desire to achieve and perform at the highest level. Many of the Cupertno students go to weekend school, all homework is completed and the kids are continually pushed to do better. I am sure the Cupertino teachers are very good, but I doubt the teacher quality is that much better than it is in Davis and Woodland. Cupertino teachers must feel somewhat more motivated than Davis/Woodland teachers because they have a better mix of students and they do not have to go through the annual pink slip ritual.

  38. AeroDeo

    “Most teachers have comparable education and training when compared with a lawyer, while perhaps slightly less than a doctor.”

    You’re joking, right? Let’s examine the MINIMUM Requirements for each of these professions:
    K-12 teacher: 4 year baccalaureate degree, pass CBEST
    Total = 4years, 1 Exam

    Lawer: 4 year baccalaureate degree, significantly above average GPA, significantly above average LSAT, 3 years of law school, pass BAR.
    Total = 7 years, 2 Exams

    Doctor: 4 year baccalaureate degree, significantly above average GPA, significantly above average MCAT, 4 years of Medical School, Pass STEP 1, 2, & 3, 3 year residency (Minimum), pass Board Certification exam.
    Total = 11years, 5 Exams

    Even if you assumed that a K-12 teacher had a masters degree you’ve still got a discrepancy of nearly 1.5-2 years (assuming a 1-1.5 year masters program) between a Lawyer and a Teacher, not to mention the vast differences in barriers to entry. These professions are NOT equal and I’m tired of the argument that we should be trying to make them equal. If you’re upset that lawyers or doctors make too much money, then by all means, go obtain the requisite credentials and charge less for your services.

    Of course, all of this is flawed logic because most of these metrics evaluate your ability to retain information, which is indeed important, but, as many have stated, there are an abundance of intellectually gifted PhD’s that are horrible teachers.

    Ok, so here’s my solution:
    1) Give teachers the tools they need (I think we do an adequate job, but we could definitely improve on this)
    2) Hold parents accountable.

  39. Frankly

    “You are over simplifying the “problem” if you only focus on teachers.”

    Agree. I said it was the dysfuntional system. Poor performing teachers are a symptom of a broken system.

    The benchmark for teaching performance should be relative to the norm and goals. For example, Woodland has more students difficult to teach, so the norm is lower, but maybe the goals for imporvement are set higher and the potential teacher reward is set higher to compensate for the extra challenge.

    Frankly, it is easier to teach kids having strong academic genes and parents with the drive, capacity and means to help.

  40. wdf1

    You’re joking, right? Let’s examine the MINIMUM Requirements for each of these professions:
    K-12 teacher: 4 year baccalaureate degree, pass CBEST
    Total = 4years, 1 Exam

    A minor quibble with you:
    To teach in the public schools also requires going through a teaching credential program, which includes student teaching experience. To be fair, you’d have to add another year for the credential.

  41. AeroDeo

    “A minor quibble with you:
    To teach in the public schools also requires going through a teaching credential program, which includes student teaching experience. To be fair, you’d have to add another year for the credential.”

    I thought that the credential program was essentially a probationary period? If not, my apologies, I stand corrected.

  42. hpierce

    [quote]I thought that the credential program was essentially a probationary period? If not, my apologies, I stand corrected. [/quote]
    Am not fully qualified to help, but my girlfriend (and life partner for 30 + years) went thru the UC credential program…. classes + “student teaching” under the direction of a ‘mentor teacher’ (‘tho they weren’t known by that ‘title’ at the time). I’m a licensed professional in the “liberal sciences”. I could get an “emergency credential” by just passing the CBEST exam, based on my BS degree and experience… as I understand it, the CBEST just tests you on basic knowledge in different disciplines, and has nothing to do with knowledge of teaching methods, etc… kinda’ like a GED, but up the ante. It is/was a multiple choice test, and all you have to do is pass. Unlike the tests I needed to go thru for licensure. For math/science teachers, I think many districts are accepting “emergency” credentials. I may be wrong, but I don’t think so.
    When I retire, I may try my hand at teaching at the secondary level. I am confident I could pass the CBEST, have taught, mentored adults in my field(s) for years, and could probably do a better job of explaining to students why geometry, trig., history and English Composition are really IMPORTANT to master than ~90% of the teachers currently in the system.

  43. E Roberts Musser

    To hpierce: You are correct that students in the credentialing program go through student teaching under a mentoring teacher while they are getting their credentials. As for the part about “emergency credentialing”, I know legislators were talking about allowing just passing the CBEST, but whether they will actually allow it I don’t know under No Child Left Behind (new rules/standards). But for the technical areas of math and science, they need more teachers who really, really know their stuff, so I’d be in favor of “emergency credentialing” as you describe it. That is how I started teaching math and science – jumped in the deep end without a life preserver/training – it was sink or swim.

  44. hpierce

    I realize this may be a “dead thread”, but…

    Elaine… “emergency credentialing” was very much alive and real 4 years ago. Not sure about today.

    And yes… I do “really, really know my stuff”.

  45. wdf1

    Elaine… “emergency credentialing” was very much alive and real 4 years ago. Not sure about today.

    I understand that an emergency credential allows a school district to hire someone without a formal teaching credential in a situation where there are no other qualified (credentialed) applicants available. It is temporary and can be extended readily if the person in question is actively working in a credential program.

  46. CATeacher

    As a relatively new math teacher in California, I can correct some misinformation.

    To get a credential in California, you need to be “subject matter competent”, with very specific criteria designated by that state. Even an advanced degree in the field (say, a PhD in history) does NOT mean you are considered subject competent in that same field. In my case, I was missing a very specific course in California history.

    The alternative to the required course sequence is to pass an additional series of tests known as the CSETs. There are usually 3-4 subtests in each credential subject. That’s how I qualified to become a math teacher, and I can assure you that the math CSETs are widely considered the most difficult CSETs to pass. You can google “math CSET” and see an sample of the tests from the testing company.

    Also, California has eliminated the emergency credential. I began teaching as an intern teacher. I went that route because I had 10+ years of other teaching experience (college and private school), but even that option has changed in the last few years, so now even intern teachers must take some coursework before entering the classroom. You MUST be subject matter competent before student teaching or becoming an intern teacher.

    There is one limited option that replaced the emergency credential, but that credential is NOT NCLB compliant and can only be used for a very limited time period. Most districts don’t want to have to use it because I think it draws greater scrutiny when they are audited for credential compliance.

  47. indigorocks

    If teachers will not take responsibility for teaching the children, then they shouldn’t call themselves teachers!!!!
    It’s their job, they aren’t doing their job and they should change their job descriptions to “ward keepers’ or factory school keepers…
    This is why they get paid the big bucks. They start off at 34k/year, with guaranteed pensions, tenure, and the strongrest UNION in the Union to back their incompetency and ignorance…
    About 90% of the teachers are selfish, incompetent assholes and should be fired. They routinely get away with gross misconduct, abuse, sexual and physical and mental..when the parents complain about the mistreatment of their children, the teachers run to the teachers association and immediately demonize and victimize the parents and children.
    it’s a sick cycle of abuse and it’s got to stop…WITH THE TEACHERS DAMNIT!!!! I’m so sick and tired of them demanding more money for themselves. They need to demand money for private tutoring for kids that are lagging behind and creative outlets for their incredibly creative minds.
    ART AND PHYSICAL ACTIVITIES SHOULD REPLACE MATH AND ENGLISH. READING AND WRITING IS A WORTHLESS USELESS WASTE OF TIME IN TERMS OF THE CHILD’S CAPATICITY TO LEARN.
    THE SYSTEM AND THE TEACHERS HAVE DONE NOTHING TO ACTIVATE A CHILD’S DESIRE TO LEARN.
    GET WITH THE PROGRAM PEOPLE. THROWING MORE MONEY INTO A FAILED SYSTEM IS A WASTE.
    YOU MIGHT AS WELL FLUSH IT DOWN THE TOILET. SURE THE TEACHER WILL GET THEIR GUARANTEED PAY RAISE BUT IT WILL BE AT THE COST OF THE CHILDREN’S LIVES!

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