Thursday, March 11, 2010

No One Supports Bad Teachers

Several news stories of education gone terribly wrong are circulating lately, and once again the perception of what went wrong is far too narrow. One story is the failure of Kansas City Public Schools failed attempts at reform, despite massive funding. The other story is Newsweek Magazine's call to "fire all bad teachers." While no one can dispute the facts in these articles, the interpretation of cause and effect needs to be clarified.

The Kansas City story is simply what happens when money is mis-spent and mis-managed. The issue is always administration - with the ability to impose high expectations. However, more funds can make a huge difference when well managed - witness Geoffery Canada's Harlem Children's Zone. When extra funds are used to feed and clothe the kids, provide basic health care, after-school programs, Saturday school, extensive tutoring, longer school days, and greater attention, student achievement among the poorest improves.

Of course, it also only happens if the expectations of kids and families have consequences - a key component of public charter schools - with the demand accountability of the student with the possibility of dismissal. It's not about the funds - it's about the management. And public schools can manage the money well. My school district does. Canada's schools do.

The "money helps" versus "money doesn't help" is oversimplified. Clearly, the KC program was a mess - but it doesn't prove anything other than that the program was incredibly poorly managed. Put Joe Clark or Geoffery Canada or Jaime Escalante or even Michelle Rhee in charge of those public schools, and the result is different.

Newsweek is far more egregious in the errors of their subjective evaluation of education's problems and the necessary reforms. The crux of the article was "poor teaching." And we all know that it is out there. Yet the focus of Newsweek's criticism was on teachers, with only passing nods to the idea that 99% of teachers receive satisfactory evaluations.

Thus, the emphasis on the responsibility of school administration was seriously understated in the article. And then its praise of KIPP charter schools quickly glossed over the key to their success - contracts that the students must sign and expectations they must meet. The article emphasizes that the schools don't "cherry pick" their students - the take "all comers." Yet, the point is they do "cherry pick" which students they keep, and they don't keep "all students." They show non-performers the door.

The article implies that the charter schools succeed because they are non-union. That is absolutely wrong. If the public schools could also require a contract and show non-performers the door, then the traditional schools could be as effective. But they can't. When the charter school kicks the kid out for not meeting his contract, where does he go? The public school without such measures.

Thus, I completely agree with getting rid of bad teachers. And I've endlessly cited schools with tenured union faculty that do that. So, the emphasis should be on higher expectations for administration. And the addition of performance contracts for students as well as teachers. Then, we're getting somewhere.

So, while I concede the premise, the article was rather ridiculously disingenuous in the way in which it "cherry picked" its data.


Mrs. Counterman said...

Thank you for your insight to this article. I am a fourth grade teacher in Katy, TX, and picked up this Newsweek in passing due to its cover. It does seem strange that they would mention the 99% satisfaction survey but not point out that it is administrators that report this information. Texas is not a strong union state, but I come from Ohio where you are basically shunned if you do not actively participate in the union. By no means am I anti-union, I just think that they should do more than protect people that perpetuate the stereotype of "putting up with the job for the summers off."

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

I appreciate your thoughts on KIPP vs traditional schools.

I've lived in third world countries where parents make great sacrifices and struggle to get their kids educated and the kids take it seriously.

KIPP works because it requires a commitment from the parent and student. How do we fix the mainstream system when the families and children refuse to be held accountable for their success?

Should teachers be held accountable for their students learning when the students don't have any will to get engaged? Thanks for your thoughts.

cornerstone university grand rapids said...

I know where you’re coming from. We have to get rid of bad teacher because they can change the study habits of students and might also change the latter’s future as well.