Monday, February 25, 2008
I also respect my kids' teachers. I find that they are kind and caring, intelligent and fair.
BUT what about when a teacher isn't kind and caring? What about when they are harsh and abusive? What about when they aren't intelligent and fair? Or they just can't teach?
In most jobs if you can't perform, you are asked to leave. For people I know, they get fired. If they are really lucky, a company characterizes it as a lay-off and they get a couple weeks pay.
It appears that if you are a union teacher, you get a buyout. Education Week, in the January 23, 2008 edition reports that buy-outs are increasing for teachers who "are under suspicion of inadequate performance in the classroom or unprofessional conduct, such as yelling at parents or supervisors." Some of these buyouts are for teachers who have to turn in their license to get the buyout. That's some serious business.
The argument in favor of buyouts is that its more cost effective than going through the legal process of firing a tenured teacher. This alone is a sad commentary on our society, but I'd like to address another issue. Is it ethical for someone, especially a teacher in a position where we demand trust, to accept or demand a buyout for poor or improper performance?
There are a number of ways to characterize this, but from where I sit, this looks a lot like extortion. At minimum, it's taking money (or demanding money) for something the person doesn't deserve. There are a couple of words for demanding money from someone when you don't deserve it. One is theft. However, I'm again going to take a less harsh view and compare this to my nine year old son. He often demands things from me that he doesn't deserve. As a parent, I have to decide what a good parent would do. Normally, I refuse. Now, if my son asks politely and the cost isn't to high, and the request fits with our family goals, then I might acquiesce. That's because when my son asks politely, I find that appropriate. It also (if done honestly) gives me the choice to say, "no." If the request is a demand, then it implies that I am not allowed to choose. It does not respect me as a person. For the sake of brevity (too late, I know), doesn't it appear that the demand of the fired teacher is at best like the demand of my nine year old. It doesn't respect the system, the school or the tax payer who ultimately pays the price. Therefore, accepting a buyout is unethical. Not a pretty picture of those who would teach our children.
Sunday, February 24, 2008
The Classical Academy (where I work) is the largest classroom based charter in Colorado. With 2,800 students, we should be in great shape. After all, we have a nationally recognized character education program. We run a Colorado Department of Education sponsored Character Symposium. We were recently ranked as the number nine high school in the state.
So what could be better?
Well, for one, charters could receive equal funding to the district schools. Here we are up for one of the most important votes in the school's history and the biggest issue isn't curriculum or employee retentions. It isn't test scores or discipline issues. It isn't anything that traditional public schools have to deal with. The issue is whether or not we can afford to take on additional debt to build a building--a building brought to necessity because of mold in our modular buildings that have been standing for over 10 years. This debt would put our total annual debt payments at almost 15% of our budget. Where traditional schools get to use all of their PPR for salaries and operating expenses, we can't.
At the same time our school district uses our student count to calculate their debt capacity and uses the tax money from our parents to pay for their buildings. In essence, our parents pay twice for our buildings while district parents pay once. I pay over $400 per year to pay off our district's debt. Not a dime goes to charter schools. If that amount for everyone of our school's parents when to TCA, we would not be in the mess we are in right now.
It is an amazing sign of the value that we produce that parents are willing to continue with us. The support us and donate so that they can choose to go to a school that is different and that values them as parents. Perhaps one day it won't be such a sacrifice to be part of a charter school. Perhaps one day traditional public schools and charter schools will sit side by side--co-equals in doing what is right for kids and their education.
Until then, the dream of equal funding and equal treatment remains a dream.
Saturday, February 16, 2008
- Setting high standards
Now, I'm sure that all of this is great at predicting academic results. This is great. We all want academically sound schools. However, it seems to me that a huge area is missing. Where is the assessment of whether or not the principal likes kids, relates well with kids, develops trust in kids, sets a good moral example for kids. I admit I'm biased, but what about the plans for high character standards? I'm not just talking about for discipline and getting kids to follow the rules, but some element that examines the relationship the principal has with kids and staff is crucial.
The good news is that it appears that even the authors understand that this isn't the end of the story. VAL-ED can be used as part of a wholistic principal evaluation. That's good because until I see the really important factors included in an assessment, then I'm not convinced that a principal is great.
- Local Schools set the budgets
- Public posting of test scores
- Time in the classroom
- Science activities, such as science fairs and clubs
- Selective admissions procedures (something charter schools can't do, but this may indicate a requirement or desire for tracking science classes for students)
- Ability grouping
While it's difficult for me to see the causal relationship of item number 1, it's pretty obvious how the others affect scores. Public posting of test scores is probably not desirable in the U.S., but it does show the success of competitive structure. Many of the other factors can be easily accomplished, especially in charter schools that have the flexibility to determin their own hours and schedule.
More time in the classroom isn't popular for many parents, but if the benefit is better competition with the rest of the world, then perhaps students who have an aptitude for and desire for the pursuit of sciences could be allowed to do so. Perhaps that is a longer class for AP Biology or Chemistry. Perhaps if the class began a half hour early or ended a half hour later at the end of the day? It's just a thought. And now that you know the secret of success in science you can come up with thoughts of your own.
Friday, February 1, 2008
In a business environment (where I spent most of my career), most jobs have pretty obvious measurable outcomes. In my field of finance and accounting, I can easily tell if an accountant is producing the required work and doing it accurately. I can tell if he or she has learned appropriate skills, and I can evaluate effective participation in meetings.
In evaluating a teacher, I have multiple criteria and not all are linked. Because the teacher's "product" is the change and growth in a human being, the teacher does not have complete control over the outcomes. Test scores alone don't measure teacher performance, even though some like Christopher Cerf of the New York City schools seems to lean that way.
Teachers also should be evaluated on their ability to follow the teaching methods required by a school. There is a certain classroom attitude and classroom management that is part of the evaluation. Moreover, test scores and other objective criteria should be included. Because cohorts differ, test scores might need to be adjusted for the current set of students a teacher is developing.
Some of these criteria are subjective. For example, what is good classroom management. There is only one good way to measure this and that is what leads to learning. You see we have just come full circle. What is the measurement of learning.
Let's also face the fact that in most of our charters, we are trying to teach more than academics. We all know that a great mind with evil motives is a huge detriment to society. How do we measure character, and can we measure it at some artificial boundary such as the end of a school year? Is it measured by helpfulness, few tardies, elimination of bullying. How do you measure it if a child was already a good person?
This is extremely difficult and places a great burden on principals. However, this is one more area where the freedom given to charters can lead to innovative ways to measure and evaluate teachers. As we share examples, we can make each other better. If you have a successful evaluation system, won't you share it with me?