The report focuses on how poor not-White kids fare in Midwestern schools, and discovers, surprise!, teacher quality and effectiveness play great roles in the quality of education imparted, and, surprise!surprise!, if you're poor, if you're Black, if you're Latino, if you're living in a metropolis your chances of getting a worthless instructor are much higher than if you weren't. The only truism lacking from this work is the fact that if you're poor and not-White, you also need a quality instructor more than other kids.
The Education Trust is making sense, and continues to do so in their recommendations. Among these are the following:
- Providing salary incentives to attract high-quality, experienced principals to work in schools that serve high concentrations of poor and minority students and linking their pay to improved conditions and improved achievement.
- Identifying effective teachers and paying them more to teach in schools with shortages.
When you work in high-need communities and schools the job is harder. A school becomes the vehicle used to counter the debilitating effects of poverty, crime, depression, inequitable funding distributions, and so on. Teachers become the filters, using their time and energy to bridge all gaps. They work with proportionately fewer resources to achieve proportionately greater outcomes, more often than not for less pay. Enough. Really compensate the people -- especially the principal leaders -- who commit to working in these communities, the people capable of bringing about results, not those who have rolled down the proverbial hill like that most notorious of body excretions, landing in the places where their inaptitude is most damaging.
- Giving teachers who work in the poorest communities fully paid sabbaticals.
I know many teachers who ceased teaching [Disclaimer: They were almost exclusively members of Teach For Awhile, which may invalidate this point] because the challenges and difficulties of enacting change in under-performing schools built to the point where they could no longer face the job and its myriad difficulties. I wonder how the availability of a sabbatical would have affected their decision-making. I envision a scenario of a year away from the classroom, a year spent recovering, planning, taking classes, and eventually returning to the same high-needs environment better prepared to enact change and foster achievement. What would such opportunities do for teacher retention and teacher quality?
- Reserving tenure for those teachers who demonstrate effectiveness at producing student learning.
Demonstrate it through test scores, demonstrate it through arbitrary observation, demonstrate it through a scaled score on a state-wide rubric, I don't care so long as teachers are required to evince some measure of quality before they are given a life-time guarantee of employment. I've been handed "Permanent" employee status in my district by virtue of not leaving and not being a kiddie toucher. We should expect and demand more.
I like this report. I like its conclusion and recommendations. Beyond that, I like the forthright acknowledgment that there are two separate educational realities within the realm of public schooling. The chasm exists, and maybe we need to open ed schools that specialize in preparing teachers to teach the poor. Maybe we should offer P-credentials to teachers and administrators, and forbid those individuals without a specific skill set and knowledge to work with our most at-risk populations. Maybe we need to organize local NEA affiliates that are intellectually flexible enough to protect teacher's rights in high-needs schools without taking stances that hurt kids. Maybe we've succeeded in acknowledging that a public school in Compton is not the same as one in Santa Barbara, but I don't think we've actually done anything with this newfound knowledge. If working for the day when these disparities do not exist means formalizing and instituting awareness of the disparities, then let's go.
Commenter Polski3 writes, "Union flexibility? I doubt any affiliate of the NEA or AFT would approve a tiered contract with teacher benefits defined by the needs of a school."
No doubt he's right. But it shouldn't have to be that way, for two reasons. One, the decentralization of massive urban school districts -- to the extent that it has occurred, to the extent that it will occur in the future -- has essentially created these tiered contract situations anyway. I'll look to the 408, and it's main city, San Jose, which is carved up into numerous school districts of various levels of homogeneity, (my own district is composed almost entirely of Title I schools filled with ELLs). Each district has its own CTA/NEA bargaining unit, and each has negotiated contracts of various value to the individual teacher. These contracts are tiered of course, but the money flows in the opposite direction dictated by common sense and the need to improve schools. In practice, how is this situation different than a hypothetical move to formalize the vast differences that already exist between schools by creating different bargaining units that could advocate more effectively because a broad spectrum of issues and importance has been narrowed to a highly specific one.
Two, it can only be a matter of time before the doctrine of equality espoused by unions collapses under the weight of its own dislogic. Look, I know leading a teacher-union is immensely difficult, if for no other reason than the rasion d'etre of a union qua union is in this case tempered by a host of other factors, namely the does-it-hurt-students test. Your average plumbers union does not suffer from second-guessing about whether or not a particular stance will, in the long run, adversely affect the nature of in-door plumbing. That said, when unions impede reforms on the basis of maintaining equality in the workplace among all members, I want to rage against machines. This is the intellectual equivalent of a fart. The vast inequalities that exist among union members working under the same contract, especially in large urban districts that tend to educate both the most elite and the most poor, are so looming, so pervasive, so absurdly apparent, that to push forward with this we're-all-the-same rhetoric makes you want to take these leaders on field trips or lock them in rooms with relevant power points and shout See? See? See?
And it's not just the money, these hypothetical and oft-ballyhooed increases or merit advances or whatever. It's about flexibility and responsivity and the acknowledgement of non-universivity. Every secondary school invited to present at that WestEd sponsored symposium on how to get out of Program Improvement status had made alterations to their existing schedule and the way their school-day was structured. Every one. These tend to not be issues the average school in the Oakland hills needs to address, but these alterations to contractual minutes and obligations tend to be critical for schools in West Oakland. The demand that the latter resemble the former lest equality be undermined seems more than a little absurd, and admits more than a little potential for damage. Again, let us acknowledge that things are not equal, really internalize what that means, and act accordingly.