People who suck; teacher quality data; horror stories from the trenches; why New York City schools are more chaotic than Newark's
I thought hard about using my friend's phrase "people who suck" in my last email because I recognize that some who read that might think, "He's anti-teacher." Nothing could be further from the truth, of course. I LOVE capable, committed teachers and want to treat them and pay them MUCH better than they are currently. It's the incapable, uncommitted teachers that I have a problem with. Unless they can quickly improve their performance, they need to be removed from the classroom as soon as possible so students don't continue to suffer and so the teacher can find a profession in which he/she can succeed.
Why is it controversial to say that some (and, too often, many) teachers and principals are lousy at their jobs? It's not controversial to say that some plumbers, doctors, lawyers, investment bankers, police officers, etc. are lousy at their jobs – and I can assure you that many money managers are!
I think there are two reasons why it's not politically correct to criticize educators:
1) Education is viewed as a noble profession, involving great self-sacrifice. In some cases this is true, but in generally I'm not convinced that teachers are making any greater sacrifices than nurses, police officers, firemen and the like. In fact, overall, as these slides show (www.tilsonfunds.com/Personal/Teacherpay.pdf), teachers are quite well paid, have excellent benefits and extraordinary job security.
2) Because there are few sophisticated accountability systems, it's hard to tell who is lousy. But let's be clear: MANY are.
How many? I've never seen any data on principals, but there's some on teachers. The most shocking data is on pages 3, 18 and 19 of this slide deck on teacher quality (www.tilsonfunds.com/Personal/Teacherquality.pdf). Page 3 is based on a Bain & Co. 1998 study of
Slides 18 and 19 are based on a study in
1) % of Teachers from More/Most Selective Colleges
2) % of Teachers With at Least 4 Yrs of Experience
3) % of Teachers Failing Basic Skills Test on 1st Attempt
4) Teachers’ Average ACT Composite and English Scores
5) % of Teachers with Emergency/Provisional Certification
Based on these five measures, the teachers were ranked. The bottom decile teachers were ones who went to nonselective colleges, have little experience, failed the basic skills test on the first attempt, had very low ACT scores and are uncertified. While some of these bottom-decile teachers are excellent, I’d bet my last dollar that the great majority would be in the bottom 1/3 in the
There’s lots more data among these slides that tells a similar story. Hence, my estimate on page 9 that “20-30% of teachers in these [high-poverty, high-minority] schools are highly ineffective” – and I’m probably being conservative. Until these highly ineffective teachers are improved or, more likely, replaced, there will be little progress on closing to achievement gap.
I’m not letting principals off the hook, however. Let me tell you stories I heard this week from one current and two former NYC public school teachers that will curdle your blood. (These are from memory, so are not exact quotes.)
Keep in mind that what these teachers are describing is happening RIGHT NOW and it’s NOT UNUSUAL! In fact, my impression is that for middle schools and especially high schools serving primarily low-income, minority children, both in NYC and in other big cities, this is the NORM!
In a million years, I could not imagine sending one of my children to schools like these, yet every day of every year, we force MILLIONS of low-income, minority children to attend catastrophically failing schools like these (four million children nationwide attend public schools that have been designated as failing for SIX CONSECUTIVE YEARS). This is especially tragic when much better schools (like charters, parochial and other private school) are often literally right down the block, in many cases struggling to survive for lack of resources, while we pour more and more money into our very worst schools. THIS IS MORALLY BANKRUPT AND CERTIFIABLY NUTS!
I’m a second-year teacher at a public school [on the West side of northern
Story #2: We recently had a day off for professional development. These days are a total joke – we usually end up stuffing paper into binders. So, I had the idea of taking some of the new teachers down the hall to visit the highly successful charter school so that we might actually learn something (I’m friendly with the principal). I knew the principal wouldn’t like it, so I slipped it into a last-minute memo, hoping she wouldn’t notice it, but she did and said I couldn’t do this. I did it anyway. When she found out about it, she totally lost it, put a letter of insubordination in my file and spent 20 minutes at the next staff meeting going on a total rant about how insubordination destroys the school’s culture (like there is a culture).
FORMER NYC TEACHER #2 (now teaching in
At my old school in
A few weeks later, we were thrilled to see state examiners show up. They crawled all over the school and we were so excited when, at the end of the process, they called a meeting of everyone at the school. Here’s what they said: “We wanted to come see what you were doing to produce such remarkably good test scores. We’re really impressed with everything we saw. Keep up the great work!”
After I left the school, I found out that they eventually got the principal.
Here’s another story: I wanted to start an after-school basketball program for the students at my school, but ran into a problem with the union rep because I was going to do it in my spare time and not get paid for it. This is a big no-no because if one teacher starts going the extra mile, unpaid, for his or her students, this might lead other teachers to feel pressure to do the same. Fortunately, my union rep was cool and agreed to look the other way and I created a very successful and popular program.
FORMER NYC TEACHER #3 (also now teaching in
I taught in a large 1,000+ student school in northern
There were two stairwells that were designated as “off limits”, which of course meant that only adults never went there, so the kids knew that’s where they could go to do anything they wanted. I’d often find used condoms in the stairwell – and these were 6th through 8th graders!
After I left, they broke the school into four smaller schools, one on each floor. Two weeks ago, I stopped by to see the school and, unchallenged, walked right in and up to the 4th floor. It was pure bedlam. Though classes were in session, there were more kids in the hallway than in the classrooms, singing, dancing and fighting. I’ve seen a lot of chaos in schools, but this was the worst I’ve ever seen!
My observation is that there is more chaos in
1) You can’t touch the kids or you’ll get sued – it’s much more litigious than
2) The other reason