As testing season soon approaches, visions of #edreform dance like sugar plums in teachers’ heads…
Just one of those that’s been dancing in mine.
I read Karl Fisch’s great post over at The Fischbowl about the word “accountability” and how too many in education erroneously equate it with using standardized testing to justify educational actions and decisions.
It got me to thinking how this current phenomenon often has educators, sometimes myself included, pinned in the corner of “all standardized testing is bad.” This is an understandable reaction to the ridiculous, high-stakes, over-emphasized testing of today. When one feels they are under attack, they take a defensive stance. Testing gives a snapshot of a narrow facet of skills, and while it shouldn’t be the focus nor the be-all-end-all… it isn’t completely useless.
After writing recently about my frustrations of the frequent pre-screening before the pretesting before the big test, it must sound like I’m completely backtracking. However, it’s the way the data is used that is important to examine.
Testing should be small, incremental, low-stakes, and personalized. If I have a student who is struggling, as a language arts teacher I should be able to request testing to indicate issues of fluency vs. comprehension to know how best to help him/her. It should be targeted and prescriptive, but this would require trusting educational decisions of professional educations, which is not what’s happening in the political scope of education right now.
Even the larger tests that level students in achievement ranges could be helpful if it were early in the year so teachers could use it to help inform their instruction for the year. However, it’s used at the end of the as a summary of what the student and teacher have “done right”. This, again, is a misuse of the data. It’s an autopsy when only a biopsy can help a teacher help a student. Also, inferences are being drawn from the data which does not measure what it’s being assumed to measure. (ie: “teacher effectiveness.”)
Therefore, high-stakes testing becomes the “goal”. Schools can’t test to see what they need to teach, they are too busy scrambling to teach what’s on the test that contains what someone else decided was important and another said it would carry serious consequences for the student, teacher, and school if some bubbles aren’t colored as well as last year. And consider what that these tests could never measure for just a moment…
Your doctor does not decide your heath on a BMI score or triglyceride reading alone. However, that small piece of data can inform a medical professional if its part of a larger picture. The problem is when non-educators in charge of education (which is a problem in and of itself) decide to measure the doctor’s competence by his/her patients’ BMI average (teacher’s test scores). This is a misuse of the data, and a ridiculous way to measure the doctor.
The current misguided philosophy is that tax payers are paying for “results” (ie: standardized testing scores) out of their teachers. Besides the simple fact that standardized tests don’t measure educational quality, it’s approaching the funding of education completely wrong. You are not buying a result, you are investing in one.
Fiscal conservatives, please listen up: Funding education is an investment that will pay you back in spades. And I don’t mean that hippie-dippy, “the world will just be a better place” crap you may not believe in…you will be better off financially.
Consider a few points from this CBS article titled, “High School Dropouts Costly for American Economy””
I have often heard that for every dollar that is spent in education, we will save ten dollars down the line in the prison system. It doesn’t seem unreasonable, considering this Forbes article titled, “A $5 Children’s Book vs. a $47,000 Jail Cell — Choose One”:
“Can’t Read? Let’s Build You A Prison Cell” says while reading scores to project the numbers of prisons is an urban myth:
“In 2011 the Annie E. Casey Foundation report “Early Warning! Why reading by the end of third grade matters” showed definitively that low-income children who are not reading on grade level by 3rd grades are six times more likely to drop out of high school than their peers are. And low-income children of color who are not at grade level by 3rd grade? Eight times more likely to drop out of high school.”
Meanwhile, my state is cutting teachers’ assistants at those grades to “help” the bottom line. Seems counter-intuitive, doesn’t it?
What does the difference in cost look like to you, the tax payer, in your state?
And just in case you thought it was “different money”…
“Analysis by the National Association of State Budget Officers shows that elementary and high schools receive 73 percent of their state funding from this discretionary fund; colleges and universities count on the fund for half of their budgets. However, $9 out of every $10 that support imprisonment come from the same pot of money.”
Beside the cost of prison, there’s the fact that citizens will be gainfully employed, paying their share of taxes on their higher income, happier and more fulfilled… no, I forgot, we aren’t factoring in that last part.
We have discussed the North Carolina General Assembly’s systematic dismantling of NC education from our unacceptable frozen salaries which rank us dead-last nationally over the last decade to the growing mass exodus of NC teachers.
Are we being heard?
Senator Jerry Tillman [R] is the chair of the Educator Effectiveness and Compensation Task Force. They meet again tomorrow, Monday, April 14th to make their recommendations to the NCGA.
As a citizen and mother in North Carolina, I am gravely concerned about the rapid exodus of teachers leaving North Carolina for higher pay in other states. While I recognize that there are highly qualified teachers such as myself (all “accomplished/distinguished” per this year’s evaluation) who consider North Carolina their home and teaching their calling and refuse to wave the white flag, I completely understand why teachers are leaving at higher rates. Last summer, in my frustration with the legislation that was passed removing teacher tenure and once again denying teachers a cost-of-living adjustment or step increase, I started a blog to archive teacher resignation letters: www.resignnc.org Obviously, most teachers don’t go out in a blaze of glory like this and instead leave quietly, not to burn any bridges in case the situation ever does improve here. But for those brave teachers willing to speak up about why they were leaving, I wanted to create something of a time capsule to the period in which we find ourselves.
Recently, I began thinking about how much this moratorium on teacher pay is costing teachers out of their paychecks. I appreciate that people such as yourself are trying to come up with a system that you believe teachers such as myself (accomplished/distinguished) will prefer because there is the opportunity to earn more. I saw from Mr. Baxter’s presentation last week at the task force (via Twitter) that the current salary schedule is over 100 years old. Indeed, something that old justifies a closer examination of its relevance to the profession of teaching in the 21st century. The question I keep coming back to is this: if we were to poll every school’s “teacher of the year” or those teachers who got the highest performance evaluation at each school, what would they say? Obviously, they’re the ones who stand most to benefit from a new pay structure that recognizes and rewards their work. Yet, I am friends with hundreds (literally) of teachers, many of whom HAVE been teachers of the year at their school and nobody is interested in a model that pays some teachers more than others based on performance and it boils down to the argument I’m sure you’ve heard before: effective school-wide teaching depends on collaboration. When only so many teachers or a certain percentage of teachers can qualify for the higher pay, that creates a competitive atmosphere. And if the state were to say that there are no caps and that any teacher who meets or exceeds a proscribed set of criteria gets additional pay, it’s quite likely we would see a replay of the ABC bonuses wherein the criteria was met but the money wasn’t there. And that gets to the core of the issue: just as legislators clearly do not trust us to do our jobs, we do not trust them to pay what is promised. You can see this playing out now with the 25% contracts. Only the first year of the 4-year contract bonuses are funded. Teachers do not trust that the money will be there beyond that. (Though, obviously, our concerns about those contracts run deeper than the lack of funding).
In the meantime, teachers are making less many than they did 5 years ago. In fact, I took the time to create a blog post about this a few weeks ago and it’s generated quite a bit of traffic so far: resignnc.org/five-steps-back I wanted to share it with you. I am a teacher with 14 years of experience. I have a master’s degree (required for my position) and national board certification (an experience which truly did make me a better teacher). I am making $2560 less than a teacher with my EXACT credentials did in 2008. Over the past five years, I have lost a total of approximately $15,000. That’s the cost of a new economy car. That’s a year and a half of tuition at my son’s preschool. That would pay for 4 years of the Duke TIP camps that my daughter qualifies for but cannot attend because we can’t afford it.
I recognize that these numbers are based on the salary schedule that you and others feel is antiquated but right now it’s the only pay structure we have. And it’s the salary schedule we agreed to when we signed our contracts years ago. We have held up our end of the bargain but the state has not. We recognize that in 2008 the state entered a deep recession and when our pay was frozen the first year, most of us were grateful not to have been furloughed. But this year when the state cut revenue that could have been used to help teachers in order to instead help the wealthy and corporations, the trust between teachers and legislators hit an all-time low. And that is why any proposal for a hastily-prepared new salary structure will not be well-received by teachers: we have lost faith that the legislators are doing what’s best for us or for our students. What would it take to open our minds and hearts to something new? An act of good faith on part of the state to restore our step increases and get our base pay up to the national average. Then we will know their money is where their mouth is when they say they value education.
Until then, I will continue to collect resignation letters and hope that enough qualified teachers remain to prepare my own children for the future.
And so they should.
North Carolina often fills positions from teachers in states like Ohio and New York where turnover is low and teachers can’t find positions. However, with no more pay for advanced degrees in NC, most of those candidates will likely no longer be coming here anymore.
Besides needing to attract teachers, there’s the issue of teacher turnover. NCDPI was concerned enough about this very issue to send a report to the General Assembly. You can read the whole report here, but I’ve compiled a few highlights:
You’ll notice it’s not just that more teachers are leaving, but that more and more tenured, experienced teachers are leaving. The mentors of the beginning teachers. The department chairs. The leadership team members. The teachers any principal needs upon which to build a school.
The concerns the data raise are only the tip of the iceberg for what I feel is impending, based on my front-row view from the classroom trenches.
For example, of significant note but not yet reflected in this report is the fact that in Wake County alone, the number of teachers who have left specifically to teach in another state have already doubled so far this year from this data last year.
And…it’s still only February.
Also consider this year so far this blog has included:
None of these facts are reflected in the reported data. Yet.
And then, this week a teacher raise for only new teachers was proposed. This conversation, which I’ve been given permission to share with you, should give you some insight into the morale and mindset of North Carolina’s teacher leaders:
These are some of the best educators in North Carolina classrooms from all over the state. And although I can personally vouch for their exceptionalism as educators, I am certain these sentiments are not exceptional. Conversations like this one are happening on every facebook wall and in every teacher lounge in the state.
It was September 2000. My first year teaching. Greenville County, South Carolina.
A math teacher on my hall, whose name escapes me now, left on maternity leave. The woman they got to sub for her was a parent of one of the seventh-graders at the school. She had been a fairly prominent and successful businesswoman, running a major division of IBM up until she’d had her son. After staying home with him for the first 12 years of his life, she thought substitute teaching would be a great slow start back into the workforce.
Exactly. I hear you all laughing right now and I share in your chuckle.
What I remember so clearly about this woman was her way of explaining how overwhelmingly demanding teaching is as compared to a job in the business world:
When I worked for IBM, my job was to make phone calls, process paperwork, make contacts, and have meetings. Now as a teacher, I still have to do all of these things. I need to plan lessons. I need to call parents. I need to process paperwork. I need to grade stacks of papers. I need to meet with other teachers, with parents, and with administrators. However, very little time during my day is available for me to actually do any of the that large part of my job. Teachers have a 9-to-5 job’s worth of work to do, and they can’t get any of it done from 7:30 to 3:00.
Coming from the business world, this seemed to really shock her. If you’re a teacher reading this, you’re nodding and smiling (or rolling your eyes) as you already know what she was just learning: Teachers are almost always “on” for their audience. They rarely sit at a desk and work. They are constantly meeting students’ needs: moving and teaching and coaching and intervening and quite often forgoing sitting for lunch or taking restroom breaks. Their own tasks and goals must wait.
However, this concept of a teacher’s time during the day seems to elude the public at large, with common comments like: “It must be so nice to be done by 3 o’clock.” and “I emailed you this morning, but I haven’t gotten a response from you yet.”
I can’t help but wonder: Why doesn’t George Clooney have to deal with this crap? Is anyone under the impression that he spent the exact 116 minutes it takes to view Ocean’s Eleven to actually make it? No. The American public understands that a movie takes months or even years to make those two hours. However, they fail to understand that the teacher – who’s paid dirt compared to Hollywood – is also working under a misleading ratio of time-in and quality product-out.
Teachers are not compensated for most if not all of the time they put in preparing innovative lessons. Sure, a teacher could just “phone it in” and not spend as much extra time on lesson planning. A teacher that just gives textbook work and worksheets? That’s what that looks like. Few educators, however, want to be a C-list or D-list teacher. Many educators strive to be A-list, putting their hearts into a quality product well after the school bell has rung.
And while I am sure teachers put in time outside the scheduled day the world over, the United States compensates its teachers particularly poorly for our time demands compared to other countries:
So our society either needs to:
– or –
With the current climate, I may be asking too much just with verbs like ‘recognize’ and ‘acknowledge’, but I intend to aim high…
This week, four more teachers on my school’s staff announced that they are leaving the classroom for greener pastures. These losses are in addition to the language arts department chair’s letter to Governor McCrory, a colleague from another school, and my PLT-mate of almost a decade who has already left.
These opportunities are well-deserved and no one who remains in the classroom could fault anyone for taking them. However, each one is the loss of an educator who daily and directly touched the lives of students. Those of us left in the pragmatic and emotional wake of their departure feel stretched and strained. They each will be missed dearly.
One of these fallen fellow classroom warriors, Trishia Joy Lowe, wrote the following of her classroom departure and has graciously allowed me to share it here with you.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Today, I leave what I have loved doing for nearly twenty years – teaching, NOT education, TEACHING. I put in my papers and am moving forward to a career in business as a Director in Growth and Public Relations.
It is bitter-sweet.
I loved the classroom when it was just My students, THEIR love of learning, and ME. That’s REAL, that’s AUTHENTIC, THAT IS ALIVE. I had an obligation to impart a passion for learning, not just grades. I took seriously my responsibility to build skills, ignite curiosity, and grow my students intellectually – to hold my students as accountable to their progress as I held myself – not merely to answer A-B-C-D or None of the Above.
However, too many outside factors have faded that beautiful reality, that “life all its own”, that love of learning in my students and in me. (Yes, I learned so much from those beautiful, honest little people).
Too many influences have robbed us of our ability to share freely, teach openly, assess each other honestly, and grow. Too many factors stand between me and my students as I teach – they have polluted what was once a pure process.
So, I’m waving the “White Flag”.
As I tendered my own resignation, I learned two more outstanding North Carolina teachers are leaving the classroom in my building. How many more teachers need to leave NC schools before parents understand there are highly trained, highly educated, highly intelligent, highly committed professionals who stand before their children each day, pouring everything THEY’VE got into THEIR children?
How many more skilled teachers need to leave before administrators “get it” and allow the truly “best and brightest” the autonomy to teach passionately without fear? To assess honestly for the sake of a child’s REAL growth without questioning from administrators as to our “judgement”?
How many more NC teachers need to leave before legislators just leave the professionals alone to do what they do best—TEACH?
(And by the way: a pay raise commensurate with that professionalism might be nice.)
Teachers have and continue to “fight the good fight” despite legislators, who, in many instances, are less educated, and less committed to people than their own pockets. Teachers’ pockets were emptied long ago, but they continue to teach passionately and courageously while digging deeper into their emptying pockets to buy supplies for their students and their classrooms.
However, the camel’s back is breaking.
What happens when the camel finally wanders off for a better oasis?
I wonder, what our children will be left with?
Monday, our State Superintendent June Atkinson released this statement with this opening line:
“For the first time in my career of more than 30 years in public education, I am truly worried about students in our care.”
NCAE has a list of Top 10 Things Every Educator Should Know About the Budget and created and released this video about tomorrow’s final Moral Monday rally. Important stuff.
However, since the big picture data and powers-that-be have not seemed to slow our legislature, I thought this week’s post needed a different tactic. My department chair and colleague, Emily Blake, has written a brilliant letter to the Governor and is allowing me to share it here as a guest post on TSV. I’d hoped hearing from one teacher and constituent who voted for him twice would at least give the Governor pause. However, he already signed the budget into law Friday.
Since I was a little girl, I dreamed of being a teacher, and I have dedicated my entire life to realize that dream. I graduated top of my class in high school and summa cum laude at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. I am a fourth year teacher, a NC Teaching Fellow, and a technology contact and the language arts department chair for my school. I love the students I teach, have high growth in my EOG test scores, and work with some of the most dedicated and intelligent people in our state.
When I was first hired and was told my salary, I made grandiose plans to save $500 a month. After the first month of teaching, I had less than $20 in my bank account, and needless to say, nothing in my savings account. After purchasing supplies for my classroom, paying my student loan bills, and paying rent, I realized how little I actually made. Not to mention, my first year of teaching I did not leave school until the janitor set the alarm at 8:30 at night (which means that I was working 12 hour days). I justified putting my personal life and savings plan on hold because I felt like I was making a difference in my students’ lives.
While I still believe that I positively impact our future generation on a daily basis, I refuse to remain in a profession that is demonized by lawmakers. Two years ago we began using an evaluation system that logs in with our paystub numbers. On the evaluation, there are absurd standards that require me to care about my students and teach my curriculum. I would not have gone into the profession if I did not have students’ best interest in mind; I want my students to succeed and learn everything I can possibly teach them in 180 days. The budget that is likely to be passed eradicates my chance of tenure at the end of this school year which means I would have to prove every year that I care about my students and adequately teach them. I also have no hope of a raise, despite the rate of inflation. As a “professional”, that is a slap in the face.
I have watched my colleagues who are close to retirement break down and cry about how they cannot afford to retire with how little they make due to the lack of raises in the past several years. I can no longer rationalize the sacrifices I have made as a teacher in the state of North Carolina. I do not want to end up like my older colleagues who are burnt out, overworked, and vastly underpaid. At the end of this school year, I plan on leaving the profession in order to avoid that fate. Access to effective public education starts with qualified teachers, which will be difficult to find if these legislative trends continue.
In both the 2008 and 2012 elections, I voted for you as a result of your record and success as Charlotte’s mayor. I urge you to veto the budget and any other legislation that would once again make us the “Rip Van Winkle State”.
Last week’s post got an insane amount of attention and was even featured in the news:
It surprised me, to say the least. I spent the week mediating, reading, and responding to more comments than “Teaching Speaks Volumes” has received in its entire year.
The 176 comments thus far mostly fall into three categories:
1. Passion and Experience Passionate, dedicated educators (and some in college studying to be one) shared their experiences and articulated their frustrations. Also, those that understand our plight voiced support. It was clear that this post resonated with educators of all political walks, as I’d noted at the beginning of the post was holding true in the other discussions I was having. It’s worth the read – these comments were quite moving.
2. Political finger-pointing “Gov McCrory has only been in office for less than 7 months. It’s not his fault”.
Ironically, I’d be willing to bet it was the same people who get angry when President Obama’s camp brings up George W who made sure to point out how short McCrory has been in office thus far.
Both “sides” can make claims about how the other “side” did such-and-so “before they got here”. As I tried to articulate in the post: I don’t care to argue who created what portion of what mess; I care about cleaning it up. Can we all get on the same “side” please? The one with the American citizens’ best interests? Politics right now is so into being on sides with “winners” that it is our society’s future and the children who are the “losers”. The blame game is not helpful. We are where we are. And where we are sucks. Let’s just fix it.
Gov. McCrory and the current legislation are the ones tasked with the care of our state now. We address them not because they are where it all started, but because they are where we need it to begin to end. It is my fervent hope that a better understanding of teachers’ current frustrations, both from the data in the infographic and from the experiences witnessed in comments by educators, could help them make better decisions than we have experienced thus far.
3. Accusations of Greed “If you’re only doing it for the money, then go find the money. If you’re doing it because you like your job and you want to help kids, what are belly-aching for? They haven’t fired you, have they?” ~Actual commenter quote
Some comments provided excellent examples of the opinion pervasive in the public that makes this such an uphill battle for teachers: “If you really loved the kids, you wouldn’t be griping about money.”
It is this line of thinking that, while I can’t speak for all teachers, I personally find the most insulting and infuriating. It is as condescending as it is out-of-touch with the reality of our situation.
Wanting to serve the best interests of students
doesn’t shouldn’t mean we have no right to be able to provide for our own families. We are not expecting to get rich from what we do. We are wanting a living wage. It is increasingly impossible to be a teacher and afford life’s basics. Some can’t afford basic care for their own kids. We are college graduates – this should not be a poverty-stricken job.
Just how rich are we not getting?
I close with my latest easel.ly infographic where I explored that very question: