Friday, July 15, 2016

Killing a Profession - Part Two

I visit many classrooms. I see teachers; committed, engaging, serious, funny, caring, compassionate, forceful, smart, brave, thoughtful teachers.
And yet, I fear, the profession of teaching is dying.

This isn't the first time that these thoughts have crept into my mind. As it was then, it is true today. In my opinion, there are those who oppose public education and want to kill the profession. 

How do you kill a profession?

Disrespect: Anyone can teach!

Teachers work hard to become certified. Throughout Michigan, we have outstanding colleges and universities that help students interested in becoming public school teachers learn the craft of teaching. Michigan State University, one of the leading Colleges of Education in the United States - consistently ranked at or near the top in both elementary and secondary education - requires a bachelor's degree plus an additional full year unpaid internship.

Five years to learn your content and to learn how to teach. 

Yet the Michigan legislature passed and Governor Snyder signed legislation that allows noncertificated and nonendorsed people to teach in the Detroit Public Schools. The legislation specifically states the following:

Allow the community district to engage a full-time or part-time noncertificated, nonendorsed teacher if the appropriate official in the district determines that, due to the individual's combination of education and experience, it would be appropriate and in the best interests of the pupils of the community district; and provide that if the individual completed three years of successful classroom teaching, that experience would have to be used and student teaching would be waived for the purpose of receiving a provisional teaching certificate.

By passing this law the legislature, whether it was intentional or not, communicates to every teacher in the state of Michigan that their degree, their certification, their work accounts for nothing. It communicates "anyone can do your job."

Dr. Pasi Sahlberg, a well-known Finnish educational expert, calls this "de-professionalism." This idea promotes the idea that anyone can teach.

Some would argue that this bill does not communicate that at all. They would argue that what this bill allows is a well-qualified economist to come in and teach economics. I would disagree!

The trouble with that line of reasoning is that it presumes that the economics degree means something but an education degree does not. That line of reasoning suggests that an economics degree confers that you know economics but an education degree does not confer anything.

Secondly just because a person knows economics does not mean that they know how to teach high school or middle school or elementary age students. Does an economist know how to engage students, challenge students, help students who struggle with English as their primary language? Does an economist know how background and previous knowledge impacts a student's ability to learn new knowledge or how to overcome incorrect prior knowledge that filters how new information is attended to and interpreted?

Let's assume the economist is a college professor. Surely a college economics professor can teach high school students economics? After all what difference is there between a 19 year old college student and a 15 year old high school sophomore?

How you answer that question reveals whether or not you should be teaching in public schools!

This new legislation in Michigan disrespects those who have demonstrated a commitment to our children and who have studied so that they can teach our children well.

How do you kill a profession? Disrespect the profession.

Demonize: Public schools are too expensive

"Private schools could save Michigan $750 million a year" blared the headline. Instead of paying for public schools let's just send students to private schools which can educate students for far less money. This story promotes the idea that public schools are too expensive and that you could provide the same level of education in a private school.

It is true that the tuition for a private school, while it varies widely, is often less than the per-pupil cost that the state provides public schools.  (As a cautionary note on the true difference in cost this article states: "most private schools need funds beyond tuition to run. Survey respondents reported that the total cost to educate one student is nearly 25 percent greater than the rate charged to families, on average.")

How can private schools be less expensive to operate?

  • Private schools rely on part-time teachers in many instances.
  • Private schools often pay their teachers significantly less than public school teachers make.
  • Private schools often do not provide special education services.
  • Private schools often have shorter school years - thus costs are less.
By promoting the idea that public schools are too expensive, public schools are seen as wasteful and reckless.

How do you kill a profession? Demonize the profession.

Demoralize: Reduce hours of work into one number 

The teachers that I know, the teachers that work in my district, are committed, caring, creative, compassionate, intelligent, focused people. They know what they are doing. They work hard for their students. They take it personally when students struggle and they lose sleep when students don't appear to be learning.  They take great pride in creating meaningful and engaging lessons.

Yet, their whole value is captured in a single test score (in Michigan it is the M-STEP state assessment) revealed in the paper on a single day.

The Michigan state legislature has passed legislation that requires 40% of a teacher's evaluation to be tied to student growth - a single test score.

The nuances of learning, the ups and downs, the give and take, the hard work of teaching  - all of it reduced to one single measure.

In my district we will work to create a more comprehensive and holistic method for determining teacher effectiveness. I have great confidence that we will create a meaningful and significant counter measure that will more accurately identify the impact of a teacher in the classroom and of the work a teacher engages in with their students.

But will it matter? It is hard to tell.

How do you kill a profession? Demoralize those who willing choose the work.

I believe in public education.  

I want public schools to work. But sometimes I worry that there are more people who want to kill the profession!