Sunday, September 18, 2011

The DOE's Effort To Improve Student Academic Achievement Is Doomed To Fail With The Present Policies In Place.

The DOE keeps coining up with various strategies and policies that they claim will be the "be all and end all" method to improve student academic achievement. Be it the "Workshop model", the "fair student funding" formula, or the "teacher data reports". Just to name a few. However, the results have been less then impressive with only minuscule or no improvement in the decade. Worse, has been the wide and at times a widening academic achievement gap due to both race and income over the last decade. In Tweed's never ending quest to throw good money after questionable programs with little or no academic value, the Central Bureaucracy has seen an explosion of Administrative positions. Between 2003 and 2010 Tweed grew from 1,322 positions to 2,286 employees, an astounding 70% increase! According to a New York Post article there has been an increase of over 16,360 positions in this decade in the DOE while teacher positions have been reduced by 8,000 over the last three years. The result has been large class sizes, experienced teachers without a position, and the influx of unproven and untested people who came from alternate certification programs such as "Teach For America" and the "Teaching Fellows". These programs allowed principals to bring in cheap and warm bodies to fill classroom vacancies without and real preparation to teach in the most challenging environment. This is "children first"? Worse yet was the closing of large comprehensive high schools and the mass excessing of "quality teachers" only to be replaced with small themed schools that are top heavy with administrators and staffed by"newbie teachers". Finally, unrelenting test preparation (teaching to the test) was the mainstay of school grades and students were drilled to do English and Math at the expense of the other subjects. In fact many parents complained about the DOE's narrow focus on the two testing subjects and were ignored, a hallmark of Bloomberg/Klein Administration. All of these issues made it nearly impossible to significantly raise student achievement or to narrow the racial/income academic achievement gap.

What are the solutions to improving the student academic achievement gap? Here are some suggestions that work.

Reduce Class Sizes:

Over the last few years class sizes has risen dramatically as 8,000 teachers have left the system. The increase in New York City large class sizes, the largest in the State, results in more noise, less individualized instruction, and adds to classroom stress. Only the Ed Deformers believe that class sizes don't matter. Just ask any parent, teacher, and student if class size matters; You will get a loud and unanimous yes to that subject.

A Quality Teacher In Every Classroom:

There is no doubt that a "quality teacher" is one of the two most important school-based aspects in improving student academic achievement; The other being class size. However, due to school budget cuts and financial pressure on principals to hire the cheapest teacher due to the "fair student funding" formula, the Bloomberg Administration's definition of a "quality teacher" is much different than everybody else. To the Bloomberg Administration a "quality teacher" is the young and inexpensive teacher that you can abuse and burn out before they ever became vested. To Tweed, recruitment of "newbie teachers" were more important then retention of their existing teachers. Is it any wonder that tenure acceptance rates have dropped drastically this year while the ATR crises just gets worse with almost 2,000 experienced teachers without a classroom position to call their own?

Eliminate The "Fair Student Funding" Formula:

The "fair student funding" formula has resulted in an up to 20% reduction in some schools while not appreciably increased the budget in the low wealth schools that it was intended to help. The result is to force principals to "hire on the cheap" when it comes to teachers and senior teachers are almost guaranteed not to be hired for vacancies at the schools. Furthermore, the inclusion of the actual teacher salaries in the school's budget rather than as a unit is also a disincentive for principals who would want to hire an experienced teacher for his or her classroom and do what is best for the students.

Place ATRs in All Vacancies And Give The Schools An Incentive To Have Them:

The DOE created the ATR mess by closing over one hundred schools, allowing principals to file frivolous or embellished charges against teachers to remove them from their school, and to encourage principals to hire the "newbie teacher" and grant them exemptions to a hiring freeze that have gaps that you can drive a truck through.

If the DOE really wants to improve student academic performance, then the recommendations I made need to be followed. To me that is really "children first".


Pete Zucker said...

The DOE wishes for failure

Anonymous said...

Well, in reality, since it's a "top-down" management world now, why shouldn't NYC seek to cut costs with cheaper labor? The newbies will do as they're told, just like workers do in the real world. The new schools may not do better than the old, but they surely can't do any worse. There is no money left, so the less expensive the better....

Miss RIm said...

Nice comments, I agree. To comment in particular about TFA / Fellows...

I was a Fellow, (special ed) and I felt absolutely robbed and abandoned my first 2 years of school. I was robbed of quality training, and came to the classroom woefully unprepared. It was no use looking forward to the extra 6 hours a week in the graduate school the Fellows assigned me to for guidance - their idea of teaching teacher to teach was - "Here, write a lesson plan for this standard." I can't recall a single instance in which we practiced different ways to break down concepts in order to teach them to special ed students.

We were abandoned to "high needs" schools desperate to hire warm bodies with pitifully sick cultures - most of us in special education- where we were charged with using our inadequate training to get kids who couldn't read to pass a, say 5th grade level, test in 3 months by the craziest of the crazy administrators. And many veteran teachers treated us as if we were a squashed bug on their shoe.

In our inexperience, idealism, and eagerness to do well we didn't know how to stand up for ourselves. Hell, there were times I was probably desperate enough to fall for some of E4E's crap - at least someone would have been listening.(OK, maybe not THAT desperate, but...I sure used a lot of tissues and my blue box was full of beer / wine empties a lot those years)

There were, of course, PLENTY of budding Evans and Rubens and Sydneys (oh my!)who regurgitated jargon and were just ridiculous, but in my experience, anyway, most of us really wanted to be teachers and managed to not let the whole McDegree thing hold us back.

Becoming a teacher through this route changed my life for the better, and I think alternate route certification programs are a really good thing in theory, but in practice they breed-at best- well meaning but ill equipped teachers and -at worst- egomaniacal blustery power hungry personalities bent on their own advancement. If alternate programs continue to exist, than there should be major re-tooling and oversight of quality of training and support.

But don't let the most irritating and vocal of the "newbies" taint your opinion of the rest of us. Mentor us, help us find our voice.

bookworm said...

I actually think that the Teaching Fellows program makes sense in some ways. When I was an undergrad English major (Sec. Ed minor), I was living on my own, working part time and going to school. I literally could not afford to student teach full time at a school for a semester - I had to pay rent, put gas in my car and buy my own food. I ended up teaching in a Catholic school in order to bypass the student teaching requirement. (I intended to do it for a year, but stayed for 7 just because I liked the job and it was 5' from home.) I would have jumped at the opportunity to do something like Teaching Fellows so I could still support myself while training to be a teacher. I also know many people who became disenchanted with other careers who would like to change to teaching, but like me in my undergrad days, cannot afford to work full time for free as a student teacher.

I have seen several Fellows become great teachers. I have seen others take the Master's and run. My issue is that it seems that Fellows are PREFERRED by the DOE and teachers who go through the traditional channels are now passed over. This is patently unfair and a slap in the face to people who choose early in their working lives to become educators.

Mike Marti said...

Good post! This makes me question going through the Certification Programs it takes to become a teacher.