Monday, July 21, 2008

Michelle Rhee's Proposed Reforms

In terms of this,
[Chancellor of D.C. public schools Michelle] Rhee proposes offering teachers the choice of staying in the seniority system or giving up their seniority and tenure rights in exchange for the opportunity to earn as much as $131,000 a year for raising student performance.
Does anybody have any details on the specifics of this proposal, or how it would work in practice? Is this going to be a typical "transformational" union contract deal whereby new teachers are pressed into the "bonus-based, non-tenured" positions while teachers already in the union get similar rewards without accepting similar risks? Given that the D.C. schools don't have the funds to double teacher salaries, how many (or should I say, how few) teachers will actually get the types of bonuses and merit pay Lieberman describes?

One of the advantages of tenure is that it insulates teachers from parental complaints. What incentive will school administrators have to stand behind teachers whose demands and classroom discipline trigger complaints from students and parents, particularly in schools where large numbers of students are disinterested and their parents unsupportive of education? How will student performance be measured? Simply by administration of standardized tests, thus overtly rewarding "teaching to the test" even if other teaching techniques are more inspirational or provide a better framework for learning?


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  2. The hard thing would be for special ed teachers like me. My students learn differently, and while most of them take the MEAP, we don't necessarily measure their progress by "GLCEs", or grade level content expectations (pronounce that as "glicky"). Our kids have IEPs, individualized education plans. Now, if I was a sneaky special ed teacher, I could make their IEP goals super easy, thus guaranteeing that they meet them, and thus earning a stellar salary. That is not something I would do, btw.

    The other problem is kids are visually impaired. Some of them stand a chance of going totally blind. So, what if I set reasonable goals, and the kid loses the rest of her/his vision, thus almost guaranteeing that s/he won't meet the goals and I won't get my bonus. That doesn't strike me as fair, either.

    This is certainly an interesting idea, but somehow they'd manage to screw us in the end.

  3. PS: I am not one of those teachers who complains that we don't earn enough. It's nowhere near $131,000 but when you consider our generous time off, you can't beat it. For instance, while most everyone else is getting ready for work for tomorrow, I'm sitting in my underwear playing on the Internet.

  4. On a related note, it also seems to me that this creates an incentive for teachers to find ways to get "problem students" out of their classes. And by this "performance-based" measure, a "problem student" is not necessarily one that is a behavior problem, but one who isn't keeping up with the class. How does this proposal intersect with "mainstreaming"?

    The ideal school for a teacher, under this proposal, would appear to be an average school. In the best schools, you might risk losing your bonuses by virtue of having high-performing students coming into your classroom. In the weakest schools, you might risk losing your bonuses by having factors far outside your control affect student performance.

  5. Good point, Aaron. There are "ways" of getting rid of certain students, and I know that teachers and schools try to do this anyway. For instance, hypothetically, a certain poster on your blog might teach in a school that for 20+ years fought against having special ed students and, again hypothetically, just talking out of my ass here, might have told a certain teacher (on the first day of school), "We don't want your kids here." Luckily, this plucky teacher and her pluckier boss made things work, but there is often a push to get rid of special ed students, especially EI (emotionally impaired--think paranoid schizo, etc.).
    Hypothetically, of course.


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