Beginning in Sadness
Thank you for taking a moment to read the very first blog post on InterACT, which will eventually become a group blog produced by members of ACT – Accomplished California Teachers. You can read more about our organization by clicking the link above, but in short, we are a new and growing network of California teacher leaders, committed to bringing more teacher voice to the debates and discussions around education policy. It’s all well and good for think tanks and politicians and pundits to tell us all what they think they know about education, but there’s usually a credibility gap that they need to be called on. They don’t understand classroom realities. They don’t understand teaching and learning the way that we do. It’s up to us to show why that matters and bring about better results in our field. We look forward to sharing our vision, and hearing from our readers.
I had no shortage of ideas about what to write for my first post. ACT is about to publish a report on teacher evaluation reforms, at a time when the federal government and state are looking closely at that topic as part of the “Race to the Top,” and Los Angeles Unified School District is also looking at significant changes in evaluation. We’ve had major changes to state education policy, raging debates about charter schools and a “parent trigger,” and every time you look it seems like LAUSD has new school reform plans, or the willingness to hand over the reins to someone who does. At the same time, the Department of Education has proposed its changes to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, also known in recent years as No Child Left Behind). You can read their press release, or Diane Ravitch’s critique of the plan, and I’m sure I’ll take up that issue later as well. It might need to wait because the Common Core Standards drafts were just released, and depending on whom you ask, that’s wonderful or dreadful. Anyone else getting dizzy yet?
And yet, I find myself unable to focus on any of those topics today, because of these:
- Pink slips sent to thousands of Calif. teachers
- LA Unified School District to Eliminate All Certified Librarians
- And here’s how one of our ACT members, Alice Mercer, is reacting to her own pink slip.
My heart goes out to all of the teachers, students, and all of their families as they confront these difficult times. But, beyond an expression of sympathy, I want to ask a few questions.
How do we even sustain the current quality of a school, let alone improve, when we remove the people most responsible for the fulfilling the mission of the school? It’s not as if the teachers who remain can continue the same quality work they were doing before the layoffs. When class sizes expand beyond the capacity of the room, and beyond the capacity of the teacher to plan lessons or grade work, then even those who remain are likely to be severely hampered in their efforts to carry on. When you’ve designed curriculum and projects that are organized around a certain allocation of time and resources, then, at a minimum, you have to retool the work to fit the circumstances, and in most cases, I’d suggest you have to sacrifice certain qualities of the curriculum. And when the shuffle of teachers puts teachers in a new position, then, as experienced teachers will tell you, the first year in a new position is rarely as effective as the years that follow. So every teacher forced into a new job will likely have some adjustments to make that will add to the challenges we face. (There might be some sensible reforms to enact regarding the strict reliance on seniority in these situations, but you can’t expect to craft wise policy reforms in a rush, and in this economic climate).
How do we overcome the ever-growing student-teacher ratio and expect to make a dent in the dropout crisis? The dropout problem is a matter of relationships, support, relevance, and trust. Preventing students from dropping out is intensive work, often one-on-one work. It’s good work, important work, work that pays off both in the spirit and in the strength of our state finances. But, with that many more students to teach, few counsellors, no librarians, we’re guaranteeing that many more drop-outs, that much less higher education and that much less skilled labor, lower productivity, lower revenues, increased crime and all of the costs associated with that.
How do we prepare to meet the growing need for teachers? With a wave of retirements ahead of us and a wave of students going through the system, we need more teachers at a time when we’re paying for fewer, and we’re choking off the supply of future teachers. How many wonderful new educators have we lost? How many more are we about to lose? How many potential teachers are looking at this mess and choosing an alternative career, and how many of those will we reclaim? Time may allow for the shifts of supply and demand to work out in our favor, but the years that it takes for that to happen are years that our students are spending in school. We are not dealing with a factory that can can order more or less raw material and adjust the pace of production. The students are coming. (Whose children, though? I can’t help but wonder how many state legislators have their own children enrolled in “revenue limit” public school districts – those hit hardest by the budget cuts).
The students are there. Our students. Is it naïve to call on our leaders to show a sense of allegiance to our state, some compassion for fellow Californians? It shouldn’t be optional to offer a decent education. It should be unthinkable for our state to treat students and their families with such contempt, to allow education to be so degraded.