Sunday, March 13, 2011

Fire those lazy teachers!

The governor of Tennessee, Bill Haslam, wishes to change teachers' working conditions in that teachers can be evaluated based on their students' standardized test results.  He wants to delay granting tenure to teachers until they have worked five years.  He also wants to teachers to lose their tenure status if their students perform poorly on the standardized tests.

One would need to assume that different kinds of teachers would need to have their students perform standardized tests.  Those students could come from all grades including kindergarten, Special Education, and ESL.  Subject specific teachers would need to have their students tested in Physical Education, Music, and another subject language such as Spanish or French.

Fire all those bad teachers!  That would be nice.  However, are those teachers supposedly poor teachers because their students performed poorly in standardized tests, or is it due to poor teaching and learning strategies?  One can be an excellent teacher, and still have students performing poorly on standardized tests.  Even if one takes into account socio-economic factors such as neighborhood average family income and levels of education, a teacher may work with a different group of students from one year to the next.  One group may be high achievers, while next year's group may have some extra behavioral needs.

Teachers do employ different teaching and learning strategies with their students.  However their administration (principals and vice-principals) set the tone and direction on what teachers should emphasize.  Administrators also set the weekly timetables.  I have seen administrators make teachers teach Language Arts to students in the afternoon.  Language Arts is probably the most serious subject which sets up the students for success on standardized tests.  It is very difficult to teach students literacy skills through Language Arts when students are tired in the afternoon.  Administrators who make their teachers teach Language Arts in the afternoon set up their teachers to have their students "fail" on standardized tests.  The teachers will get blamed for the poor student performance because the administration has made a poor scheduling decision on the timetable, or because teachers were told to emphasize different teaching & learning techniques or content areas.

Once teachers lose tenure protection, that means it will be extremely difficult for their unions to protect them.  Teachers who lose this protection will be the ones whose students perform poorly one year on standardized tests.  Who decides the aggregate success or failure on those tests?  The state or provincial governments?  Administration?  Through negotiation with the unions?  Teachers at most risk under new rules will not be the ones whose students perform poorly.  The teachers who are at risk will be the ones who challenge their administrations.  Those teachers are the ones who voice their concerns most expressively (even within professional parameters).  Administrations will not only be able to fire the so-called bad teachers; they will be able to fire the good teachers.  I know this is only a movie, but if one watches Lean on Me, there is one scene where Principal Clark fired a good music teacher for being insubordinate in his opinion.

In terms of tenure, one must note that tenure does not mean that a poorly performing teacher cannot be terminated.  It just means that administration must justify its reasoning for firing a teacher, and must prove that it had taken steps to ensure that the teacher had received up-to-date training so that the teacher could improve his or her teaching abilities.

Tennessee Governor Haslam's proposal to change teacher tenure based on standardized tests results and by delaying the right to tenure will mean that fewer qualified people will seek teaching as a profession.  Within five to ten years, there could be teacher shortages because people will not want to enter the teaching profession where teachers will not be valued both monetarily and socially by the government.


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