From the folks over at Standing Together for Strong Community Schools:
From the folks over at Standing Together for Strong Community Schools:
The results of the Survey of the American Teacher for 2012 are out and guess what? Teachers aren’t very happy. Teacher job satisfaction is at an all-time low and has dropped 23 points over the past five years, including a 5-point drop between 2011 and 2012.
Guess what happens to people who aren’t very satisfied with their work? 1) They don’t do it very well and 2) They end up leaving that job and finding something more satisfying.
But why? What might be making teachers so dissatisfied?
Well, the value-proposition for teachers is not a great one, for starters. Pay is not great and support is not great and so teachers don’t feel good about their relative value.
Specific to Tennessee, a number of “reforms” have taken shape in recent years that no doubt contribute to the unhappiness of the Tennessee teacher.
First, there was the successful effort to end collective bargaining in Tennessee. This in spite of the fact that no evidence was shown that this would improve student outcomes. Collective bargaining in Tennessee was mostly about giving teachers a seat at the table when budgets and salaries and resources were discussed. Rarely did teachers strike and they certainly never held Boards hostage for huge pay increases. In fact, many local teacher’s associations bargained for textbooks and other resources for students in place of raises for the teachers. One middle Tennessee district’s teachers offered to forego a raise for the length of a 3-year contract in exchange for keeping the health insurance match intact. Instead, the teachers saw their portion of health insurance increase and have so far gone without a local raise for six years. Now, with no seat at the table at all, teachers across Tennessee have even less input into district operations and resources. And it’s not like Tennessee’s state or local governments are lavishing high pay and impressive resources on teachers.
The same year that collective bargaining ended for Tennessee teachers, the state implemented a new evaluation system. Policymakers seemed to think it was more important to get the evaluations in place than to get them right. And there have been changes in the first two years and more changes coming. Imagine being told by your boss that there are certain standards you have to meet. Then being told that all of that will now change. And then change again next year and the year after that. How secure would you feel about your job? That’s what Tennessee teachers are facing.
This year, instead of focusing on boosting teacher pay or increasing support through mentoring or coaching programs or adding more resources to schools, legislators are focused on an unproven (and in the case of one Vanderbilt study — proven NOT to work) performance pay schemes.
And the Governor is focused on adding an even less proven and likely expensive voucher scheme to the mix.
This is a state that truly took a step forward with the BEP back in 1992. Then stopped fully-funding it when it got too expensive about six years later. Then, Pre-K was expanded. And the expansion has stopped because finding the money became too difficult. And possibly because it became trendy to suggest that we could improve our schools without making new investments in the people in them. Four classes of 4-year-olds have become kindergarteners since the last expansion of Pre-K. This in a state with one of the lowest rates of college degree attainment. That’s four years worth of students who are significantly less likely to graduate from high school. And for those who do, they are far less ready for college than they would have been if they had enjoyed access to the high-quality Pre-K program Tennessee offers a fraction of its families.
The BEP was reformed as BEP 2.0 around 2007. That reform, too, proved too expensive. Many districts around our state would have seen significant increases had the new BEP been fully-funded these last few years. Instead, budget challenges (and unwillingness to raise revenue) at the local level have meant stagnation in teacher pay and a lack of resources for students.
Tennessee’s education policy history is fraught with examples like these. Well-meaning reforms and investments thwarted when the going gets tough and finding money for schools gets too difficult.
And now, we’re asking more from our teachers than ever before with less pay, no seat at the table, and few resources. Is it any wonder they are dissatisfied?
I applaud SCORE CEO Jamie Woodson and Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman for their column advocating a sharper focus on teacher quality in Tennessee. They point out that Tennessee’s colleges should be more selective in terms of who enters teacher preparation programs and also that teacher licensure should be a more rigorous process. These are both laudable goals.
Their basis for making this argument is research suggesting that a child’s teacher is the number one school-based factor influencing student achievement.
Let’s be clear about what this means before we go further. Most research suggests that school-based factors account for roughly 50% of the impact on student achievement. Non-school factors (home life, poverty, education level of parents, etc.) account for the other 50%. Of school-based factors, a child’s teacher can impact up to 50% of student achievement. That makes it the biggest school-based influencer on student achievement. But it also means teacher quality accounts for 25% of the impact on student achievement. 75% is beyond the teacher’s control. At that level, you could have amazing teachers and get the other 75% wrong and the student will still struggle and likely fail.
That said, school systems can only really control school-based factors and of those, teacher quality is the one with the biggest potential for influence. So, it makes sense to focus attention there. Of course, it also makes sense to ensure that schools are clean and safe, that class size is optimized, that principals are instructional leaders, and that the overall environment is conducive to learning. But focusing on teachers from a policy perspective is a sensible approach to impacting student achievement.
So, let’s examine the specific proposals put forth by Huffman and Woodson. First, they propose a more selective process for admission into teacher preparation programs. Next, they suggest making licensure a more rigorous process.
Again, both are sensible proposals.
Here’s the challenge in Tennessee. In order to be more selective about who becomes a candidate for a job or who is admitted to a program, the overall value proposition has to be high. Fields like law and medicine lure academic high achievers because the outlook for successful completers is positive. Career satisfaction, good pay, prestige. By contrast, teaching has a low value proposition. Many teachers in Tennessee will retire never earning what even the average lawyer or doctor makes. The attrition rate for teaching is high. Nearly 50% of teachers leave the field in their first five years, according to Richard Ingersoll. That means teaching is tough and the field weeds out those who can’t or don’t want to do the demanding work involved on the front end.
So, why would a college student choose to submit to a highly selective process for admission to a teacher education program only to enter a field where there’s a good chance they won’t make it past the first five years and if they do, they’ll earn far less than other professionals? They simply won’t. Which is why the bar for admission right now is relatively low.
To change this, Tennessee policymakers must stop talking about what they can do TO teachers and start talking about what they can do FOR teachers.
John covered the issue of performance pay in some depth. However, this plan appears to rely solely on a reallocation or infusion of local dollars to fund a new pay scheme. There’s no mention of additional state dollars or a revamping of the BEP to allow for the performance pay envisioned in the bill. Plus, as John points out, a study of performance pay by Vanderbilt of teachers in Tennessee shows such a scheme is not likely to be effective.
What does work, as indicated in this London School of Economics study, is paying teachers more. The study indicates that raising teacher pay has a clear link to student achievement. Raise pay 10%, student performance goes up roughly 10%. Why? Making the field more attractive does two things: It encourages people to pursue teaching and stay in the field AND it adds to the prestige of the profession (which also helps with retention of high performers). Metro Nashville Public Schools has some experience with this as when they moved to a new pay scale setting a minimum salary of $40,000 ($6,000 more than it had been) and enabling teachers to reach the top of the scale in 15 years rather than 25, they saw three times as many applicants for teaching jobs than they had in the past. The value proposition went up and MNPS was able to choose among applicants for the best fits for open positions.
Of course, changing the value proposition is not just about paying teachers more. It is also about ensuring they have the support they need to succeed.
One area of support is meaningful induction. That means a focused mentoring program in the first two to three years of a teacher’s career. Research at the New Teacher Center suggests that a meaningful induction program improves both teacher retention AND student learning. Tennessee has no comprehensive teacher induction program and no funding on the table to support such a plan.
Yes, we should accelerate our efforts around teacher quality in Tennessee. But if we focus solely on doing to instead of for teachers, we’ll run out of gas (and teachers) before we get very far down the road.
Michelle Rhee seems to have her hands firmly around Tennessee Education policy as this legislative session begins. Rhee’s group, StudentsFirst, contributed more than $200,000 (or was it more?) in state legislative races in 2012 and they’re getting what they paid for. In short, Rhee’s top policy priorities are now the top priorities of the legislature and Governor Haslam. Here’s a rundown of these policies — all very much en vogue among the education reform elite. None particularly useful in moving Tennessee schools forward.
Or, as some like to call them, “Opportunity Scholarships.” After the Governor’s Task Force on Vouchers came up short of clear recommendations for a voucher scheme, Governor Haslam appeared to cool to the idea. He noted instead that legislators may bring forth a plan and he’d work with that. Then, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush came to town in early January and immediately following the Governor’s public event with Bush, Haslam announced he’d be introducing his own version of a voucher scheme. Never mind that the four largest school districts — the ones most likely to be impacted by a voucher plan — have all expressed opposition. And never mind that many private schools have indicated that they won’t accept the vouchers. Haslam has seen the light as shown to him by Bush and Rhee and he’ll now be moving to divert state education dollars to private schools. This in a state that ranks near the bottom in per pupil spending on public education.
Tennessee already has among the most liberal charter school laws in the country. Any student in any district that has charter schools may attend a charter school. The local school boards do, however, have control over authorizing a charter to operate in their district and control over closing charters if they are failing. All seemed to be going well with charters opening and growing in Memphis and Nashville. And then there was Great Hearts vs. Metro Nashville. While the Metro Nashville School Board approved several new charters in 2012 and has been fairly aggressive about recruiting charter operators to town, the Board rejected the charter application of Arizona-based Great Hearts Academy. They did so over concerns about diversity and legitimate questions over whether the school would truly meet the community’s needs. The State Board of Education over-ruled the Metro Board and directed them to reconsider. A new school board was elected. And the new board ALSO rejected Great Hearts. So, the state department of education, headed-up by Rhee’s ex-husband, Kevin Huffman, hit Metro with a $3.4 million penalty — withholding BEP funds the district was counting on. Now, Great Hearts is lobbying for a state charter authorizer — a state board that would be unelected and unaccountable — to be created. This charter authorizer would allow charter operators to bypass local school boards and be authorized to operate a charter in a district whether or not the locally elected school board wanted it.
The “parent trigger” concept is the idea that if a school is failing and 50% +1 of the parents in that school vote to do so, the parents can convert the school to a charter. Those parents may then “run” the school and hire/fire faculty and obtain other budgetary controls. This may sound like a reasonable proposition. However, in practice, it is a disaster. A school in Indiana recently “pulled the trigger” and the parents were stunned to discover the lack of available resources. The parents presented a list of demands including iPads for all students. The Board replied that in order for that demand to be met, a number of faculty would have to be let go. Parent trigger can also be used by sketchy charter operators to gain a foothold into a school. Rhee is of course behind this measure as well.
Each of these efforts appeals to policymakers because none require any new investment in Tennessee schools. The idea is that we already have money out there, and that if we just did these “new, cool things” we’d have better schools. They allow politicians to claim to be pro-education without making the hard decisions that would lead to meaningful new investments in our schools. Moreover, each of these policies has potentially disastrous effects on an already struggling school system. Stay tuned as the 2013 legislative session advances and these policies gain traction.