Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Lifetime Warranty

Oh for the good old days!   Becoming a teacher meant you had a job forever AND would get an annual pay increase whether you earned it or not.   Well the salary wasn't that great, but the benefits were.   Lots of holidays, good health care and not such hard work.   And things did improve. Salaries got much better, and holidays and health care stayed great.
Then a funny thing happened.   Salaries got so good people began to notice.   And then there was this element of kids graduating without being able to read or speak in a coherent sentence.   Higher ed began to complain; they were spending too much on remedial education for freshmen.
Then the federal government stepped in.   Never a good sign.   Students would need to be tested every year to make sure they were learning what really counted-English, science, and math.  I won't go there today.  Testing wore the students and teachers out.  And after 30 years there were no discernible differences in student achievement after the testing than there had been before that very expensive program went into effect.  So the next step was to tie teacher evaluation to test scores.   Yet another terrible idea.
Good teaching is a lot like pornography.  The Supreme Court once decreed that although it could not define pornography, it knew it when it saw it.  Every one knows an amazing teacher within the first five minutes in the classroom.  Each amazing teacher is different.   And being an amazing teacher for one student won't make you an amazing teacher for a different student.  Why can't we recognize that reality.   Measuring good teaching by student test scores is just plain dumb.  BUT test scores do matter at some level.
New York state has stepped into the breach with a plan of its own.  Teachers will now be evaluated by both test scores AND observations.  And at least one of those observations must be done by someone from another district.  Teachers cannot be scored about the second lowest ranking unless students are making satisfactory achievement growth.   What is satisfactory achievement growth varies by student, so we will need to see how that word "satisfactory" winds up being defined.  Here is the wonderful element.   No student may be assigned for two consecutive years to a teacher who has been rated "ineffective".  Tenure now require four years experience and that teacher must be ranked "effective" or higher for three of those four years.   WOW! just living and breathing is out the window to get tenure.  The turnaround period for teacher dismissal is now reduced to 90 days for the process and school districts must move to dismiss teachers who receive three consecutive years of ineffective ratings.
Teachers and districts aren't the only ones who will be held accountable.  Graduate level and leadership training programs will need to have stiffer entrance qualifications, a minimum score on an entrance exam and a 3.0 grade point average.  There is some leverage on the grade point average.  If fewer than 50% of the graduates fail the licensing exam, the program will be suspended.
New York state is getting serious about the quality of its education programs.   And Governor Cuomo is considered a liberal Democrat.   Lucky for the unions he isn't a Republican or things could really get tough.  Unions are up in arms.  Always a good sign that something is good for schools and kids. Yep, it is looking more and more like that lifetime warranty once a teacher, always a teacher maybe showing some cracks.  Or maybe lifetime is not as long as it used to be.

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