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OP-ED | Throwing Good Teachers Out With The Bath Water?

by Sarah Darer Littman and Susan Bigelow | Feb 21, 2012 6:30am
(10) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Education, Opinion, Editorial Board

Experienced teachers produce higher student test scores. So it should be a matter of great concern that there are more novice teachers in our schools now than there were a decade ago. In 1987-88, the most common level of experience for K-12 teachers was 14 years; by 2007-08, it had dropped to 1-2 years. This is a problem, and a big one. But Gov. Dannel P. Malloy doesn’t see it that way.

“That’s because we hired a whole bunch of teachers at the same time,” Malloy said, in response to a question on the issue during CTNewsJunkie’s first Editorial Board meeting on Friday in the governor’s office. “For instance we’re about to see 152 state troopers are eligible for retirement July 1. You know why? Because they were all hired at the same time. We’re going to see over the next couple of years about 60 percent of corrections officers be eligible for retirement. You know why? Because we ran up the employment numbers very rapidly because we followed a one size fits all approach to lowering crime.”

However, there’s data that contradicts the Governor’s repeated assertion that teachers may be leaving the profession simply as the result of a retirement bubble, rather than an early exodus.

In the study, Why do High-Poverty Schools have Difficulty Staffing their Classrooms with High Quality Teachers?, Dr. Richard M. Ingersoll of the Graduate School of Education at University of Pennsylvania, states that the “data show that the demand for new teachers and subsequent staffing difficulties are not primarily due to student enrollment and teacher retirement increases, as widely believed … Rather, the data show that the demand for new teachers, and subsequent staffing difficulties, are primarily due to pre-retirement teacher turnover. That is, most of the hiring of new teachers is simply to fill spots vacated by teachers who just departed. And most of those departing are not doing so because of gray hair.”

Some of the reasons they are departing? Ingersoll’s study found that aside from personal reasons and school staffing actions because of closings and budget cuts, the primary reasons, particularly in poor urban environments, come down to job dissatisfaction resulting from factors such as “a lack of resources, support and recognition from the school administration; a lack of teacher influence over school and classroom decision-making; too many intrusions on classroom teaching time; inadequate time to prepare; poor salaries; and student discipline problems.”

What’s more, despite the Governor’s adamant assertions to the contrary, experts like Deborah M. Hill and Marlene Barth say teachers are leaving the profession because of high-stakes testing.

Hill and Barth authored an article published in the journal Education and the Law that they titled, “NCLB and Teacher Retention: Who Will Turn Out The Lights?” They quote a study by Justice & Greiner Anderson that found teachers who are leaving the profession are citing “‘low teacher morale, enhanced by school and district pressure for high student achievement on standardized tests.’”

Gov. Malloy’s focus is clearly on teacher evaluation and on tenure specifically; he returned to the point that in every school, teachers and parents already have identified the bad teachers. He wants to get rid of them, and he believes that this, along with his other reforms, acts as a “down payment” on addressing other potential areas needing improvement in education, such as special education and issues of poverty and class.

The governor has focused heavily on testing as an assessment. He suggested that “Most of the people who complain about testing are teaching kids who are not doing very well on tests.” In fact, in the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, conducted in 2008, only 48 percent of teachers agreed that standardized tests are effective in helping them track student performance, down from 61 percent in 1984. Educators, at least some of them, are starting to look beyond the test.

The governor, however, kept bringing the conversation back to tenure, which is both the most controversial and perhaps the most far-reaching of his reforms.

“One of the things I say to folks when they’re critical of any portion of [the bill] … I ask if they have a child,” Malloy said. “And then when they say that they do, I say, ‘Now tell me, when that child was in school was there ever a teacher in any one of the buildings your child attended that you wanted your child to avoid having?’”

He provided an example:

“Listen I had teachers growing up ... I had a teacher who was an alcoholic,” Malloy said. “You probably knew a teacher in one of the buildings you went to who was an alcoholic and as a result was not a very good teacher. And yet the person remained in the building for, you know, the rest of their career.”

Perhaps the Governor’s strong views were formed by his own experiences as a student. A lot of ours were as well. Certainly, we all encountered a subpar teacher at least once during the course of our education. But should we drive the best, most experienced teachers out of the system in order to cure the problem of the worst performing 10 percent?

Sarah Darer Littman and Susan Bigelow are contributing columnists and members of CTNewsJunkie’s Editorial Board. Darer Littman is a columnist for Hearst Newspapers and an award-winning novelist of books for teens. Long before the financial meltdown, she worked as a securities analyst and earned her MBA in Finance from the Stern School at NYU. Bigelow is the former owner of CTLocalPolitics and an author. She lives in Enfield with her wife and cats.

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(10) Comments

posted by: Kerri | February 21, 2012  11:49am

Kerri

It seems like every day I learn about another pre-retirement teacher planning to leave the profession because she is so fed up with NCLB and the lack of support she receives. I know of one middle school science teacher who is told at a certain time every year that she needs to stop teaching science and start teaching for the CMTs. These are not the “alcoholic teachers” that Malloy refers to. They are younger, enthusiastic, and gifted teachers whose skills are not valued in our state.

posted by: GoatBoyPHD | February 21, 2012  1:23pm

GoatBoyPHD

Address the real disconnect.

The teachers union suggests a one-size-fits- all solution to education.

It doesn’t work in the large inner city schools.

Having taught in the situation I know the problems well. And yes, the teachers queue up to transfer ‘upstream’ to leave the problem schools.

In a common situation there are 3 high schools—an academic school where the suburb model somewhat works. A vocational school where the suburb model falls down somewhat, and a dropout factory.

This is mostly about the dropout factories and the feeder schools.

They require a different model—different staff, different support services, different everything. The teachers unions at their most creative says “What works in Avon will work there. Of course if you want to pay for wrap around social services that’s OK with us.”

Well, it isn’t OK. As long as they are stuck on their one-size-fits-all model they are useless in this conversation and will get a “one size fits all” all slap down as Malloy proposes.

It’s rock ‘em, sock ‘em robot time. Who has the harder head?

A sad way to approach education reform but there it is. The collective bargaining unit is not there to encourage innovation or results. That isn’t their mandate. That isn’t their mission. That isn’t why they collect dues. That isn’t their fiduciary duty.  These facts make them useless in addressing failing schools.

I favor the union decertification of failing schools. Charters and vouchers for private and parochial schools are two ways of introducing different models. No magic bullets there either but these non-union schools are more free to innovate and hire and fire and reconstitute themselves as often as necessary to create a working model.

posted by: quaybon | February 21, 2012  1:38pm

I am an experienced teacher who was laid off after one year with a new district. The district had a mandate, which the union for some reason agreed to, to hire teachers with less than three years of experience. They did, in my case, give my job to a teacher with one year. He’s gone now, after one year. It’s all about money, especially in California. Unless Congress passes the latest proposed Jobs Bill and gets rid of the Bush tax cuts, the situation will continue to get worse. Gone are the days when, in 2000, every teacher was given a 12 percent raise because education was fully funded. Then came the cuts in 2001. Since then, not only are many districts unable to maintain the required reserve, but they simply do not have the funding to maintain a full staff. Sports, music, and arts programs have been cut in these districts, not to mention a drastic increase in class sizes. The system is set up to fail.

posted by: Terry D. Cowgill | February 21, 2012  2:05pm

Terry D. Cowgill

Do you have a link to the Hill and Barth article?

posted by: Doug Hardy | February 21, 2012  2:20pm

The Hill and Barth article isn’t available for free online, but the preview is here.

posted by: state_employee | February 21, 2012  6:32pm

This is a typical ADHD Dannel Malloy over reach.  If there are bad teachers, then why are we not looking at the administrators who over see the teachers?
They are the ones who should be monitoring and assessing teachers.  They and the supers are the policy makers.
No mention of administrative reform or superintendent reform.
Just scapegoat the teachers. 
Typical malloy.  He is a failure and will ruin this state before his time in office is done.
Why don’t we talk about governor reform. He is ultimately responsible.

posted by: quaybon | February 21, 2012  9:48pm

State employee, you are right, administrators have way too much power. For example, a principal can “non-reelect” (not renew their contract) for absolutely no reason within the first two years of employment in a district. The teacher has no recourse. Courts have upheld districts’ power to non-reelect a teacher without cause. Not only that, they are not allowed to inform a teacher why they were not re-hired. The union does nothing to help. I have worked for some really incompetent administrators. It is unbelievable how these people kept their jobs as long as they did. Eventually, they were let go. No one administrator should be allowed that much power over a teacher.

posted by: Doug Hardy | February 21, 2012  9:51pm

@state_employee - the op-ed above focuses on just one portion of the conversation that the new CTNJ Editorial Board had with Gov. Malloy on Friday.

The governor also broached the idea of regionalizing more schools, which would cut down the number of superintendents and administrators for local schools.

Melissa Ozols addressed that in the Morning Coffee & Politics email blast today. You can sign up for that here, it’s free.

And here’s a link to an overview of Friday’s whole conversation, and more op-eds are coming later this week on other issues that came up.

grin

posted by: CitizenCT | February 21, 2012  10:31pm

This Op ed says, “Experienced teachers produce higher student test scores.”  However, I’d like to know which is a bigger factor in a child achieving higher test scores, raised in a stable two parent environment, or more being taught by more experienced teachers?  Fixing education requires getting to the root cause.  It’s not teacher experience levels.

posted by: mbracksieck | February 25, 2012  2:47pm

The mechanism for dismissal needs fixing, not dismantling. Don’t make a law that affects over 50,000 people because of a few bad ones, focus on the few who need focusing on.

http://www.change.org/petitions/the-truth-about-teacher-tenure