Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Tired Old Argument

Experienced Teachers vs. New Teachers

This train is never late in New Orleans. One of the most ridiculous public policy discussions nationwide, and specifically in Orleans Parish, is the discussion about school acheivement that focuses on teachers. When I first moved to New Orleans in 2006, there was actually a lot of reporting on problems in the RSD. Not enough teachers, no hot lunches for students, lack of classroom space. I remember articles like that driving out the old RSD Superintendent and bringing in wonderboy Vallas. One of the reasons I decided to try teaching for the RSD was the thought that there weren't enough teachers and something needed to be done. As the 2007 - 2008 school year progressed, and hundreds of new teachers were hired, the public discussion moved away from systematic failings and fell on two other divisive arguments: "charter schools vs. 'regular' schools" and the "experienced teacher vs. new teacher" debate.

At least the "charter schools vs. 'regular' schools" argument had further reaching policy ramifications. The "experienced teachers vs new teachers" debate is simply the most ludicrous red-herring involving student acheivement there is. It smacks of politics over effectiveness, and ignores systematic issues that affect all classrooms. That local newsmakers continue to return to this 'issue' suggests either a misunderstanding of who actually runs schools or a decided lack of access (or interest) to investigating more pressing matters.

Riots, brawls, student-on-student and student-on-teacher assaults are terribly underreported. So are the reasons these things happen. But it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out it ain't the teacher's fault when a student commits what would be a felony - and they are back in class the next day. No, that ain't on the teacher. That's on the principal and on the superintendent. And if you have a principal or superintendent that cannot create an atmosphere of safety for students and teachers (experienced or new), student acheivement is going to suffer.

Fires, theft, vandalism fall into the same "school is a safe place" boat. That it took 6 fires in a week to be reported in the Times-Pic regarding one historic, local high school, and nothing was mentioned about the school being opened without adequate fire safety mechanisms (fire alarms, extinguishers, locked exit doors) is flat out unbelievable. Experienced teachers can die from smoke inhalation just as quickly as new teachers. But the decisions to put students in that school, the responsibility for installing adequate safety measures, and the security of school hallways during class-time is again not a teacher issue.

Once basic safety has been dealt with, we can speak to less immediate if just-as-relevant issues where the system fails students - and teachers (experienced and new). Three in particular are all interrelated, have plenty to do with student acheivement, and contribute to safety issues mentioned above.

Special education, discipline issues and records-keeping. How does it help student acheivement to under-serve special education students while keeping them in a regular classroom setting? It doesn't. It keeps the special-education student from learning and the regular-education students from learning. What control does a teacher (experienced or new) have over such systematic failures? None.

Discipline issue students must recieve consequences to fit their actions, counseling to help them overcome their demons, and specialized attention so they can learn less self-destructive and anti-social behaviors. Moving them from school to school, and not telling the new school their history, or allowing them to get away with their actions without consequences, or keeping them in a classroom with regular students after a history of destructive behavior does not help the student with issues or the regular students who need a safe environment to learn. How much of that does a teacher control?

Record keeping. If the school system cannot even track what student goes to what school, how to contact a student's parents, cannot track and report truancy, cannot track and report special education assessments or needs, cannot track disicpline issues, how are they expected to accurately track and report student acheivement???

This stuff is just the tip of the iceberg. We're not even glancing at extra-curriculars, the fact that the RSD cannot consistently maintain an athletic schedule, the woeful physical shape many of the facilities are in, that teachers are scared to report any of the crazy & illegal things going on in the schools for fear of losing their jobs, the myriad 'specialists' who are supposed to support classroom teachers but who may not, complete lack of effective substitute teachers, the lack of class schedules in some schools, and the fact that the RSD admin staff blames 'new teachers' when students get out of control.

If the local paper was reporting the real issues going on in the RSD, the absolute last thing we would be talking about is if "expereinced teachers" were more effective than "new teachers" in this broken, broken system. When something fails, you look at what's going on at the TOP.



DADvocate said...

Wow! That's some serious problems. I've never understood why some believe students should be protected from the rule of law at school. There are no laws that state assault, arson, etc. are legal in a school setting.

The more you write about stuff like this, the more I understand why NOLA has such great problems. They never address the real problems. Probably because it hurts too much to look in the mirror.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

I wish I could show the videos, but videotaping what actually happens in a school could get a teacher fired and sued.

Until then, be sure to check out Taylor The Teacher & Dorophoria, since they're still in the thick of it.

And, to be fair, it ain't just New Orleans. Failed educational models are driving down our next generation many places in the South. New Orleans is just the poster child of public education gone wrong.