Thursday, February 16, 2012

Teacher tenure: Why should educators be different?

On Monday, Missouri Rep. Scott Dieckhaus (R-Dist. 109) proposed a bill (House Bill 1526) to reform the state's teacher tenure laws. As we have argued before, getting rid of teacher tenure is good for Missouri's public schools, and this bill is particularly strong for three key reasons:

1. Teachers could be fired for doing a bad job. Most of us live in a world where doing consistently bad work means you lose your job. Not so for teachers.

Under the current laws, a tenured teacher can be fired only for egregious conduct, such as willful or persistent violations of the school laws, excessive or unreasonable absences, and felony convictions. Even then, a severely truant teacher would get generous procedural protections from termination: a majority of the school board must vote to fire the teacher, and the teacher can appeal the board's decision through an administrative hearing.

If this bill passes, boards could not only fire convicted felons, but they could also dismiss teachers for unsatisfactory performance.

2. No more indefinite contracts for teachers. Most of us also have to live with the reality of at-will employment. Again, not so for teachers.

Under the current laws, a teacher who survives a five-year probationary period becomes "permanent personnel" with an indefinite contract to teach.

The proposed bill, on the other hand, gives school administrators more discretion to retain teachers they actually want teaching in their schools. Schools could contract directly with teachers for up to four years; and what's more, the board would retain the power to terminate a multi-year contract if the teacher scored poorly on evaluations.

3. Teachers will get paid for what they do, not how long they have done it. That is right, teachers do not live with the reality of performance-based pay either.

Under the current laws, school districts are prohibited from basing salaries on performance-related criteria. Instead, districts pay their teachers based on length of service and level of education. The proposed bill removes this prohibition and requires school boards to consider teacher evaluations when making decisions related to pay, retention, promotion, and dismissal.

Not surprisingly, the unions started speaking out against HB 1526 before it was even proposed. Missouri National Education Association President Chris Guinther told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last week: "we've got to be given the protection that we need to give those kids the quality education that they need." Wouldn't our kids be getting a better education if school boards could dismiss failing teachers more easily, like this bill would allow? The problem with the union perspective is that it focuses on teachers, not on kids. Tenure is not about having due process, as Susan McClintic, president of the Columbia Missouri National Education Association, told the Columbia Missourian last week. On the contrary. Teachers do not have a right to their jobs; it is the students who have a right to a public education, and they should have good teachers to boot.


Public schools zealously protecting a monopoly they did nothing to earn

“No Child Left Behind.” That’s the stated policy of our nationalized, near-monopoly public school system.

The slogan is the usual grandiose utopian mumbo-jumbo we’ve come to expect from Washington, followed by a multitude of annoying and absurd outcomes in schools across the country.

At least, it’s nice to hear that all children matter. But in public schools do they? Really?

In my Virginia backyard, the ongoing battle over whether homeschooled students will be permitted to try out for public school sports teams is starkly instructive. For the last three legislative sessions, Delegate Rob Bell (R-Charlottesville) has introduced House Bill 947, which would allow homeschool children to try out for public school sports by disallowing public schools in the Commonwealth from contracting with the Virginia High School League, the private organization that bans homeschool kids from participating.

Interesting to see that public school administrators have signed contracts with a private entity, VHSL, which actively discriminates in the precise way public school groups so vehemently favor.

The Virginia High School League offered their own glass-half-empty statement in opposition to the legislation, explaining that, “If a non-student makes the team, a student attending the school will not.” The VHSL statement also quoted an ominous warning from former State Superintendent for Public Instruction William Bosher, that “Allowing students who are homeschooled to participate in high school athletics could change the entire structure of high school athletics.”

But would this earth-shattering “change” to “the entire structure” be good or bad?

The legislation has been dubbed “The Tebow Bill,” after Tim Tebow, the NFL’s rookie sensation, who led the Denver Broncos to the playoffs. Before that Tebow was a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback for the University of Florida and before that he was a homeschool kid allowed to play football for his local public high school. Of course, homeschoolers are sometimes a little unconventional. Tebow has consistently failed to get arrested on drug or gun charges and, even more controversially, he talks about his religious faith.

“We’re not ready for this type of incursion into our school system,” complained Delegate Bob Tata (R-Virginia Beach), the House Education Committee chairman, while explaining that the state’s school boards and superintendents oppose HB 947. The state’s teachers’ unions also oppose the bill, as does the Virginia Parent Teacher Association.

Yet, the invasion of their hallowed public-private playground by the private public may be imminent. The barbarians are already at the gate of the evenly-split state Senate, HB 947 having passed the House of Delegates this past week by a vote of 59-39.

Expect intensive lobbying by the politically powerful education establishment. In an email, the Virginia PTA urged its cadre to: “Let [legislators] know that public school is your choice and team sports are a privilege you earned and expect them to protect.”

Notice how fast public education went from a right for every child to a privilege for some, who plead with politicians to protect them from having to associate with “the other.” To do the unimaginable: give others an equal chance to “try out.”

Where have we heard this sort of debate before?

And if integrated sports teams are unthinkable, the PTA email poses a harrowing question, “What’s next? Drama, debate, electives?”

If we’re not careful, truly public education could break out. With free and diverse integration.

The PTA’s orthographically deviant slogan is “every child. one voice.”

Why not allow every one of those children his or her own voice? And an equal chance to win a spot on the team.


Study at Cambridge? Better to have fun in Bangor, says British teacher in controversial article

A state college teacher provoked fury last night after admitting he tried to deter an ‘aggravating’ bright pupil from applying to Cambridge.

Jonny Griffiths, 51, wrote an article for a teachers’ journal describing how he told the boy to ‘enjoy being 17’ and target Bangor University instead.

The remarks, by a senior maths teacher at a sixth-form college in Norfolk, drew widespread condemnation last night, with Tory MPs accusing him of perpetuating a ‘culture of low expectations’.

Elizabeth Truss, MP for South West Norfolk, said: ‘Teachers should be doing all they can to help keen students get ahead.

‘I am horrified to hear of an enthusiastic student being discouraged from aiming for the top.’ Mr Griffiths, who teaches at Paston College, in North Walsham, last night claimed he intended to give the boy a ‘jolt’ and ‘a better chance of realising his potential’.

But he went on to criticise the practice of ‘parading’ bright students who win places at Cambridge.

‘Sometimes a weaker student will work really hard to win a place at a “less good” university, while a bright student will hardly break sweat to get a place at Cambridge,’ he said.

‘It is the bright student who is paraded before the local papers. I’m not sure that’s right.’ In his article, Mr Griffiths told how a boy named Michael came to his office at 4pm to discuss his A-level grades. The pupil had been clocking up A grades in maths papers but had recently made ‘silly mistakes’.

Mr Griffiths wrote that ‘driven’ and ‘obsessed’ pupils could be just as ‘draining’ and ‘aggravating’ as their demotivated classmates.

The boy then revealed he had his ‘heart set on’ getting an A in maths but was concerned his performance was slipping.

Mr Griffiths admitted to telling him: ‘Apart from you, Michael, who cares what you get in your A-level?’

The article continued: ‘His Bambi eyes look at me in a bewildered way, as if he has just seen me kick a puppy. “I mean I care, of course,” I add, swiftly. “But what is better: to go to Cambridge with three As and hate it or to go to Bangor with three Cs and love it?”’

He then told a ‘stunned’ Michael he was ‘gold dust’ to be fought over by university maths departments and employers and to ‘enjoy being 17’.

The student who attends Paston College said that students obsessed with bettering themselves are often as detrimental in a class as disruptive pupils

The pupil subsequently got an answer wrong in class but seemed unconcerned, Mr Griffiths noted.

Last night he told the Daily Mail he was using a specific approach to help a ‘very anxious’ boy. ‘People seem to think I would treat every bright student this way. It is not true at all,’ he said. ‘If Cambridge is where you want to go, then I will do everything I can to help you get there.’

He added that the incident he was referring to happened in 2004 and the boy went on to get As in maths and further maths before progressing to Warwick University.

Mr Griffiths said his remarks had been coloured by his own experience studying maths at Cambridge in the 1970s, which he found ‘as dry as dust’.

But critics said he risked trampling on the boy’s ambitions and misleading him over his choices. Mrs Truss warned: ‘This is a symptom of the disgraceful culture of low expectations that holds many back.’

Political commentator Iain Martin accused Mr Griffiths of ‘smug shamelessness’, adding: ‘Surely there is a way of calming the young man down without upending his ideas about attainment and aspiration?’


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