Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What's wrong with our schools? Part II

How do we attract and retain effective teachers? Besides the obvious altruism or idealism, money matters. Unfortunately, there are many amateurs who are trying to change the way teachers are compensated for their skills. Performance or merit pay should be viewed with a healthy degree of skepticism. It cannot be competition, but only an incentive to keep and retain good teachers who otherwise might leave education to increase their income.

One day, you too can hold the stick

As a new teacher I made $38,000, minus $6,000 for health insurance, despite having the highest scores in the department. I used to make double that doing construction. I will make in 20 years what I could have made in my teens. I'm not complaining for myself. I know that by the time I retire I will be comfortable. However, other people who may want to be teachers will steer clear of education due to the lack of monetary reward.

Those that are pushing for performance pay have a very controversial way to evaluate teacher effectiveness. Should a teacher get paid more because their students perform better on tests? According to Gallup, 73% of Americans seem to think so, while at the same time 81% said they should be paid by whatever advanced degree the teacher had earned. What?! Looks like the American public is confused.

First, standardized tests are not a reliable measure of what students can and cannot do. One, the students have no motivation to try on a test where there is no reward or grade. Second, each year teachers get a different mix of students. This year I could have very capable students, next year I could have many who need significant help. Different scores over the years are normal, and don't signify success or failure. Finally, standardized tests are inherently biased against non-white working class students. For example, a test question that uses tennis as its setting benefits the kind of student that has been exposed the most to tennis. Or, when students must interpret an archaic piece of literature or historical document riddled with cultural bias. Standardized tests are not, nor have ever been a reliable or valid form of assessment.

Those pushing merit pay disagree. California billionaire and public school meddler Eli Broad of the Broad Foundation paid for the first year of merit pay for NYC schools. Broad said
...urban public schools are failing and must adopt methods from business to succeed, such as competition, accountability based on 'measurables' and unhampered management authority--all focusing on the bottom line of student achievement, as measured by standardized tests.

Over half of all businesses fail in the first four years. We can't afford half of our schools to fail, Eli. Unfortunately, these are the people with the money, the voice, and the influence. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Broad and his followers are "reformers" or "visionaries".

The question remains though, can the possibility of more money increase teacher performance? It seems logical to us that yes, it would. If I could make another $20,000 by staying later and working on better lessons, I would. But, Dan Pink showed at TED that incentivizing difficult or cognitive tasks actually does the reverse of the intended outcome. When people focus on the monetary reward, they lose creativity and the ability to step back and think, decreasing performance. He used the example of Google's 20% time for employees, where 20% of employee time is devoted to working on whatever that employee wants, and where there was no incentive beyond the intrinsic. Unfortunately, intrinsic motivation cannot be fostered by the proverbial carrot. The carrot only works in low cognitive tasks such as an assembly line. For most teachers, motivation for teaching is intrinsic, not monetary.

Based on a
study in Greece, teachers are professional/technical

Those findings are also confirmed by a Harvard study of New York's merit pay program. The study found no significant gains in student achievement, and little return for the investment in merit pay. Good job, Eli.

So, if the incentive of more money wouldn't work to increase student achievement, why do it? There is still the problem of half of all teachers leaving education in the first five years. Education needs to attract, and keep effective teachers. Paying a highly qualified teacher, who society has placed a great responsibility, less than a bagger at Trader Joe's is socially irresponsible.

The current pay scale for teachers rewards years of experience, and educational attainment level. It was created in a time where discrimination in the workplace was routine, which the pay scale combats. It is not obsolete, however. I still believe the current pay scale plays a role in assuring a level of job security, and to financially plan for the future.

Merit pay could be used to supplement to current pay scales. Here is a fairly normal pay scale on what teachers make. I saw one interesting model where teachers were put in three categories based on performance called novice, professional, and expert. Within each category you have ranges of pay from year 1-35 and degrees from bachelors to PhD. In theory I could be a third year teacher with a bachelors, but be in the professional category, and thus be paid more than $38,000.

However, the problem remains, who decides, and how is it decided what performance tier a teacher is in. Administration is the most unaccountable and subjective group that power could be trusted with. Perhaps the only way would to be to allow an opt-in long-term portfolio based assessment of teachers. Has the teacher been given multiple opportunities and demonstrated success over multiple years over multiple criteria? If so, they deserve excellent pay and to be moved up the chain.

Who decides? It would have to be a diverse group heavily weighted with good teachers. In a perfect world, schools would be 100% teacher run like MSLA in Denver. Teachers know good educators when they see them, nobody wants to teach with incompetent colleagues. Teachers motives for awarding merit pay would be proper student preparation, and an effective teammate. If we trusted our teachers to make the right decisions, and held them accountable for it, merit pay could be fair and just, while at the same time attracting more qualified individuals to become, and stay teachers. This of course, is only a model. It is not, and cannot be perfect.

The problem arises when a top-down approach is imposed, and teachers are unfairly assessed by those that don't understand the profession. We need to trust our teachers, and allow for teacher led reform of the system. Just because teachers don't have money, doesn't mean we shouldn't have influence. Unfortunately, the system has currently designed it that way, and those like Broad will continue to meddle and be unsuccessful in something they do not understand.

My student's testimony to the board

In early April, when the BOE was considering my non-renewal, the students showed up and saved my job for a week. This is their testimony. I have removed names to the best of my ability. I am Mr. _____. A simple _____ generally is the name of my school.

G.L.P., sophomore at ________, spoke about her education in general, adding that you guys are all about our education.

Students are constantly being told that what is important is our success, our education, and that is why you are all here. You are doing it for us, not for yourselves. If this is true, why are we rarely asked about things that are going on around our school? You guys are always saying, “You guys are most important to us and you guys matters to us.” You guys say it so often, but there are people who do not say it often, but mean it more. Teachers like Mr. _____ and Mr. _____ do not have to tell us daily that they care about our education because their actions clearly show it. Sometimes actions speak louder than words.

Yesterday, we had a protest and it was a peaceful assembly. As far as I know, we have freedom of speech. All of a sudden, they started making a big deal out of us standing up for our rights. I read on the [school] website that they wanted us to leave our school prepared for the world and apply what we learned to our environment. When we tried to do that, they stopped us. Several students did a sit-in and were told that they would be suspended even though they were not yelling or being disruptive. We did not just go out and do this for no reason. We tried talking, but were not listened to; we are never listened to. You guys seem to think that we are immature and do not know what we are talking about. We tried talking to the principal and were ignored. This is our school and our education.

They called our parents and said that we would be suspended. I don’t know why because we did not do anything wrong. They suspected that our teachers were the ones who involved us and it was their fault. What are they trying to say? Do they think we are stupid and can’t come up with something ourselves? We can’t stand up for our own rights? We are brainwashed by people and told what to do? We do not have brain, thoughts, feelings, or emotions? We can’t do something by ourselves and decide that this is not right and we want to change it? We were personally involved and wanted to do something about it. Now our teachers are being blamed and they had nothing to do with it. Thanks for listening to what we have to say and I hope you take it into consideration.

A.R., junior at _____, shared that this protest had been planned for a couple of months. It started as a discussion in a classroom, specifically Mr. _____ classroom, because that was the first teacher who we learned about being unfairly let go. We conducted an investigation to find out what is going on with our good teachers who we feel inspire us and create the perfect image for learning as far as making it fun, enjoyable, and excitable. They give us the information we need in a new creative way that has not been introduced to us before. They also make the learning environment a stable place to learn. Their students are under control, focused, and nine times out of 10, you do not see a classroom that has almost 100 percent participation in what’s going on. I have been in a lot of these classrooms because I currently have some of these teachers or had them in previous years. A lot of these teachers are in full control of their students as far as willingness to participate or stepping out of their comfort zone to address an educational issue in which people tend to shy away from.

As you all know, the protest took place during school hours. It did move outside because we felt that was best for our rights as far as not infringing on the school’s rights and moving it to a public forum. We also kept it outside so we would not disrupt the learning environment, but we wanted to make sure that we raised awareness in the streets. Some of us took our protest to the Colfax corner to raise awareness and asked drivers to honk for good and quality teachers.

We feel that some of the teachers who are being let go are not the teachers that should be let go. We feel that the way that they were determined to be let go are not just means. We are asking you to reconsider and to let you know that we did a protest as a public statement and are willing to fight for these teachers because that is how strongly we feel about them. We are inspired by what they have created as far as the learning environment, and in that inspiration, we have decided to make it known as public as we can about what is going on.

M.G., parent, commented that these students are fighting for their education and deserve the best teachers. He shared that schools outside [school's] neighborhood have everything and questioned why the best teachers were being removed. He noted that these kids are strong and have a right to protest, adding that this is the United States, not Cuba.

MG is proud of the kids for defending their education and supports them. He has two kids who attend [school] and they are both hard workers.

E.G., senior at _______, asked to clear a misinterpretation or room for misinterpretation regarding a comment made by A.R. in which he shared that the protest originated in Mr. _____ classroom.

EG shared that what he meant was that when it was made public that Mr. _____ was being let go, the students were inspired and took it upon themselves to protest. The punishment for both the students and the teachers who supposedly instigated this protest was incredibly drastic because the students were simply expressing their opinion, like many of us said, the freedom of speech and the freedom of opinion. The teachers who have been punished severely, not necessarily for their support of the protest or the students ditching class, but for their support of students voicing their opinion and being able to speak out against it. I do not think that they should be punished for that. This was the only miscommunication that I wanted to make clear.

State Representative RF thanked the Board for their service to ____. What you do and the decisions that you make are not easy.

RF cares about education, students, the community and the types of decisions that are being made. The students and faculty at _____ should be extremely proud. I have had the opportunity to tour _____, and have talked to the principal and met some of the teachers. I am proud of the work being done at _____. I think that students’ minds are shaped by teachers. When you have students who are critically thinking about what is going on in their school and want to take a proactive measure to protest or voice their opinion about teachers and budget, it is a good thing. I represent the state of ______. At one point, we were looking at trying to make a $350 million cut to K-12 education. Today, there is a proposal to reduce that down to a $250 million cut to K-12 education.

When I hear that, it makes me want to protest. It makes me want to sit down and have a conversation about why we are taking these drastic measures to cut the future, which is our kids. I can relate to the decision that these young people have made in reference to wanting to support their teachers and their learning. This should be celebrated.

RF’s position at the state is to not tolerate a $250 million cut to K-12 education, adding that we cannot continue to cut to solve the problem. We need to have meaningful dialogue and discussion about what we should do moving forward. The student protest was just one way for these young people, families and the community to say that we cannot tolerate having these cuts impact the classroom and teachers. This is just a way for them to cry out to the administration as a way to be heard. I am here for the students and their families and am proud that they didn’t decide to drop out of school, but elected to engage the administration and have a dialogue about how to go about this. These students are saying that they care about their fellow students, teachers and their school. I want to make sure that they continue to have a say at the table because their voice is important.

Board President reminded the audience that public comments are limited to three minutes. She shared that the Board cannot carry on a conversation with speakers as we are unaware of the nature of your comments. She commented that we talk about trust and transparency, but there are things that Board members are not allowed to say whether it is morally right or prohibited by law. She emphasized that the Board shares what is appropriate, and hopes all understand that the Board is listening to comments and take each into consideration before making a decision.

RL, parent, has six children at various levels in district and is worried about their education. She understands budget cuts but questioned why quality education for students was being cut. She shared that problems at _____ are a clear example that children are fighting for a real education, a quality education. She noted that Superintendent _____ shared that cuts would be minimal at school sites a few days ago. She understands that there is limited funding, but questioned why the focus was on teachers who have an intellectual capacity in terms of education for our students and asked that the focus be on the quality of the education that is being rendered for our children.

RL volunteers at several schools and expressed surprise that the majority of teachers who supposedly earned more are the ones being cut. She questioned if quantity rather than quality of education was being considered as this is what these teachers provide to our students. She shared that there are teachers who give additional time to find ways to help students understand was is being taught and other teachers who do not. She asked that the Board consider the education of our students and consider the future and quality of education in the United States.

Me, teacher at _____, asked that data and letters from students and staff be provided to the Board.
I discussed the non-emotional part of why he wants to teach and why he is being non-renewed. During his first year at _____, he was asked to teach Latin American history, a brand new course without any curriculum, textbooks or preparation. Throughout the course of the year, he received commendations on how well he did it. He also shared that writing examples from his civics students were used as examples for the entire district. During his second year, he taught five courses, and his US history students earned 100 percent proficiency on the interim assessment. He received a commendation from Superintendent _____. His civics students also performed far and above any other students in the school. During his third year, he taught US history again and students are currently studying the civil rights movement. This year, he was recognized as a leader and became a department chair. He was asked to be the PLT leader for the professional learning team to help raise test scores in US history.
I created a Facebook page about his classroom in which kids debate history at the college level. He shared that it is not a threat to anyone’s power to reverse a decision, adding that the Supreme Court does it 81 percent of the time. He asked the Board to consider the facts in front of them. He has also written the Board a letter in detail in response to his non-renewal recommendation. He sincerely hopes that the Board listens to the students, parents and his colleagues. He concluded that there is only one person at _____ who does not want him there and hopes that the Board listens to the 99.9 percent of the rest.

KK, sophomore at _____, shared that during her eighth grade year, Superintendent _____ came to her school and shared that his job was to make sure that their education was properly bestowed on them.

These teachers have changed my life. I recently found out that my mom has breast cancer and Mr. _____ supported me through the entire thing. Teachers like that should be at _____, not the teachers who do not care about their students’ personal life and what they have accomplished. We love our teachers, and the ones that we love are the ones that they want to get rid of, not for budget cuts or professionalism. These teachers are so professional and use learning in a way that no one else can. _____ is who we are because these teachers make us believe that we can become lawyers, doctors and educators because they provide that knowledge. Without them, we would not have the strength because they put it in us. We have the power. Like Mr. _____ said, we are learning about the civil rights movement. We are telling you how we feel because there are other people telling you how we are supposed to feel. _____ shared that students know a good teacher when they have one. These teachers are good teachers. They are the ones that care and say what needs to be said to get work done. I hope you reconsider this.

BJT, junior at _____, shared that teachers are being cut or their contracts aren’t being renewed because of supposed budget cuts. We understand that there are budget cuts, but we have seen things such as tardy carts and TVs that none of us even use. We’re getting five new mats that cost over $2,000 a piece. Why don’t we put this money toward things like our education? And you’re firing teachers that are unprofessional? If teachers can get the job done, and show performance on grades and test scores, I don’t think these teachers should be fired because you say they are unprofessional.

Our gym and art teachers are being fired. Our principal base cuts on classes that don’t have many students. We are only allowed to take five classes since we’re juniors and seniors. Sophomores and freshman are only allowed to take six classes. If you need a class, you won’t be able to take the class that you want. But you’re going to fire teachers that do a good job, support kids that hate school completely and are coming to school just to see that teacher. You’re going to fire them?

Our teachers should be fired based on whether or not their performance is good, and whether students like and learn from them. We have teachers who refuse to help students, and we’re firing teachers that spend hours and hours after school, before school, during their planning periods and lunch period to help students. We get that certain things have to be taken out because of budget cuts, but let’s take out things that we don’t need. We have Promethean boards in classrooms that don’t get used. All we need is a projector, the old school projector, a screen or a whiteboard. That’s all we need. We don’t need these high priced things. Earlier this evening, they were talking about video teleconferencing. We don’t need that. What are we going to use it for – to talk to somebody in China? It would be amazing for a foreign language class, but why do we need to talk to somebody in China in a math class. Thank you listening to us.

EP, sophomore at _____, shared that students are here on their own time, without obligation, to speak about what matters most, which is trying to save our valuable teachers.

We are fighting for our future, future of students, and the future of our teachers and their goals to continue to enrich our knowledge as young adults. I am disappointed because the school administration excuses this choice by replying that it was based on their performance as other students have mentioned. They tell us it’s budget cuts. But, it is really because they are unprofessional in the classroom and I don’t disagree with that. I think that within our classroom, the way that they teach is customized to the way that we learn. We have different learners in the classroom, including visual, hands-on, and audio, and our teachers are willing to do all three. Even if they have to stay before school, after school or during their planning to figure out what helps us learn better.

It’s really ironic how they are cutting our teachers months before they reach tenure. I don’t understand that. I am also aware that when the excuse of performance is used, teachers can no longer obtain a job in the [city] Public School district for five years. That is ridiculous. The false accusations would undermine their record. We cannot continue with cuts within our classroom because this will create an imbalance in the school as a whole. Cutting our teachers who have been with us these couple of years will leave the school with a lot of yearning souls. Students who have the capability to do more than they think they can. You cannot cut the teachers who have helped us grow as individuals; you cannot take this away from us. It will leave us with no more challenges, no more obstacles, and no more chances to create strenuous goals with the materials that they assign to us. They challenge us by adding additional work to the skeletal methods that the administration wants them to follow. They teach us through their procedures to understand the environment of societies; socially, politically, emotionally and mentally. I can honestly say that they’ve changed our ways of thinking and I can now observe everything through the techniques that they use to help us discover the absolute picture of a situation.

Today, our teachers were suspended. The administration believes that it was not the students who organized us, as a whole, to protest and come here to share what we had to say. Today, I feel like there was a pause, a gap in our education. Without our teachers, it feels like there was no point in coming to school. It was a black and white environment.

We speak for ourselves, with open minds, and without the influence of teachers, the administration, or those directly tied to this decision. We, as individual students, and I come together, motivated by our own thoughts and our own minds to rise up from below and finally take action for a situation that has been abused and taken advantage of in a capitalistic way.

AM, sophomore at _____, was surprised about the possibility of some _____ teachers being fired. I know that I have not had them for a long time, but I know what great teachers _____ would be losing. They teach us in ways that make the material understandable and they make it interesting for us to participate in school. They have helped us strive.

PR, sophomore and _____student, asked the Board if they had ever had a teacher who had a class that they were excited to go to and were actually passionate about learning. I have personally, along with other classes, but most importantly, Mr. _____'s US history, civics, and geography classes. I was enrolled in his class during my freshman year, two years basically. At first, I, along with my fellow students, asked “what did we get ourselves into?” Long informative essays and major readings; yeah, he was all about the big things. We all came to learn that was part of our education along with many characteristics of Mr. _____. He might be young, but he has impacted the lives of many students and teachers in ways you could only get if you knew him. When we first got our essay project for the quarter, we were like “what is this,” but we came to learn that we were well-prepared for what was coming. He said that these essays were equivalent to something that you would do in college and I have now improved my writing skills but how I learn. He goes beyond the box to teach his students, not just giving us worksheets and telling us how to do them. He explains ideas that I would never ever think about. You should see our hard essays, projects, interim assessments and many other classroom activities.

The motto for _____ is “world class.” Is it really “world class” when you get rid of “world class” teachers? Mr. _____, along with many other favorable teachers at _____, are extraordinary and have improved our lives. Are you really supporting education by taking away these teachers? Does the higher power of administration really value student education at our school?

SJ, sophomore at _____, has a 4.47 GPA and is the sophomore class president. She shared that the following is her own opinion and thoughts, and on her own accord. It has not been influenced by an adult, teacher or otherwise.

The termination of Mr. _____ will only damage the instruction of students at _____. We are already feeling the budget cuts in the classroom and our school cannot afford to lose a valuable teacher like him. Students, along with parent support, have already proven what this man means to our education through petitions, meetings, phone calls, letters and emails. He is an MYP IB history teacher who expects the best from his students and pushes us to success. He is admired and cherished at _____. I can assure you that any one of his students, past or present, would be willing to vouch for him and the impact that he has had on our lives. His class and its environment is one that gives students a new perspective on history and life itself and prepares us for higher level classes in all subject areas. It worries me that incoming freshmen and sophomores will be deprived of having Mr. _____ as a teacher and deprived of the learning experience that his classroom gives. I ask that the Board look at the evidence of his capability as a teacher and to put the education of the students first. After all, today’s students are tomorrow’s future. Thank you.

MA, sophomore at _____, is in the MYP program and will be in the IB Program next year.
I have come to this meeting for the same reason that many of us have attended. We have tried to communicate with our school many times, including a petition which got more than 600 signatures, and a student-organized protest. The protest was blamed on teachers and they were suspended; my sincerest apologies to the teachers who are suspended.

According to our count, the protest had about 200 students. There are many variations as to why we’re here, but the bottom line is that we want to fight for quality teachers who are being fired. The news and publicity indicates that we are fighting for “our favorite teachers,” but that’s not exactly true. I want to emphasize that these are not only our favorite teachers; these are teachers that don’t just cram textbooks in our heads or make us study and memorize things that we will soon forget. They help us learn, push us beyond our comfort zone when we get stuck, and let us apply new knowledge to things in everyday life. Isn’t that what education is about? Well, these are the same teachers that _____ administrators are trying to fire. These teachers not only help us learn; they are involved school-wise. Doesn’t firing these teachers defeat the whole purpose of building a world class? We need to keep these teachers in our schools; not only for me and my fellow students, but for the next generation to come. This is why so many students are uninvolved as individuals. As unorganized as we are, as you guys may know, we came together and are taking a stand and fighting for this. Doesn’t that say anything?

KB, sophomore at _____, shared that most our teachers were non-renewed today and suspended. When I went to class today, I didn’t feel like doing any work because I knew that our teachers were not there. They are there for us and love us. They love teaching and are here to help us. I’ve been struggling through school since ninth grade. Whenever I need help, I go see Mr. _____or Mr. _____and spend an hour after school each day with them until I bring my grade up to where I like it. As you guys might be able to tell, my voice is also gone because yesterday I was protesting to help keep my teachers.

AR, sophomore _____ student, shared that if you are a teacher and you can bring students to tears because you are going to leave a school, you can obviously see that it is going to hurt the school. I really hope that you would reconsider. I was going to try to count how many students were at the protest yesterday, yelling their brains out. I lost my voice and when I woke up this morning, I could not even say hi to my grandmother. You can tell when a student is dedicated to keeping their teacher’s job when they are outside from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., feet hurting, starving because you can’t get back on campus to eat lunch, head hurting and back hurting. I actually have a bit of a pain in my bicep from fist pumping too much. I hope that you see that these students are dedicated to their teachers and much as these teachers are dedicated to their students. Whether it was a teacher that particularly understood their educational needs, every teacher has touched their lives. They have gotten many of us through school, and at times, were the only reason some students even came to class. However, _[district]____has shown that these things don’t matter. They are teaching our youth profits over pride, and that is not okay. This is the same youth that we expect to one day run our country better than the previous generation that has destroyed the environment. Adults have only themselves to blame for what our children become. The administration’s greed, I don’t mean to insult you, but I have heard about the conference room. Yesterday, there were 20 to 30 students who handed their IDs over knowing that they would be suspended. These are [program], IB, AP and Honors students who know that a suspension on their record will hurt them. Commonly described as [school] hoodlums, these kids stood outside yesterday, protesting for the teachers who they love. I am expecting and somewhat know that these teachers love us too. It would me a detriment, not only to _____, but to [district] as well.

LB, freshmen at _____, does not have any of the teachers who are up for suspension, but is very upset that she will not have them next year.

I have met Mr._____ once and I saw the relationship that he has with his students. He has given them opportunities to express the way they learn. It upsets me that students are brought to tears because they love their teacher so much. I know what it feels like to lose teachers and I know what they are going through. I’m here for [district] students and parents who supported us. I’m here for education. We are not allowed to exercise our rights to assemble peacefully and state our opinions. Granted, our assembly was slightly disruptive, but the passion and dedication of the students and parents was there. We are not only fighting for our education, but for our rights as Americans as well. It outrages me that a parent was told that her daughter loses her civil liberties as soon as she walks into [school]’s doors. Regardless if this is a view of the district or not, a staff member who would state that should not be hired to work in an environment with children. Quality teachers, like the few being let go, are what gives us the tools to succeed in our future and the motivation to learn. We want to be able to go to school and know that we are getting what we need to excel, including good teachers and an administration that is behind us. Let’s not be hypocrites. For example, when the school tells us not to use much paper, but they then send our schedules on full pieces of paper. Our slogan states “Flight Above the Rest,” but we cannot fly above the rest if we are repressed or punished. The slogan on the wall behind states “Graduate Every Student With The Choice to Attend College Without Remediation.” If students do not pass high school, how are they supposed to get to college? We need teachers who will give us the attention we require and teachers who speak to us rather than at us. In order to obtain the proper education, we need support from quality teachers.

RB, is a parent and former [district] graduate. Her daughter, AR, is in the IB Program and is a student of Mr._____.

Barley hopes that the Board will not let these quality educators leave. They are helping our children make a difference in their future and lives. Our children are our future and will decide our medical care some day as senior citizens. By keeping the teachers in our classrooms, I feel that our children will better themselves in society as doctors, lawyers and educators for their own children. It is your choice who our children will be with the educators we have right now.
Barley is not just here for Mr. _____, adding that she met him and he is an awesome teacher. My daughter is more comfortable in his class than in any other educator’s class that she has been in. I hope you make a good decision and decide to keep him. It affects me because I see what my daughter goes through when she comes home from school. Her grades are good and she will be inducted into the National Honor Society on Monday. From a personal standpoint, my daughter lost her father four years ago. She is doing so well now and I don’t want her to lose this. Mr. _____ is a good teacher and I hope you decide to keep him.

JN, sophomore at _____, expressed concerns about the valuable teachers who are being laid off at _____.

Hundreds of students, including myself, find these teachers to be some of the most inspiring, dedicated and contributing teachers at _____. They constantly motivate the student body and do their jobs as professionally as possible. This issue was conducted by doing a petition in which we gathered about 600 signatures and presented it to the principal and other administrators at _____. We were told that there would be no further discussion about it. Letters were also sent to the Board as well. Students believe that the protest and the actions that we took were necessary since nothing else that we had done was considered. The grand majority of us who are against these decisions are part of your distinguished IB Program and [special district Program]. You do not see us doing things like this ever, but it shows the immense importance of the issue to us. I would also like to say that no teacher forced us to conduct any activities. The students of _____ request to have all teachers back and resume their responsibilities. Mr. Superintendent, you want us to learn – right? Then, we need our teachers for that.

KV, sophomore at _____, shared that Mr. _____ is one of her favorite teachers and has been there for me.

Mr. _____ pushes us each day in class to do better. I do not know what your version of unprofessional is, but in my opinion he is professional each day in class. The only aspect that I think changes is that each day he brings fun to his class and we want to be there. I know that he was suspended today and when I went to class no one wanted to do any work. We thought that we would have a packet or something when we went to his class. Kid refused to do anything because of what happened to him and literally wanted to walk out of class. We ended up watching a movie, but no one wanted to be there because Mr. _____ wasn’t there. I know Mr. _____ personally, but Mr. C_____, Mr. S_____ and the other teachers have a passion for what they are teaching. I have friends in Mr. S and Mr. C’s class. My friend looks forward to Mr. S’s class every day. She has trouble at home, and Mr. S has helped her through it. I know that by firing Mr. _____ and letting these teachers go you will affect us and our future. Mr. _____ makes us want to be at school and by letting him go, you are letting go of one of our reasons to be at school I have other teachers who make me go to class and all we do is take notes. We do not want to go to their class anymore. In Mr. _____’s class, we have projects, we have fun, we watch movies about the subject, and we talk about what is going on. I am in his MYP IB history class and we relate things that happened 70 years ago to things that are happening today. We see how we can change what is going on and by doing that, he is teaching us how to create a better future for not only us, but for generations to come. I really think that you guys should change your minds about letting him go.

VO, parent, shared that her son is a sophomore at _____ and was in Mr. _____’s MYP IB civics and geography class last year. She shared that her son is stronger in math and sciences, but loved Mr. _____’s class and would come home and share his experience. I do not know how a teacher can go from being an excellent performer to a poor performer in a school year. I feel that these teachers were targeted. I do not know for what reason, but it was not for their performance.

VO currently has a daughter who attends [other district school] and will be going to _____ in three years. She is now rethinking about enrolling her at _____ because she is not happy with the current situation.

RP, junior at _____, shared that we, the student body at _____, gathered for a peaceful assembly yesterday. We stood outside for eight hours, sunburned faces before you, to beg you to save our teachers. I have never had Mr. _____, Mr. S or Mr. C, but I feel cheated because I see the love that the students have for them and I wish that I had had the privilege to sit in their class.

Ms. T and Mr. H are two P.E. teachers who I had this year. Ms. T actually got me to run, and if you can get RP to run, you have made an impact in my life. I hated gym and now look forward to it each day. I decided to join cross country next year because of her. She was there when I needed her as more than a teacher. When I needed a shoulder to cry on and motivation each day, she was there. Mr. H makes the class fun and makes the day go by a lot easier. I do not dread going to his class and actually enjoy it. You are cutting teachers who make _____ a school that should be tops, number one in the district because of its teachers. Every single teacher who is on the cut list, just so happens to be the best _____ has to offer. It we had not come together yesterday, I don’t think _____ would have ever been positively heard on the news. We’re also portrayed negatively, but _____ is world class because we have teachers who teach because they want to, not because they have to. I want you to overlook every teacher on that list and listen to us. We are not doing and repeating this to be a broken record; we are doing it because these teachers deserve to teach. Not every teacher has that privilege, but these teachers do.

MA, junior at _____, has been open enrolled at _____ since the ninth grade.
I would like to point out that since my freshman year, the only teachers that have changed my life are here tonight. Whether they are on the line or not, they are the only ones that I will remember. They are the ones that actually push me to do stuff. Last year I went through a lot and Mr. _____'s room actually became a haven for me as it has for a lot of students. Ms. T and Mr. H, teachers who are getting fired, don’t only impact _____ they impact the community around them. Mr. H has a charity where he provides dinners and Christmas toys to kids.
I would also like to point out that the teachers who were suspended, were suspended for unjust reasons. They had nothing to do with the protest. Five people, students at _____, started this protest and it grew. Students who had never talk or seen each other, stood together across the street from _____ because cops were preventing us from going back into school. Students inside the school who probably never shot us a second glance were cheering for us for taking a stand. _____ has pushed us around long enough; our administration has implemented rules that don’t even make sense. They take away things that are important to us. I personally put my open enrollment on the line, I put my IB diploma on the line, and I put my prom on the line. I never got into trouble before and I put a suspension on my record just for these teachers and to prove that these teachers are more than what the administration is making them seem to be. They don’t deserve to be fired when their performance has always been above and beyond. I was in Mr. B_____’s class last year, and I promise you nobody in his class loved him at first. We all hated him because he made us do so much work, but it paid off. He is somebody that you learn to love because he doesn’t tell you “oh no, you can’t. “ This year, I have a lot of teachers that have told me I can’t make it anywhere in life just because they don’t want to be teachers. I have a teacher that doesn’t want to go back, but has tenure and can ride it out. I also have a teacher who will not help when asked and will not stay after school. I am an IB student and a gymnast, and do not have all the time that everybody else does. I’m about to go to college and I feel that Mr. _____ and Ms. E are the only people that have actually prepared me for those courses.
The people who were suspended, did not get suspended for the right reason. They were suspended because they took us food because they knew we had been out there since 7:00 a.m. I was at the sit-in at 7:40 a.m. when there were only twenty people, and I willingly handed over my ID knowing how much trouble I was going to be in. I just want you guys to know that our administration is not who we are; the students are who we are. I think we proved that we can stand together for the greater cause.

AN, sophomore at _____, understands that there are budget cuts and everything revolves around the economy right now.

I don’t understand why some of the most innovative and thoughtful teachers are being let go. Their Facebook pages are so much better than the presentation that was presented earlier this evening because we’re all on Facebook 24/7. For him to put up discussions and homework assignments for everyone to discuss, comment on and be part of are great ideas. We interact with each other that way, learn that way and can relate to other students and teachers.
When the administration threatened us with suspension and told us we would have to come up with excuses or reasons for why we have a suspension on our record because of yesterday, made me think that we are fighting for our education. All of us are IB and [program] students and we had to come down here and fight for what we want. We want an education, and it’s not fair that we have to come down here and demand it. Like the State Representative (RF) said, everyone should be proud of what we did because we stood up for what we believe in, we didn’t drop out, and we fought back because we want an education. My theater teacher told me that once you have knowledge you can never go back to ignorance. Mr. _____, Mr. S, and Mr. C gave me that knowledge. With them being gone, we won’t get that knowledge anymore. I feel that it is unfair that they are being let go because they’re in that leap for tenure. I also feel that this “unprofessionalism” that they are talking about is just an excuse. If our administration cared about us they would be with us right now. There are teachers in this room who are tenured and they are standing next to us. But, I don’t see Ms. [Principal] and I don’t see Mr. [Assistant Principal] here.

GT, sophomore at _____, shared that she did not have Mr. S at the beginning of the year. I was in a normal Spanish class and I didn’t really know what I was getting into. To be honest, I didn’t really communicate in Spanish at home. I am ashamed to say that I talk to my parents in English
they encouraged me to take Spanish. When found out that I was being placed in MYP Spanish with Mr. S, I really thought that I wasn’t going to make it. I thought that I was just going to die because I wasn’t really that fluent in Spanish. As I went to his class, I started having so much fun. He made Spanish so easy. I actually loved it and started talking Spanish at home with my parents. When I found out that he was suspended today class wasn’t even fun. We watched a movie in Spanish, but without him it was not normal. It was different and you could feel the emptiness.

Mr. _____’s class is awesome and fun. I purposely walk my friends to class just because I like visiting his class. He is really fun to talk to and I wish that I had taken his class because he seems like an awesome guy. You are letting two good teachers go and more teachers behind us. It’s not fair. Adults have always told us to speak up for what we think is right. We’re doing that now, but you’re ignoring us. We stood up for what we believe in and we’re still standing up for what we believe in. Because of these teachers, we have all done good. We are not bad kids even though it might seem like we are because of what happened yesterday. You guys need to reconsider that. These are good teachers and you shouldn’t let them go. Because of Mr. S, “Hora habla espanol.”

MM, parent and [district] volunteer, shared that she is a supportive mom, but corrects her children when they are wrong. She shared that her daughter is an excellent student, but was lazy and unorganized until she attended Mr. _____’s class. He was able to help her with organization and influenced her to read. She used to make fun of me for watching the history channel, but is now watching it with me thanks to Mr. _____.

Martinez shared that Mr. _____ may not have conventional methods of teaching, but that is what makes him unique and special, and is what makes all of these teachers special. She also shared that Ms. T is also amazing. She is aware that her daughter is a gymnast and encourages her to practice and has developed different warm up exercises for her. Her daughter has various medical conditions and was in severe treatment last year. She always made sure to let me know that we had to go in early as she did not want to miss Mr. _____’s class. For my daughter to say that, it was shocking. I have never seen her so motivated as she has been since going to Mr. _____’s, Ms. T’s and Mr. H’s classes.

MM shared that if there must be budget cuts, take out the electric signs in front of the school. The school does not need to look pretty. It just needs books, which they do not have thanks to budget cuts, and quality teachers. I have tried to meet with my daughter’s English teacher multiple times, adding that he has no people skills or time to speak to parents. He has been on Facebook every time that I have attended parent/teacher conferences. She remembers when she first came to the United States from Germany and the impact that her teachers had on her.

LS, sophomore at _____, noted that all three teachers who spoke tonight were suspended. She was not able to go to her classes today and enjoy them because they were suspended for unfair reasons.

Mr. C, Mr. S and Mr. _____ are all amazing teachers. I have never had one moment where I ever looked and thought “Why am I here?” “Why do I let these teachers teach me?” “They’re no good?” Mr. C makes fun of me a lot, but he is one of the best English teachers that I have ever had. I go to his class each day and look forward to it because it is fun. Mr. S, I don’t know Spanish, but I’m doing pretty good. He’s taught me so much and I have just succeeded in his class. Mr. _____, I hate History. But everything that I have ever learned in his class I have shared with my mom or grandpa, who was very good at History before he passed away. To hear that these teachers may not be at _____ next year is terrible. I may not have them next year, but incoming freshmen and sophomores might need these teachers. I have experienced it and know for a fact that these teachers can do anything. They can motivate any student to do what they want, be what they want, and do their very best. Without these teachers, students are going to be missing out on so much good English, good Spanish, and good history lessons. I think that it is sad that future students will not be able to experience what I have and what many other students here today have experienced. I believe that we should reconsider who we cut, why we cut, and things that we are cutting. Like many students have previously commented about the budget, there are a lot of unnecessary things that we can get rid of rather than quality teachers who provide quality education and help motivate students. It’s not about teaching; it’s about what they make their students believe and how they make their students feel. I believe that those teachers present tonight have done so much for me and so much for all of these students. I think that we really need to reconsider their position at _____.

JR, sophomore at_____, shared that when she feels stared at it makes her think about her little sister and her problems focusing.

It’s is hard to know how I actually feel, and sometimes I do not have anyone to talk to since my mom’s been out of the country. The teachers present tonight are the only ones that are going to help me get through this quarter. They are the only ones that are going to tell me that I will get through it. I talked to my tennis coach today and she also said that it would be OK. She did not make me feel like I was carrying a weight or a load. They actually make me feel like there are people who I can lean toward on.

I worry about my grades and education. My little sister is seven years old and gets these packets with so much work in it. I sometimes ask her to explain the work, but she says no. She has problems focusing, but at the same time, why do they give her so much work. I know that she leans on me. I feel like my little sister because I’m the one that leans on my teachers. Without them it is so hard. It is hard to focus when there are so many things going on around you and the only thing that you can think of is that you will have their class tomorrow and can speak to them then. Knowing that I can do this not only for my mom, but for my little sister means so much to me. I think it’s important to not only think about the criteria and books, but also how teachers make you feel and understand everything. They balance everything, including personal issues and school issues and know how to control both. They make us feel stable and secure. They know me better than my friends. My principal does not know me; she knows me by the number on my ID. How do you think we feel? There are gates around the school; it’s like a prison. After school they try to move us out. But when that day comes for them to get money for students, they text us and tell us to come to school. The only teachers that care are right here. Why aren’t the rest here? Why isn’t the principal here? It’s unfair. I think that if so many people want to talk to you about the issues and give you statistics about what’s going on, you should give us more than three minutes. You should really get to know things before speaking to the principals or the people who think they know. But in reality, like we all said, we’re the students. They might lead, but the only people that they’re really leading are the teachers. The teachers lead in a way that works for us, and like they said, it’s just amazing how we all came together. You guys see and hear us crying, but we don’t care because we are explaining to you how much we care about our teachers. I just love these teachers and even though I’m going through so much, they are here for me and help me every single day.

Board President asked for the number of students, staff, and community members in the audience in support of the teachers to raise their hands.

VG counted 35 supporters.

BI, president of the _____ Education Association, thanked the Board for providing time to speak.
In this country, we talk a lot about wanting to have a quality education for all students and that is being upheld by the president, secretary of education and voices across the country. We talk about wanting the very best teachers to educate students and to be sure that all students, regardless of their income or color of their skin or race have the opportunity for a quality education. In order to do that we know that we need teachers who empower students, engage them and encourage them to see that education offers them a different route and a different path in life and that they can have what they want and need to be successful.

I don’t think that you would have seen this number of high school students speaking to you from the heart tonight if they did not know that the teachers who are sitting behind me and who I have had the pleasure of representing do just that. They bring their passion and their commitment to class every day and they do what’s necessary to engage these students and help them understand that there is a bigger and a better world out there for them, and if they stay in school and do the work that is necessary that the world will be waiting for them with open arms and will encourage them to be successful. We have something wrong in our system that says that based on the determination of one individual that teachers can be told that they are not a fit for a school. This is not about a budget issue because these positions will be refilled. And yes, we know that we have a budget crisis going on, not only in the state and school districts, but that is not what this is about. This is about probationary teachers who are being told that they’re being non-renewed and about the students. All of these students who are sitting here and the ones who have already spoken have said that these teachers are making a difference for them and that’s what we want. Yet we are ushering them out the door. We lament the fact that probationary teachers are leaving this profession within the span of five years, but we don’t talk about the teachers who we help leave because we say that when they get to year three it’s time for them to go. We don’t want to keep you.

I hope that you are thrilled by the students who came tonight. I think that we should applaud them all because they were remarkable. I think that what they said needs to be taken into consideration. This is their future and this is their life that we’re talking about. I hope that the Board will take into consideration the words that were spoken tonight.

B plans to vote no because of the students, Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chávez and so many other people who have stood up for their rights and for good people. I admire every single one of these students and teachers who had the courage to come forward and speak to the Board because it was not easy.
S shared that the _____ students make her proud to be a _____ graduate.
Roll Call:
The consent agenda was not approved on a vote of 5-2.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

What's wrong with our schools? Part I

I'm tired of it. The armchair quarterbacks, bellicose pundits, venture capitalists, "curriculum" consultants, and alleged reformers have finally gotten to me. They have gone from an annoyance into influential. Who doesn't have an opinion about our public school system anymore? Whether it be Obama, his advisers, big city superintendents, billionaires, or film directors, the opinion is universal. Schools are bad, m'kay.

Hold on a minute. In this debate, it's currently not a discussion, who is getting listened to, and who is not? What biases, positive and negative, are getting the most exposure time? Are we using science or proven techniques, or are we relying on gut and intuition? I think we all need to step back and take a breath.

Money doesn't make you smart, powerful, or a positive societal influence

It used to be that educators could rely on the consistent support of the public to listen to teachers, and predominantly do the right thing. Today is different.

If we look at the Gallup poll on American's perceptions of public schools:
77% of people said their child's school an A or B
49% of people gave local schools an A or B
18% of people said the nation's schools deserved an A or B

Yes, my school is good, but not those other schools. The huge divide of 77/18 shows clearly that if you have a child in a public school, you are more likely than not to give it a good rating. If you have no children in school, more likely than not you will give public schools a negative rating. The clear difference is EXPERIENCE. Those who know best are involved in the system. What a novel idea.

Who is most involved in the system, and is there more often than not for altruistic reasons? Teachers. We are trusted to teach, but not on how to teach best.

Those that are trying to take control and demolish the public school system are preying on people's misperceptions. Schools are bad, so we must fix them, right? I'm sick and tired of amateurs fucking with my profession.

In this series, I am going to examine those who are attempting to influence our public schools: billionaires and Broad graduates, poverty and affluence, unions and administrators, parents, teachers, and students.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

I am a dangerous man

Yesterday, I had my final meeting with the district to discuss the findings of their "investigation" into my involvement in the student protest to save my job. I was treated like a pedophile, and charged with nothing. School ends in a week, and I will not be there.

It took the district five weeks to discover that I had a conversation with an Assistant Principal, where I asked why he was suspending students for staging a sit-in. Apparently, I had that conversation too close to the kids, and was deemed unprofessional. Strange how the Superintendent shared my opinion that students shouldn't be suspended. I am unprofessional.

The remainder of the "Letter of Concern" that I got listed how I had answered students questions on assignments after being given instruction to have no contact with students or staff. Damn me for helping a student. Damn me for having students that cared.

What I am most disappointed in, is the fact that the people who run our schools are the exact people you don't even want running Enron. I inspired some students, and they got mad. In response, the district takes me out of the classroom, fakes an investigation, and gives a sub for the students, while still paying me. The community garden that was to be put in was destroyed, the Outdoor Club was suspended, and my students started ditching and failing. It takes an amazing amount of cognitive dissonance to not see that the actions of the district have significantly harmed students who cannot afford it. Damn them. Damn them all.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


The LA Times has decided to print "value-added" scores of all LAUSD teachers again. Although, if my local daily printed my scores I would have nothing to worry about, the point is that we shouldn't trust the major newspapers to get this right.

First of all, what do the journalists compiling the information know about teaching? Education is one of those subjects that you need to be involved in, in order to fully understand it. I've gotten to the point of refusing to have discussions about education with people who only work on assumptions and their high school experience.

The teacher ratings in the LA Times are based on standardized test scores. Those tests are a bunch of worthless bullshit that kids don't care about and give nothing for teachers to guide instruction. I don't need a three day test to tell me that Eduardo isn't proficient in reading, or Anab in writing. All standardized tests do is create a facade of accountability, at the same time robbing precious school time.

Perhaps we should evaluate the LA Times based on the same collective criteria teachers are. Here is my evaluation of their paper.

#1) The LA Times endorsed the Iraq War in March 2003, saying:
As this nation enters war, we trust that the U.S. and British armed forces will be able to take advantage of their vastly superior training and technology to end the conflict soon with minimal casualties.

Even I knew better. The LA Times has taken down that editorial that now only exists in small nuggets on the web. Getting the war wrong is one of the greatest failures of the modern media. The American media was alone in the world in terms of advancing the jingoistic vocabulary and propaganda of the government.

#2) The last time the LA Times endorsed a presidential candidate before 2008 was in 1972. The LA Times endorsed Nixon. We all know how that turned out.

#3) In 2006, shortly after the Republican defeat at the polls, the Times published Bomb Iran where the author Joshua Muravchik
The only way to forestall these frightening developments is by the use of force. Not by invading Iran as we did Iraq, but by an air campaign against Tehran's nuclear facilities. We have considerable information about these facilities; by some estimates they comprise about 1,500 targets. If we hit a large fraction of them in a bombing campaign that might last from a few days to a couple of weeks, we would inflict severe damage. This would not end Iran's weapons program, but it would certainly delay it.
Muravchik later goes on to compare the cold war with Iran as similar to that with the USSR, and compares the Iranian leadership to Nazis and Bolsheviks. The ignorance is palpable.

Are these examples nit-picky and selective. Yes. So are teacher evaluations. We need to understand the validity and reliability of data before we use it to evaluate and judge people. Teacher #1 in the white school will always get better scores than teacher #2 in the poor and immigrant communities. LA Times, come back when you have teachers on staff.