A colleague was lamenting the fact that all attempts to improve student learning focus on the schools. "What about the families? What about the community?" I told her that while I agree with the underlying thought process of school improvement, it's often sold in a horrible way--"You teachers suck and need to do a better job." A more positive and realistic way to sell such a program would be something like this: "It's true that there are societal and family issues that cause some children not to do as well as others, or as well as they should. Still, that isn't reason for us not to do everything we can to improve our instruction and other practices. Who here would say they're doing 100% of everything they could reasonably do to help students? We can't wait for the parents to do what they should do before we do what we can do--the kids deserve better. So what can we do to improve that over which we have control?" She certainly agreed that a program presented in that manner would seem much more reasonable than one presented in the manner of "You're not doing your job and need to do better," which often seems to be the tone when school improvement is discussed.
So imagine this story out of Chicago:
In a dramatic proposal to reform eight chronically under-performing schools, Chicago Public Schools could fire hundreds of teachers and their principals next fall, replacing them with better-trained or better-performing educators, school officials said.
This leads me to question: are they being fired from the district, or just from these particular schools? It's important to note that the schools in question had already been "reconstituted", where all staff members had to reapply for their positions (and presumably "bad" ones were forced to take jobs at other schools). Here's what happened back then:
Of the 167 teachers deemed the worst of the lot among those seven schools and ousted by the board, more than half ended up back in Chicago public schools, including some targeted for improvement.
So are they really going to be fired this time? Looks like it.
Though teaching positions in low-performing schools can be tough to fill, Duncan said there is "a huge amount of interest" among educators who are excited about getting in on the ground floor of reformed schools' future success. He said the district is interested in the best talent, including nationally board-certified and Golden Apple teachers.
As extra incentive, the district is offering annual performance bonuses of up to $10,000 to principals and master teachers.
In some cases, good teachers will have the chance to be hired back, but the vast majority will be fired, Duncan said.
Why were these so-called bad teachers not fired before now? Does the school situation really have to become apocalyptic before incompetent teachers are fired? Who's to blame for this sad state of affairs? You know who I'm going to point fingers at--school/district administration and the teachers union.
One thing the district is doing that might bear some fruit is they're changing all the schools in a neighborhood, rather than just the high school.
"The simple premise is you can't fix the high school without also fixing the elementary school," Duncan said. "By doing this by neighborhood, we have a chance in a very short amount of time to dramatically impact the educational opportunities for children in that community."
Left unsaid is where they're going to get all the teachers needed to fill the slots of those let go. And if some of that dead wood is a tenured teacher with, say, 15 or 20 years of experience, is that teacher really going to be fired?
This will make for a fun story to watch--especially if you like Chicago-style politics :-)