"I had no idea education was so political!" ~a friend this past week
YEP! Welcome to the real world where most decisions are based on politics, power, greed, and ignorance. Few decisions are based upon results or on the experts in the classrooms, because few even acknowledge there are such a thing.
I live in the lovely state of Louisiana. I am proud to be a from a state with a rich history and diverse people. We are often found at the bottom of lists for everything from wealth to education, however we have much to offer the nation and the world. We are a grand experiment in the making in the realm of education. I hope the nation is watching.
I have been an educator in this state for 20 years. I have worked in a rural school, a school serving a military base, two rural but high poverty schools, a urban inner-city charter, and a traditional suburban school with a wide-range of students. I have taught and been an administrator. When I think about what I have seen and what I know from actually being in a school for two decades, I have to arrogantly admit I have the answer. Here it is. All we need for our education system to be number one in the world is for every child to have a HIGHLY EFFECTIVE TEACHER! Surprise! I hate to disappoint the unions, but this does not require throwing more money into education (The Baton Rouge Advocate, January 28, 2012). I hate to exploit Governor Jindal's generalizations, but there are some very highly effective teachers out in this state.
The problem is between the highly effective teachers and the machine that makes it all run is a ton of red tape, people desiring power, and companies making millions from selling everything from mistake-riddled textbooks to apps promising grand results.
According to the Louisiana Department of Education, average teacher in Louisiana was paid $ 47,970 in 2009-2010. We will round this number off to $50,000 for inflation and add an additional $30,000 for a nice benefits package. A teacher costs $80,000 for 182 days of work. Class sizes vary, but we will settle on a class size of 25 students, which means the teacher is being paid about $3,200 per child. According to a study by Tulane University, Louisiana spent on average $9,787 per pupil in 2008-2009. Now you are pondering what the additional $6,000 per pupil supplied. There are utility costs, transportation costs, administration costs at the school level, the district level, and the state level. Material costs such as the latest program or the "magic bullet" also cost. K-CHING!
Teacher quality has the greatest impact on student achievement (Rivkin, Hanushek, & Kain, 2005; Rockoff, 2004;Sanders & Rivers, 1996). The research indicates high teacher quality impacts gains in learning across classrooms, even when compared within the same school. Some teachers consistently demonstrate larger student achievement gains than other teachers. The difference demonstrated is a one and a half years of gain in achievement in an academic year, while others with equivalent students have been found to have a half year of gain (Sanders & Rivers, 1996). In other words, two students starting at the same level of achievement can know vastly different amounts at the end of a single academic year. If a low achievement year comes early in schooling or if a low achievement year is compounded by other low achievement years, it may not be possible for the student to recover (Sanders & Rivers, 1996). Understanding the impact an effective teacher has upon a child and creating a system where every child has an effective teacher are two very different scenarios.
The following is an actual example. The name of the teacher has been changed to protect her. During her first six weeks of the year, Ms. Brown, a first year teacher in a 100% poverty and 100% minority school, frequently considered running away from school. One day in late September, she decided to seek assistance and persist in her pursuit of learning the skills and techniques of an effective teacher. Her dedication to overcome obstacles was decidedly demonstrated in her students’ test scores and their notes of love to her at the end of the year. She taught in a room with a projector and her own laptop. Her board was so scratched and stained, it was useless. She made every activity the students did as she had little to no resources. The group had scored 11% proficient during their previous year on the state-wide assessment, but after attending Ms. Brown’s class, the proficiency rate jumped to 67% for the same group of children on the state assessment. On her state teacher value-added report card, Ms. Brown was in the 99% of teachers in the state for value-added gains of student achievement. The notes included "No one has ever believed in me like you do."
Do you know how many people have asked this second year teacher how she accomplished such a feat? No one. You would think there would be people begging her to come work for their school. She is not the only person at the school who had great results. Yet, the story is the same for all. No one asks!
What is her value to you? What would you pay for this woman to teach your child? Does anyone want to know her secrets? Anyone?
There are numerous teachers like her in this state. If the governor would like to change education, go pull the records and begin talking to these experts from the classroom. Ask them what they need to do a job where kids move from 11% to 67% in a single year. Don't talk to their supervisors or their representative, talk to them! Most, I predict, will not say more technology or even higher pay. Many will say, "Just let me do my job."
If the unions want to speak for teachers, stop speaking for the masses and talk to effective teachers. Find out why all members aren't effective. Effective teaching can be learned and it can be translated into student gains. Ms. Brown is a second year teacher with the impact of a very experienced teacher, because she never stops asking questions, reading, thinking, and seeking collaboration with others.
There is a solution to our education woes. Hire great teachers and get everything and everyone who gets in their way, out of their way. Cut the red tape. Stop listening to all the mush in between and go to the source. We can change our education system. The people with the answers are right here. It really is that simple.
I am a teacher, which in a single word, sums up my passions and my belief in the future.