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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Why bribing teachers to go to struggling schools doesn’t work (rough draft)

One of the failed policies that Duval County has tried in the past is to bribe experienced teachers to go to our struggling schools. Teachers have overwhelmingly passed.

One of the admitted problems we have is a lack of experienced teachers at our struggling schools. A disproportionate amount of our brand new teachers start out in our most struggling classrooms.

How do we rectify these two things? It is easy.

First we have to acknowledge we can’t bribe people to do the thing that they don’t do because of money. Teachers know they aren’t going to rich and they become teachers anyway. The reason is they want to make a difference. That’s not to say experienced teachers are masochists and will do anything, an option many first year teachers, who often take the first job offered to them don’t have.

Veteran teachers know if they do go to a struggling school the deck will be stacked against them. Senate Bill 736, the merit pay bill, which says that from now on half heir evaluations will come from test scores, has made this even worse.

Furthermore a lot of our struggling schools have a reputation of being undisciplined places where academic achievements are far and few between and where paper work is kind. They aren’t going to willingly put themselves in situations where success is unlikely.

That is why we have to make success likely.

First we need to recruit the teachers. Identify which teachers have had the most success and then convince them to transfer and we’re not going to do that by throwing a few dollars at them.

We need to promise them autonomy and support, those two things more than money will induce teachers to transfer to struggling schools. We have to tell them we trust them and they can teach the material how they see fit and that we will let them be the experts about their students and allow them to meet their needs in the fashion they choose. Right now teachers have all the responsibility but none of the authority. They are micromanaged and dictated to the point they may as well be trained chimps hitting play on a VCR.

Then we need to let them know that they will be supported, if they fail a kid or write a kid on a referral they won’t be questioned about being a bad teacher or accused of having bad classroom management. We also need to let them know that the kids they do write up will receive a meaningful consequence not just a wag of a finger too.

That’s not quite enough, so we also need to let them know that after two years if they aren’t happy they will the highest priority in transfers and if test scores don’t go up like we hope they will it won’t be held against them.

If we do these things then it will be easier to get our supposed best teachers to our struggling schools, not that this isn’t how we should treat the teachers already there in the first place.

We have tried micromanaging teachers and hanging them out to dry for the last few years and it hasn’t been working. It is way past time we tried giving teachers autonomy and support instead. I mean if improving our schools is really the goal of the powers-that-be.

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