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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Do you ever wonder why the worst teachers teach in the schools on the poor side of town? (rough draft)

Do you ever wonder why the worst teachers teach in the schools on the poor side of town? Education reformers who yell every child deserves a top notch teacher do and they think the solution is to close those schools and replace them with charter schools. Though how having a child go to a school with accountability and that requires professionals to one that often doesn’t and doesn’t is going to improve things is beyond me.

Ironically the reformers are the same people who say we need more Teach for America, who provide rookie non education major teachers to work in our high poverty schools. Those schools that haven’t been taken over or closed that is. They would have people believe TFA is the best thing urban districts have going.

It is true our poorer schools do typically get more of our new teachers which is to bad because in education experience really does matter, nobody says, I was a better teacher five years ago than I am now. Let me take that back experience matters unless you are a TFA teacher, they all hit the ground running or so the education reformers would have you believe; it is just a shame we have to replace 95% of them every two years.

Education reformers know there is poverty; they just like to ignore it. A good teacher they say, can overcome absentee parents, violence in the street and hunger in the belly. Actual, I need some food hunger, not the hunger that often fuels people to excel. No, none of those matters just put a great teacher in front of them and all these things will go away.

And how are we going to tell if they are a great teacher or not? Well we are going to test, test and test their students, did I mention test them. Their scores better be high too and it doesn’t matter if your scores in the rich neighborhood were great before you transferred you better duplicate them in our schools often devoid of resources too because if you don’t, well it means you are a bad teacher and we’ll have to kick you to the curve and get somebody else in there.

The irony of this is not lost on me and it shouldn’t be lost on you that the thing that often keeps our experienced, great teachers from going to inner city schools to teach is high stakes testing. After all who wants to put their jobs on the line; TFA recruits and first year teachers who can’t find gigs in the more affluent schools that’s who.

Poverty is both the number one quantifiable measure of school performance; children who live in poverty don’t do as well as those who don’t, and the number one most ignored factor by education reformers, who quite coincidently never lived in poverty themselves and who don’t send their children to the schools on the poor side of town staffed by first years, TFA recruits and a few veterans who have managed to hang on.

So what do we do? If poverty is such a destroyer of hope, why don’t we throw our hands up and just give up? Well first what escapes most people is there are wonderful things going on even in our most challenged schools. I will even take it a step farther, when comparing test scores I would take the top one hundred of any school west of Casset and north of Beaver and I bet they would be just as good as any public or private school in any neighborhood in the city. The fact that we have many wonderful things, good kids and hard working teachers is lost on many; unfortunately we are losing to many of these kids as well.

There are many things we can do to mitigate the poverty in our struggling schools. We could have social workers and mental health counselors because quite often why a student doesn’t try or acts up has nothing to do with school, we could hire skill, trade and arts teachers because this one size fits all everybody is going to go to college curriculum that we force every kid into doesn’t play to many children’s strengths and aptitudes and because we can’t continue to make school such drudgery for kids and then wonder why they are performing poorly and then we could have more summer school opportunities because some kids need more time to learn it and less time to lose it. All of those things would mitigate poverty but all of those things cost money too. Strangely TFA and charter schools save money but that is another story.

Here is another irony, one of the reasons we can’t afford many of the things that would mitigate poverty which in fact we have been cutting them over the years is because we now spend so much money on testing. We send the lion’s share of this money to Pearson a British company that siphons billions out of our country and 300 million plus from Florida alone. How many art teachers, shop classes, summer school seats and social workers is that? Is it enough to mitigate poverty for all? Probably not for all but it would definitely be a good first step.

You ever wonder why our worst teachers work in our high poverty neighborhood schools.

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