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Sunday, February 9, 2014

The inexplicable logic of Superintendent Vitti and the business community

I am just going to get right to it. The superintendent plans to announce a business community funded plan to pay top teachers 20,000 dollars over 3 years to go to our neediest schools. I think they plan is doomed to fail but more about that later.

The superintendent and the business community obviously recognize that our neediest schools need our best and most experienced teachers, if they didn’t then why have the plan.

Since that is the case then why are the superintendent and the same business leaders insisting we spend 11 million dollars to bring more Teach for America recruits to town. Teach for America takes non education types puts them through a five week teacher boot camp and then places them in our neediest schools where they are supposed to serve two years, or the exact opposite of what we know to be best practices and obviously the exact opposite of what the superintendent knows the schools need. Other districts around the country have refused to take Teach for America because they want to hire professional teachers and to develop life long educators. The difference is here we have a powerful business man Gary Chartrand who has bought into them hook line and sinker and who paid a million dollars to bring them to town.

And do you want to know why they are insisting on putting woefully unqualified teachers in our neediest classrooms, it is because the business leaders hate the teachers union and having TFA in town hurts the bargaining position of the union. There are salary, benefit, and working condition issues that are affected when union membership is down. The union gets a lot of grief but I want to remind you they do not set policy nor do they create curriculum and they definitely don’t protect bad teachers either. All they do is make sure teachers only after years of service have agreed upon with the district work protections.

These business leaders hate the unions more than they care about our kids which means our kids are caught up in an ideological war being waged by business leaders who have no understanding about how education works and I can prove that too, by bringing us back to the 20 thousand dollar plan which is a form of merit pay.

It is interesting seeing all these business guys sitting around talking about merit pay because I doubt they would employ something like it in their businesses; now follow me for a second.

If somebody came to them and said lets try idea x, now I know it has been tried over and over again and has had no success but lets try it again here, they would laugh him out of their offices. That's merit pay for you. Over and over again merit pay has been tried and over and over again it has failed and that's because it doesn't measure the level of instruction, it measures the level of the kid.

Vitti and the business group may be looking to a new study which offered experienced transfer teachers 20 thousand dollars over two years (Jax trying to do it on the cheap and make it over three years) and then compared how theses did to how teachers hired through the normal applicant pool did. The transfer teachers did much better.

This however is a bit misleading because you see the candidates from the regular applicant pool were most likely first year or novice teachers. Our inner city schools face a lot of turnover with their teacher staff. Teachers burn out quickly, test scores are usually low which leads to teachers being let go and quite frankly that’s where the jobs are. So in essence the study is saying veteran teachers do a lot better than first year teachers, novice teachers and people just looking for a job. Can somebody let Teach for America know please?   

If these business leaders really wanted to help those schools improve, if Vitti was more interested in helping kids rather than appeasing the business world, then they would insist we put in place things that made success possible, smaller classes, social workers and mental health counselors because why kids act up or do poorly in schools often has nothing to do with school, wrap around services, curriculums that played to their strengths, a longer school year to give them more time to learn what they needed and yes to get our best teachers to them which could be done through a variety of incentives and supports that doesn’t include bribing them and hurting cohesiveness, but they aren't and that's because education is not a business. They think they can throw money at the teachers and things will improve and I want to remind you we have tried this before. A couple years back teachers were offered free masters degrees, and when that didn’t work a few thousand dollars and we’re still in the same place. What is the district going to offer when 20k fails? A new car? A trip to the Bahamas. No amount of money is going to work if there aren’t supports in place.   

At the end of the day I don’t expect the business community to know better but I do expect Vitti too and I expect him to do what’s right for our kids and if pleasing business leaders is more important then it’s time for him to go.

Chris Guerrieri
School Teacher

1 comment:

  1. If money were my motivating factor, I would have quit 8 years ago. Merit pay does not work, because it is too complicated. On top of that, most new teachers have not developed the pedagogy to enact strategies that work for students as they have no experience. Passion and drive may work to a certain extent, but only knowledge and skill that can only be fostered over time produce real, lasting results. And really, $6500 or so extra per year is not a huge amount. I would not relocate to a more struggling school for that paltry amount. What about the teachers that are already in those schools? What about those of us already in struggling schools? If Vitti truly understood how learning works, he would not back this plan? How is it that the schools with the most parental involvement and income surpass those without? Literacy creates literacy. Knowledge begets knowledge. When kids are surrounded by teachers, other kids, community members, etc., high literacy abounds. A couple of hours with a student every other day will not enact miracles, because the student has to show up, do the work, put in the time, display proper behavior, etc. There are so many facets to this issue that Vitti is not exploring. Take this extra money, and hire better teachers to help the teachers who are already overburdened in the classroom. If I had more time right now, I would write more!