Friday, April 1, 2011

Distracting Everyone With Myths That Distract Policymakers: Part III

We’re back, taking on the next myth that is distracting policymakers. Myth number two states that “teaching experience matters little for student achievement.” The refutation in the blog post says it does, even once you get past the first three years, but it has the important conditional: “when teachers teach the same subjects and grade levels consistently, especially during the first five years of teaching.” This is great news but the conclusion I draw from it may not be the one intended by the author.

What the author appears to be trying to accomplish here is to attack ed reformers who are anti veteran teachers. I would argue that the idea that ed reformers are anti veteran teachers is unfounded. Using DC and the controversial IMPACT evaluation system as the example, the score breakdown of all teachers by experience backs up the idea that experience is good.

Regardless, the conditional above is incredibly important for a variety of reasons. One, is simply that in an urban district, where the challenges faced by teachers are so much greater than those elsewhere, it is incredibly difficult to accomplish that type of stability. Of course, if we return to myth one, maybe an answer is making those first couple years more of a residency program that guarantees stability. However, in the reality of urban districts, there is huge teacher turnover, fluctuating enrollment and constantly changing priorities due to constant political turnover. Improving longitudinal tracking of teachers might actually help mitigate some of these realities. And the investment wouldn’t necessarily have to be all that large. Districts already invest heavily in tracking “highly qualified” (a misnomer we can discuss another day) teacher status for NCLB. Leveraging the data behind “high qualified” teacher status and introducing some incentives to encourage teacher assignment consistency, which “highly qualified” does to some extent, could go a long way towards making sure teachers aren’t bounced around too much during their first years.

Of course, once again, really attacking this issue would require rethinking the way teacher assignments and movement are conducted. One of the ways I read the refutation of myth number two is that stability is a huge part of gaining the experience needed to improve as a teacher and it is more important for young teachers than veteran teachers. Veteran teachers already have the experience to handle the many difficult situations faced regularly by urban teachers. So it would seem that the common practice of Last In First Out is the opposite of good policy. Young teachers are more likely to be the ones bounced from school to school through excessing, more likely to be slotted into vacant position where they lack familiarity with the grade level and subject and more likely to be pushed towards the most difficult schools. This is a function of the way teacher tenure and most union contracts are constructed.

We are setting up our most vulnerable teachers for failure before they achieve the experience needed to succeed. Anyone who believes that experience matters, and that it matters a lot longer than many thought if there is stability during the first five years, should be absolutely against Last In First Out. We can help create even stronger veteran teachers if we allow our current crop of new teachers to gain experience in a more stable, managed and supported way. If we really care about the mental health of our teachrs, about supporting their professional development and maximizing their ability to teach our children, then all parties need to wake up and make it happen because for once we could make some real progress without a lot of pain.

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