Monday, July 20, 2009

We Agree Tenure Must Go

Jim and I have been saying this for years and totally agree with the article below.

Spelling and grammar errors as well as typos are left as an exercise for my readers.

The following piece appears on the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution website.

End tenure, improve teaching
By John D. Marshall

Over the past 70 years, public education has been a catalyst for America’s rise to global leadership. Public schools are a gateway to opportunity for everyone and offer the best hope for lifting a child out of poverty, giving him an opportunity for a better life.

As conscientious citizens, we must invest significantly more time and resources in our public schools, and specifically in our best teachers. On most standardized and norm-referenced tests, American students score in the middle of the pack or worse, and far below the developed countries in Europe and Asia.

We read about increasing class sizes, reduction of teachers’ aides and extracurricular activities, elimination of special ed programs, and “virtual” education replacing the traditional classroom teacher — all as a result of the current economic downturn.

However, this recession may provide the leverage to make fundamental changes to our education system and specifically, to enhance the teaching profession, whose reputation has suffered for the past 30 years.

The most important factor in student learning is the quality of the teacher. Recent research indicates overwhelmingly that, with the exception of the family’s role, the capabilities of the classroom teacher are more important than any other school factor in a student’s learning. It is more important than class size, facilities, curriculum, the number of computers in a school, and per-pupil funding.

The difference in what students learn from a good teacher compared to a poor teacher is vast. We are better off having our child in a class of 25 with a great teacher than in a class of five with a mediocre teacher.

But how do we identify promising teacher candidates? It turns out that identifying the good teachers before they enter the field is surprisingly difficult. Research indicates that a college graduate’s grades, test scores, graduate degrees and teaching certifications have little predictive value in determining effectiveness. The many intangibles make it almost impossible to predict someone’s ability to connect with kids. In fact, many experts believe that teachers’ character, integrity and personality may be more important than their content knowledge.

However, what everyone in the field can agree on is that becoming a really good teacher takes time. And by the time the school system is able to determine who is a good teacher — and who is not — everyone in the profession has achieved tenure. This is a problem.

What other professions have tenure — the guaranteeing of a job, in essence, for life? One can argue the steel and auto industries have a form of tenure, and look what has happened to their competitiveness. We must revisit tenure in public education, and all of us, the American people, must recognize that teachers unions have not been good, neither for our most gifted teachers (who deserve more recognition and money) or most importantly, for the children in our schools.

Education must become more open to talented professionals coming into teaching from a variety of fields and at different stages in their careers. We must not allow teacher certification to limit high-potential teacher candidates’ access to the profession.

I believe we can experience a true renaissance in the teaching profession if we can encourage talented people — of all ages — to enter teaching, support the best teachers through constructive evaluation and far better compensation, and reduce the influence of the unions to protect everyone, regardless of competence.

If America is to be competitive in this challenging new world, this change in how we support our teachers can’t happen soon enough.

John D. Marshall is the Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School head of school.

No comments: