For those of you who follow the politics of education, you may or may not know about Obama's turn around initiative for schools. It targets the 5,000 lowest performing schools in the nation and offers their districts money (something NCLB has never done) if they are willing to adopt one of 4 plans to turn around the school. In short the options are...
1) Fire at least half the staff
2) Turn the school into a charter
3) Close the school and redistribute students
4) Reform school strategy to provide extra student assistance and more time for teacher planning
One school in Central Falls, R.I., was targeted for this grant program based on their dropout rate and the fact that only 7% of their junior passed the state math exam. It is one of the worst high schools in their state. The district superintendent tried to get the grant by asking teachers to extend their teaching contract to include two weeks of summer training, which they would get paid extra for, at $30 an hour, 90 minutes of planning time a week (also paid $30 an hour), and an extended school day, 30 minutes longer than before, which would not be compensated extra, and committing to eating lunch with students at least once a week. The teachers refused, so she went with another option... fire the whole staff.
I think she did the right thing. Why? Because the average teacher salary in that school is already around $72,000-$78,000 a year! That is nearly twice what I make! Guess what their current school day looks like? 7:50am-2:25pm. She only wanted to extend it to 3:00! My contract is 7:30-3:30, and it is a MIRACLE if I leave at 3:30. I think 90% of the staff at our school spends at least 90 minutes of planning time a week that we do not get paid for. I would have jumped at the chance to get some extra money for what I am already doing. Students eat lunch in my room almost every day. They know I am almost ALWAYS available at nutrition and lunch to help them with whatever they need help with. Teachers at my school are also required to serve on governance committees, because we are a charter school and that is our version of a school board. When it comes to the summer training the principal asked for, last year I spent one week of my 5-week summer break having valuable training experiences that I did not get paid for but volunteered to have the opportunity for. Our school also has a school-wide "retreat" (on campus; its just training) before we return every fall that is also part of our contract and is not paid extra. We do not get paid extra for any of this. We do this because we are good teachers who know that results don't come from an 8-3 school day; results come from putting in the extra time to prepare engaging lessons, to work one-on-one with students, and to develop as professionals to become better teachers. I think the teachers who voted no on the changes are being ridiculous. If you wanted to be treated like a professional, you have to act like one. Professionals are dedicated to their work, not to their schedule, and they recognize the importance of planning time and collaboration.
In a recent interview with NPR, the school's union representative pointed out that "Children of poverty come to school with a lot of issues," and it was mentioned that 40% of their students speak a language other than English at home. I am pretty sure the percentage at my school is about double that, and we are actually in a higher poverty area than Central Falls. The median income in Central Falls is $22,000. In Pacoima, it is like $12-15,000, and this is in Southern California, which we all know is an expensive place to live. I'm sorry, but poverty is not an excuse for being a poor educator. Yes, they do come to school with a lot of issues, but they also come to school looking for education to be the great equalizer. No one wants to remain in poverty, and no one has to. If you choose to work in poverty, you choose to accept a challenge that means putting in the time to help these kids overcome. Is it a harder job than teaching in a middle-class suburb? YES! But it is worth it! If those teachers don't want the challenge, let them look elsewhere and let the district replace their positions with enthusiastic teachers who consider the opportunity to make a difference a privilege.
Okay... I will get off my soap box now, but I couldn't help want to write about this.
For more information, check out these website:
NPR: School Fires Its Teachers In The Name of Progress
Central Rhode Island School Fires Every Teacher