We are losing talented, dedicated and experienced teachers and here’s why

Two teachers who were fired along with every other teacher in their Rhode Island High School because the school was ruled “failing”. Photo by Sharon Schmidt.

The public schools are losing well-qualified and experienced teachers who have made a commitment to our communities and dedicated themselves to teaching our children and and yet we are losing them in large numbers. Why?

There are many reasons but for the most part is has to do with the phrase “Education Reform”.

The term encompasses charter schools and who teaches in those schools, the Common Core Standards, high stakes standardized testing, as well as the failed idea of merit pay for teachers.

Charter schools are privately run and just like any other business, the owner/CEO and board of directors want to keep costs down and profits up. One place to save is with labor costs and with charter schools, that means teachers. There are two approaches to this that charter school owners have taken, either hire Teach for America, Inc.recruits with five weeks of training and pay them low wages with a promise of at least something to put on their resumes after their two year stint and/or implement what they like to call“blended learning” or  “personalized learning environments.” which means placing a student in front of a computer rather than a teacher to receive whatever education they can.

Charter school enterprises also love the Common Core Standards because the curriculum, lesson plans, books and standardized tests are already in place and all the unqualified “teacher” has to do is follow a script. It’s cheap and easy.

The teachers union is getting bombarded from two sides right now. First, by billionaires who would rather not see any unions in our country such as the Koch brothers, the Walton’s and corporate backed ALEC and from the other side by charter school enterprises who would love to have certified teachers but don’t want to pay a decent wage to hire them.

With Race to the Top we had schools closing based on test scores and then many converted into charter schools and folks like Broad-backed Michelle Rhee who fired several hundred teachers, most of them minority women, basically on a whim.

Then you have Common Core Standards and a battery of standardized tests, which make it difficult for a teacher not to teach to a test and thereby narrow their curriculum. This takes a lot out of a teacher who loves teaching, gets excited about their prepared curriculum, which is designed not only in terms of standard expectations but also to the students they are teaching. It destroys any creativity on the part of the teachers and students and makes teaching and learning a rote and tedious daily routine.

One young teacher shared with me that the curriculum with the barrage of standardized testing and pressure for students to perform well on the tests is “soul crushing”.

Hearing that broke my heart.

But…you hear that in many places where teachers are not afraid to share what they see, hear and feel about this dark time in public education.

With that introduction, I give you Brett Dickerson, who taught in public school for 16 years and is now  a writer, blogger, independent reporter and a teacher in an adult ESL program.

-Dora Taylor


Even though experienced teachers as a group have a high degree of love for their students and their work, they are leaving education in large numbers. The teacher brain drain has been happening for about ten years now, and very little grief expressed. Why?

The brain drain is a concern in business and industry

An NPR report by Yuki Noguchi titled “Businesses Try To Stave Off Brain Drain As Boomers Retire” shows the deep concern across industry and business about people with knowledge and decades of experience leaving.

The report shows the lengths that some industries are willing to go to keep the most experienced workers on the job, even after retirement. They are considered too valuable to allow them to just walk out of the door for the last time.

A key statement in this piece was from a 33-year veteran of product development for General Mills. “Let’s say you have 30 people retire in a year and the average years of experience is 30 years. So you just had 1,000 years walk away. That’s hard to lose.”

At another point in the story: “Employers are trying to hang onto older talent by offering flexible work hours, more attractive health care benefits or having retirees return to mentor younger workers.”

Business and industry seem to understand that experience and knowledge are important to success, especially when it comes to workers who not only know the information and the concepts of their work, but the experience and base of knowledge that the experience has generated.

But “education reformers” are not at all concerned

So if this is the current view of the threat of a brain drain in other areas work in the U.S., especially that require extensive educations and experience to know how to use them, why are veteran teachers so disparaged right now in practice and discourse in the press?

For the last ten years now, a steady drumbeat of trash talk about teachers has made its way into the public comments about education.  Experienced teachers are portrayed as lazy and incompetent, incapable of teaching students in any kind of adequate way.

Teachers unions are pointed out as a telling sign that teachers know that they are no good and need “job protection” with tenure laws.

None of these statements accurately portray the quality of teaching or the actual situation of most students who graduate from public schools. Why would these be circulated so widely?

Not “education reformers”, but school raiders

To understand the teacher brain drain we have to get the reality of what passes as “education reform” in the press and media. True reformers want to engage those who have the most experience in the classroom and in leading teachers as administrators.

To achieve reform, there must be a collaboration and engagement of those who know what needs to be reformed the best. But that’s not what is going on, is it?

That’s because those who call themselves “education reformers” usually are not. Instead they are those who want only to raid public funds taken by force as taxes and then converted to the wealth of investors who do not care about your children, only their own.

The self-designation of “reformer” by people who have never been in the classroom and have no actual training or experience in education is a smokescreen. What they are really after is profitability for their investor-owned charter school corporations that will deliver as little education for the buck as they think they can get by with.

I refer to them as “school raiders” because that’s the best description for them. As I have argued in an earlier post, they are not that much different from the corporate raiders of the 1980s who were only interested in the cash that they could gain by buying up productive companies and then liquidating them.

I have not seen any credible argument that our industrial capacity has increased since the 1980s because of the “efficiencies” that those corporate raiders promised. Instead it created a shock to our jobs and economy that has not yet recovered. It was the rich minority getting richer at the expense of the rest of us in the loss of jobs and the economy that depended on those jobs.  It was the beginning of outsourcing of work that has not yet ended. It’s why we have seen a jobless recovery since the recession that started in 2008.

And yet we have an inexplicably compliant press that does not ask the important questions about how those charter corporations will save money and increase the knowledge of their students.

In experimental situations like New Orleans, Detroit, and Newark, we are seeing quite well that the new school raiders are no more productive than the old corporate raiders were in the 1980’s if referring to the productivity of whatever they take over.

They have no intention of being.

What they are after is the most money made for the least spent with as little time being taken on what non-educators would see as pointless discussions.

Engineered for compliant teachers and compliant students

The brain drain in education is actually being engineered by think tanks and public officials funded by these school raiders because experienced teachers ask too many questions. We want to know why, as any experienced professional would.

We are smart and know how and when to object when it is important to protecting the future of all children not just those of the rich.

So, school raiders believe that they must do two things: hire teachers who are compliant, who will teach children to be compliant. In order to achieve that, they had to eliminate the respect that teachers and their associations have had over the years, not to mention the teacher education programs.

They diverge from the rest of American business in the exact same way that the corporate raiders did in the 1980s when it comes to the brain drain.

Why worry about a brain drain when it is profitable to have “those people” out of the way in the first place?

via Seattle Education

The self-designation of “reformer” by people who have never been in the classroom and have no actual training or experience in education is a smokescreen. What they are really after is profitability for their investor-owned charter school corporations that will deliver as little education for the buck as they think they can get by with.



Education experts descend on Detroit


National school reform experts are taking a keen interest in Detroit.(Photo: John T. Greilick / The Detroit News)

If Detroit can’t get its school problems solved, it won’t be for lack of quality advice from national education experts.

As city and state leaders seek to figure out how best to salvage Detroit Public Schools and improve performance across a complex network of school choices, top school reformers from around the country want a piece of the action, too.

Last week, Michael Petrilli, CEO of the D.C.-based Fordham Institute, and Eric Chan, a partner at the Charter School Growth Fund, were a few of the latest to drop in on Detroit. Excellent Schools Detroit, which is helping lead the conversation locally about improving all city schools, invited them to town to discuss how best to create the right environment for quality charter school growth.

The more insights, the merrier. Other cities have undergone major school turnarounds, and there are consistent guidelines for success. When asked what Detroit needs to do to start showing results for kids, Petrilli and Chan echoed similar ideas.

“Deal with low-performing schools, and encourage high-performers,” says Petrilli, whose organization works to raise the quality of U.S. schools. “There are concrete things we can do.”

Both experts say that Detroit has done well opening the door to charter growth, but not on pairing that growth with excellence. Also lacking is a common framework for evaluating schools to decide which charters should replicate and which should go away. Weeding out the worst-performing schools—and authorizers—is a vital step, they say.

Detroit should look closely at the models that are working, such as in New Orleans, D.C., and Memphis. The school landscape in Detroit is complicated, which poses some unique challenges. That’s partly why the education debate in Detroit is attracting such high-profile expertise.

For example, Paul Pastorek, the former Louisiana superintendent of education who chartered most schools in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, has worked with Gov. Rick Snyder the past year to craft a plan for Detroit and other districts.

But even the best experts don’t have an easy solution. DPS is sinking with debt and declining student enrollment, while more than half of Detroit students attend charter schools. Throw in the Education Achievement Authority, the statewide reform district that runs 15 schools in Detroit, and you have quite the puzzle.

Chan’s non-profit group funds the top charter management organizations in the country, and he’d like to get involved in Detroit. The Charter School Growth Fund invests in school operators like KIPP, Rocketship, Aspire and Great Hearts Academies. The fund works in 23 states and many of these school networks claim to have closed the achievement gap between low-income and affluent students.

But those top management companies have shied away from Detroit because of the unstable environment that currently exists. With a dozen different authorizers opening and closing schools in Detroit, Chan says this creates unpredictable enrollment and limits the expansion potential for highest-rated operators. That could change, however.

“As an investor, I’m optimistic,” Chan says. “I sense you’re heading in the right direction.”


via Ingrid Jacques, The Detroit News


Parents Petition for Forestville High’s Return to Full Military Academy

fhs1Some parents and students in the Forestville High School community say recent changes may be the cause of violent attacks there this year, and they want the school to go back to a full military academy.

Charmaine Scarlett, a Temple University student who graduated from Forestville High in 2014, said it was just a military academy when she was a freshman but changed in 2013.

The school opened to neighborhood children to increase dwindling enrollment, a Prince George’s County Public Schools spokesman said. As it stands, the school’s building is still underused.

Military academy students dress and act like military personnel while regular students have school uniforms and a more relaxed structure. Some call that a distraction.

Teacher Marq King told News4 he’s noticed a deterioration in the atmosphere of the school since the change.

Hundreds of parents are petitioning to have the school return to a full military academy.

Board of Education battles before passing budget


UPPER MARLBORO – The Prince George’s County Board of Education engaged in one of its most bitter battles in recent memory while giving approval to changes to the school system’s 2016 budget.

Despite two motions to amend the budget and a motion to table the discussion, the Board passed the 2016 fiscal year budget as proposed to them by Prince George’s County Public Schools CEO 7-2 with three abstentions.

Board members could not agree on anything, such as which items to vote on together and which to separate. Both the budget and the ratification of the local 2250 union, the Association of Classified Employees American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, were introduced under the budget consent agenda. Originally the two were separated for voting, but after Board Chair Segun Eubanks questioned separating the agenda items, Board Member Cutis Valentine motioned for them to be voted on together, and later refused to separate them after objection from other members to them being tied together.

“The motion is for 7.4 (2250 contracts) and 7.5 (the budget). We can have a discussion on 7.4 and 7.5 right now, can we not? I’ve been told that if this does not pass and someone makes a motion to accept 7.4, someone will second it, we will have a decision on it, it will pass or it will fail,” Valentine said. “Then someone will make a motion on 7.5, someone will second it, we’ll have discussion, it will pass or it will fail. We can have a discussion right now on 7.4 and 7.5 as we would if the motion does not pass.”

However Board Member Verjeana Jacobs said she felt the process the county and the school system have used for recommending the budget this year has eroded the public’s trust in the Board. For example, she said, she was not aware of County Executive Rushern Baker III’s plan to propose a 15 percent tax increase for education until she went to the grocery store and a constituent asked her about it.

Board Member Edward Burroughs III said he was disappointed by the “political games” he believes some members of the board have played at the expense of employees.

“I’ve been on this board since 2008, longer than anyone else up here except for one person, and this is the worst I’ve seen it,” he said. “I am taken aback to be honest. I think to tie the budget vote to the negotiated union contract was despicable, because we negotiated with that union for months and that union’s negotiations and their step increases and the things that we promised them had nothing to do with that budget vote. But some decide to play games instead of working through tough issues and that’s what you saw and that has no place in a district like ours and that will not move our district forward”

Rosalind Johnson, a former teacher, student and Board of Education member in Prince George’s County, said during the public comment that she was disappointed in the board, the budget it had created and its lack of funding for what really matters to children.

“There are questions that need to be answered and to understand how this budget benefits Prince George’s County Public School system now and in the future. I’m going to end my statement by saying, school systems were set up for children, adults are essential, but we must make sure the needs of our children come first,” she said.

During the meeting board member Beverly Anderson moved to amend the budget and have $5.2 million shifted from international schools to services for students failing both basic literacy and mathematical skills. She said the school system could not afford a separate or new building for international schools and the budget, as it is, does not reflect the Board’s desires.

While other members agreed low-level learners are in need of more funds and programs, Maxwell said, with his voice raised, there is no intention of housing the international schools in a new facility and the majority of the funding for the new program is from a grant.

“To the particular issue of paying $5.2 million with money from one (English-language-learners) school, I would say that as we stated at the workshop last week, the appropriation reflected in this budget for the ELL schools is a total of $2.8 million not $5.2 million,” Maxwell said. “Secondly, half of that is $1.4 million and we’ve said over and over again in the months before this, that the Carnegie folks and the international schools have indicated that there is a likelihood that we will be asked to return half of the $3 million to Carnegie if we don’t open two schools as we agreed to do.”

Anderson’s amendment failed after a 6-6 vote. Further discussion broke out over whether the vote needed two thirds to pass or only a majority, but Eubanks said either way the amendment failed and attempted to continue the budget discussion.

Jacobs then moved to have the full day pre-kindergarten program increased to 20 sites instead of the 10 allocated in the budget.

John Pfister, the director of budget and management services for PGCPS, said the new locations would cost an additional $1.3 million, which again caused questions of where the funds would come from. Pfister and Maxwell both said it would take time to “move the needle” and move funds from another already funded program.

The pre-kindergarten amendment failed 7-5.

Board Member Zabrina Epps then moved to have the budget and the 2250 contract tabled until June 30, citing her lack of confidence in the budget’s representation of the will of the Board. The school system must have a budget in place by July 1.

Epps’ motion also failed 6-5 with one absention.

The budget and union contract both passed with no amendments in a 7-2 vote with three abstentions.

Before the meeting, Anderson, who chairs the Board’s finance, audit and budget committee, released a report wherein she voiced frustrations with the bureaucracy of the school system and claimed her committee from providing input during the development of the budget.

“Unfortunately, the Board chair did not allow the opportunity for the Board to dialogue with the Committee on its findings and recommendations. Further, the chair appeared to minimize the involvement of the Committee during the hearing and thwart the efforts of the Committee,” she wrote in her statement.

Anderson refused to comment on her report, but did express to Sherrie Johnson, a spokesperson for PGCPS, that her report was “accurate and true.”

Eubanks said he had read Anderson’s report, but was not aware of any specific accusations.

“I think Dr. Anderson is doing a great job. I think the work of the finance and budget committee has gone well. I think we had a very interesting and challenging budget season, as you just heard, but I look forward to us continuing to work together and I have a great deal of respect for Dr. Anderson and her work and I couldn’t be happier with the work she has done on the budget committee and I plan on spending a little time with her and working that out,” Eubanks said.

Burroughs, who also served on the committee said he agrees with Anderson and said the board needs to stop “playing games on the back of our students.”

“At some point we have a decision to make and that is are we going to continue to run the system as we’ve always run it?” Burroughs said. “Are we going to continue to use the school system as a playground for political games or are we truly going to move the district forward. And we can’t do that without accountability, we can’t do that without performance audits, we can’t do that without a clear vision.”

The board will not meet again until early August.

via Prince George’s County Sentinel


Dooms day for teachers Unions?

school_protests_600By this time next year, everyone in the education world cheering the Supreme Court’s progressivism on health care and gay marriage may be singing a different – and sadder – tune. In its next term, the court will hear cases that could end affirmative action in higher education and curtail the power of teachers unions and other public employee unions. This latter case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, could dramatically weaken teachers unions and scramble the education landscape. The prospect of a defanging of the unions has many in education hopeful after the court agreed to take the case earlier this week. In practice, though, the ramifications of Friedrichs are not so straightforward.

The case turns on the question of whether public employees can be required to support union activities related to their work. Today, teachers and other public workers can elect to opt out of the political parts of union activities and only pay “agency fees” to support union activities benefiting them directly in the workplace. California teacher Rebecca Friedrichs and other California teachers argue that even agency fees compromise their First Amendment rights and want the court to overturn the 1977 Supreme Court case extending agency fees to public workers. In other words, yes, here’s an instance of teacher voice and activism the unions aren’t so excited about.

Friedrichs rocketed through the courts, encouraged in no small part by bread crumbs the court’s conservative justices left in related cases, most notably a 2014 case where Justice Samuel Alito declined to overturn the 1977 precedent but pretty much asked for a case like Friedrichs so the court could consider the issue. That’s why teachers unions are nervous – Friedrichs is a strong argument, and the Supreme Court’s willingness to hear it after lower courts ruled against Friedrichs and her colleagues is an ominous sign for opponents.

If the Supreme Court overturns agency fees, the bottom line is that the teachers unions – and other public employee unions – will have less money and consequently less power. Given the apathy in their ranks (teachers union elections have notoriously low turnout, for instance, and technically “none of the above” wins every contest), changing tastes among younger teachers and the professional rather than industrial nature of teachers’ work, a system of voluntary unionism represents an existential threat to teachers unions.

The National Education Association, which has more experience operating in right-to-work environments, is better positioned than the more urbanized American Federation of Teachers, but both will face real challenges if today’s rules are overturned.

Teachers union advocates and critics are loathe to admit it, but the effects of weaker teachers unions would be both good and bad for schools. On education policy, the unions are rarely helpful players these days – remember education is a field about teaching and learning where debate still rages about whether it makes sense to consider actual classroom performance when laying off teachers. When the interests of students and adults in the education system come into conflict, the unions are obligated to represent the adults, creating obvious problems on a host of operational and policy issues that are instrumental to running effective schools. Because the teachers unions can elect their management – via school boards – the normal balance of power in labor-management relations is often absent in the education context.

[READ: Teachers Petition Supreme Court to Overturn Forced Collective Bargaining Dues]

Yet the interests of adults and students are not always in conflict. Education funding, working conditions, adequate curriculum and professional development, teacher training and broader issues of health care, nutrition and social services are examples of issues where what’s good for teachers is also good for students.

In addition, on the whole, educational management isn’t going to win any awards for excellence. The reality is that every anecdote about outrageous union defenses of incompetent or dangerous teachers can be matched with crazy stories of ineffectual or ridiculous behavior by management. Underneath the heat of today’s education wars, there is not a lot of day-to-day policy attention focused on these issues. If the unions wither, something must fill these various roles for the education sector to thrive.

Meanwhile, many progressives have quietly tolerated the teachers’ unions intransigence on education reform because union money is so helpful on a range of social issues and causes. That marriage would be tested in a post-Friedrichs environment, creating challenges as well as opportunities for new political alliances.

My hunch? Union opponents look poised to catch the car they’ve been chasing for so long, so the education field should prepare for a post-Friedrichs world. Perhaps a no-agency fee situation will make the teachers unions leaner, stronger and more effective, but I wouldn’t bet on it. In Wisconsin, where the unions saw their power diminished legislatively by Gov. Scott Walker, the results have been mixed substantively and politically, but the unions hardly came out winners.

So like a dog that finally has its teeth on the bumper, teachers union proponents and opponents are about to find out reality is a lot more dynamic than it appeared at a distance. 150701_union.jpg