Include Teachers in the Discussion
“Get rid of teachers or encourage them to stay—what is best for our schools?” That's the question posed by a guest post at Education Week's “Living in Dialogue” blog. The person asking the question is Mark Simon, a former teacher and union leader from Montgomery County in Maryland. As Minnesota continues to debate how public policy treats teachers, Montgomery County's story has some interesting lessons for us.
Of particular interest is the story of Broad Acres Elementary [PDF], the district's highest-poverty school (90% of students qualifying for free or reduced price lunch). Intervention started in 2000. By 2003, the school was making Adequate Yearly Progress by the dictates of No Child Left Behind. For many consecutive years, Broad Acres was the most improved school in the district.
This is exactly the kind of story that usually gets the “miracle school” treatment. Regular readers of such stories are now bracing for tales of harsh "accountability" measures, high expectations, and perhaps a more single-minded focus on testing.
Turns out, that's not how they did it. (Well, the high expectations part, yes. The rest of it, not so much.)
I'll let Simon tell the story:
The first thing we did was to meet with the teachers to let them know that we wanted all of them to stay if they chose to. The union's vice president was assigned to meet with every teacher, individually, to get their ideas. The catch was that any teacher who chose to stay would have to remain at the school for at least three years. If we were going to invest in training and support we wanted the teachers we invested in to stick around. We knew that one of the problems at high poverty schools was teacher turnover and the last thing such a school needed was to get rid of the adults.
Oh, and one more thing: “We refused to make student test scores a factor in teacher evaluations.”
Simon acknowledges mistakes and missteps—a bit of humility uncharacteristic of “miracle school” boosters (though pretty common to the leaders of those schools)—but his point is that long-term efforts at school change benefit from active engagement with teachers. Teachers and their unions have to be willing to engage, but they're more likely to do so with a district that trusts and respects them.