Friday, August 14, 2015

Indiana's Teacher Problem

Closing of Marion schools as students
exit to the county schools.
I thought I'd link to an article yesterday in The Washington Post called, "Indiana's got a problem: Too many teachers don't want to teach there anymore." No doubt there are elements in this article that some will dispute, but some aspects can't be disputed.

The key one is this: the turn over in teachers in the Marion School system this year is epidemic. My sense is that as many as 40% of the teachers in some of the Marion schools did not return this year. As a case in point, my son was scheduled to take a follow-up course with a favorite teacher he had last year for Bio-Med. Thankfully, they were able to find a teacher for this year, but the well-liked teacher is gone. MANY teachers are gone.

There's no disputing the problem. Why are the teachers jumping ship like rats? There is a serious problem here, and someone needs to get to the bottom of it! As this article indicates, it is not just a Marion problem. It is not just an Indiana problem. It is a widespread problem in the US. (So I am not casting aspersion at any of the leadership of the Marion Community Schools.)

Perhaps the most poignant paragraph in the article is this one: "a combination of under-resourced schools, the loss of job protections, unfair teacher evaluation methods, an increase in the amount of mandated standardized testing and the loss of professional autonomy."

That all sounds about right to me. Lots of thoughts. Here's just a few.
  • I understand the drive to give choices to parents. But the consequence is that the schools that need the most help get less and less. 
  • The behavior problem is MAJOR. I'd say to put those that can behave together regardless of academic ability but I'm not sure how many "behaved" classes you would actually have. All I can think of is having two teachers in many classrooms, with a well-designed system of student removal when problems arise. Again, that means more money to the very schools from which the Indiana legislature is taking it away.
  • You can't ignore the lowest common denominator to focus only on the middle and upper classes. The end result is out of control crime, violence, and drug traffic, not to mention a stupid majority. 
  • Decades of bureaucratic interference by both parties has sucked all the fun out of teaching. Democrats are notorious for administrative nonsense, and the Republicans in Indiana last year signed into law, was it fourteen hours worth of standardized testing?
  • By merit pay linked to student scores, you reward the teachers with easy rural students and penalize those that are willing to teach difficult, inner city students.
I'll leave it at that. But lest I give the wrong impression, my four children have had great teachers and have received an excellent education in the Marion school system. They have also seen lock downs, outbursts, and uncontrolled behavior in a small Indiana town that I never experienced growing up in the Fort Lauderdale, Florida public school system.

Nevertheless, let me again emphatically agree with the principal of Marion High School last week. MHS is still the best high school in the county in terms of its academic offerings. Gifted students who have fled to the counties for better behavior in middle school should come back for high school. The AP and honors possibilities at MHS are unmatched by the county schools, as far as I can tell.


Barbara said...

I am sure Marion is experiencing what many schools experience. Our schools are experiencing the result of entitlement. Everyone "deserves" something they have not earned. Students want the grades without the effort. Teachers want higher pay/benefits with smaller classroom sizes. Administrators want high test scores so their school looks good and they want the teachers to somehow keep the disrespectful students while getting those high scores. Parents want the schools to feed their kids 2 meals a day and not give homework so their children can have time to play sports(including traveling teams), babysit siblings (they even keep them home from school to watch younger siblings while they are at work), and never give make-up assignments when absent.
You are also correct about evaluations. It is terrifying to personally be held accountable for subjects I do not teach. It would be comparable to being one of several secretaries - and being held accountable for what the lowest achieving secretary achieves in any given day. In addition to that idea, it doesn't matter that the reason for the low achievement comes from having too many phone calls (disruptions).
I love teaching students! It is a joy. I dislike the politics and having to be politically correct. As in all jobs, there are lots of teachers who go "above and beyond" (including me) and a few who put in little effort and dislike their students. Regardless of tenure, the teachers who do not meet high standards should do us all a favor and stop teaching. I believe it is less than 10% of teachers.
I firmly believe the Federal Government should stay out of education and put it back at the local level. Each local area understands their constituents best. Essentially allowing each school district to care for their children because they understand the demographics. For this to happen, people need to stop voting theirs rights away and giving the Govt too much control.
Enough 2 cents worth. (Jim said is was 7 or 8 cents worth!)��

Ken Schenck said...

I've been mulling over whether those issues seem to apply to this particular issue of exodus in the Marion school system. Many of the teachers who have left are the better ones, the ones who can. It's a market dynamic--they can get a better situation in the rural schools so they have. That means there have to be incentives in place for them to stay because the "urban" schools are the ones with students who need the education more desperately (and society needs them to have the education more desperately).

I think changing the entitlement system could have long term effects on bad behavior but in the short term the cause seems to be deplorable home environments--drugs, violence in the home. In elementary school, you can already see that some of these kids are going to grow up to spend a good deal of their lives in jail. Two of the teenagers who raped a woman near the college a couple years back were finally arrested out of class in the high school. The public school system in some respects is the last hope for some of these (slim hope), but you don't want them in class with everyone else. What's the process for dealing with this sort of student? There has to be a better process than the one we have now. And dealing with them is going to take money because it takes a lot of time and one-on-one work. But it has to be done or the situation just gets worse.

I definitely think we need to back off the administrative and testing component and let teachers teach. I think the article is entirely right about teacher morale. Who wants to be a teacher in a state where the situation makes you feel unvalued? If you need a certain kind of job done, you have to do whatever you have to do to get the job done, whether you like it or not. Otherwise you're just left with the desperate who have no other options.

::athada:: said...

Lots of little reasons why... is there a meta-narrative?

What about the failure to sustain (fund, support, vote for) public institutions and the public good, chasing with ever-greater fervor the idol of individualism? I can't believe this is not unrelated to the collapse of local economies, agriculture, health care, etc. Public education is *supposed* to be the great equalizer... those with means have used the system (property tax funded model) to maintain a class system. At the individual level, I understand the incentives (as in capitalism, tragedy of the commons, etc)... just wish it didn't lead to collective ruin.

A competing explanation to the above may be the indisputable "breakdown of the family"... explains under-performance, but not the recent teacher exodus.

Not sure that/if it applies to MHS and surrounding areas... here's an eye-opening This American Life podcast on school integration as a strange, almost-magic, tool for decreasing racial educational disparities: