Last night, on Netflix, I watched Waiting for Superman. One might think it's about dang time, since it's a heavily discussed documentary about my profession. One would be right. In my defense, though, it hasn't been streaming on Nextflix until now, and I'm inherently cheap about stuff like that.
There were quite a few things I agreed with in this film. For example, the biggest problem I think we have in education is bad teachers. And we can't get rid of them. Just at Snowcrest, the junior high Zane and his family went to, there was a math teacher who had a stroke and lost her short-term memory, and a science teacher who lost so many assignments that Victoria, the only non-ADD member of the Froerer clan, had to get a paper signed every time she turned in an assignment, as proof, since the teacher was almost guaranteed to lose it! And were these terrible teachers fired? No. The math teacher is STILL THERE, and the science teacher was removed after a year's fight by Marilyn, my MIL. But: she was moved to WEBER HIGH (because who cares about the quality of science teachers in high school, right?) where LANCE got her the next year. Needless to say, Marilyn quickly got him changed to another science teacher despite the almost iron-clad rule of not changing kids' teachers.
These terrible teachers should be fired. But we can't fire them. Why? Union rules. Even in Utah, a right-to-work state, it's virtually impossible to fire a teacher. The movie said 1/57 doctors lose their license, 1/97 attorneys, and 1 in 2500 teachers. And honestly, it's almost 100% because the unions protect teachers who are terrible. Terrible as in they have no short term memory, lose every assignment they give, read newspapers in class, only teach grammar in a social studies/English class, watch movies two times a week, have no classroom control, and so on. Unions protect these teachers, and are destroying all respect for the profession of teaching.
The movie suggests charter schools are part of the answer, since they are not bound by the union rules. They can get rid of teachers! They can lengthen the school day and year! Seems awfully commonsenseical. It followed about five kids whose parents wanted better for them, and tried to get them in the high-performing schools. Two got in. The others? They're still going to "dropout factories." When some of these kids didn't get in, I lost it. I was seriously sitting at the kitchen table with Netflix on my laptop, bawling. Of course, I'm pregnant. But still, education should be about the children, and, as Michelle Rhee said, it's become all about the adults.
How would I fix education? I know you were all waiting with bated breath to hear my solutions. Okay. First, you'd be able to fire teachers because they were bad, not just if they sleep with students! Now, teachers get tenure once they have taught for 3 years. At three years you barely don't suck anymore! Tenure = gone. A "bad teacher" is identified by administration, fellow teachers, parents, students, and test scores. I can tell you the bad teachers at my school. Students, too, are really good at identifying them. And don't think students will just say a bad teacher is one they don't like. There would be some, but mostly they will be honest about how much they learned in a year. As far as testing goes, it's a relatively simple matter to organize the data so you can see if a student gained a year of progress under a teacher. If a teacher's students mostly did not, especially over a few years, curtains! Find another job!
Second, pay teachers differently. Yes, maybe merit pay for great teachers, but I was thinking more about supply and demand. We have a shortage of math and science teachers, and a veritable plethora of English and history teachers (of which I am one). I am a great teacher, in my humble opinion. I'd be a great junior high-level math teacher, too. I found out I'd have to take TEN classes to get my math certification. SO NOT WORTH IT. But if I got another $10,000/year to teach math? Suddenly, I'm enrolled at Weber State for two classes a semester. Hey, I'd make the cost back in a year! Then you'd have great teachers more evenly spread out among the subjects, partly because we've have more options, and good teachers would get hired and bad ones fired. How about that?
This is very long, and if you've made it this far I'm impressed. I just have one more thing to say. Our schools need improvement. The best way to fix a school is to get good teachers and get rid of bad ones. Let's figure out a way to do that!