Federal programs are failing the teaching profession once again. Supreme Court rulings on tenure are emboldening principals who are firing successful teachers for economic and political reasons.
While the Obama administration claims that schools are inadequate because the system is not recruiting the best teachers, Arne Duncan is frustrated with the fact that the best teachers are unwilling to teach in inner-city schools or at the high school level. Duncan supports the current Supreme Court ruling against tenure because teacher tenure in the U.S. “is a ‘broken status quo’ in need of overhaul.” He promises that his plan to federalize teacher-preparation programs will attract new teachers of math, science, and special education.
Yet, the federal programs involving data collection and tenuous tenure laws supported by Duncan are being used to remove some of the best teachers from the profession.
Mark Naison, college professor at Fordham University and creator of the Bad Ass Teachers Face Book page, is concerned that data systems are being used to justify firing highly skilled teachers and to manipulate the educational system. Professor Naison explained that teachers are demonized for failing to overcome the role that poverty and limited parental involvement play in the academic success of a student. He believes that a “wave of tests are being used to push out teachers. The profession is losing talent and experience.” Professor Naison’s research shows that black teachers and minority students are being hurt the most.
Veteran teachers are being systematically humiliated for many reasons. Seasoned teachers with higher salaries refuse to commit professional malpractice by implementing programs that harm students. Therefore, experienced teachers have been resisting Common Core Standards and the federally aligned testing that accompanies the program. By eliminating experienced teachers, districts save money while hiring new teachers who are malleable.
The teaching profession has suffered for some time because new teachers leave the profession before their fifth year of teaching. The Obama administration claims that young teachers are leaving because colleges are not adequately preparing them for the classroom. Professor Naison explained that the smartest and most independent young teachers realize that there is no future for them in the profession. Teachers are being “scripted and manipulated which limits their ability to make professional decisions in the classroom. When teachers must follow a script, they cannot meet the needs of individual students. They cannot teach” explains Naison.
In Our Future, Our Teachers, the Obama administration explained that America will finally be able to deliver an excellent education for every child once 1.6 million or the current teacher population retires. To achieve the goal of getting the best and brightest teachers into the classroom, districts are expected to use data collection systems that are proven useless by several U.S. Department of Education studies but will be used by the government to manipulate the teaching profession.
Professor Naison and Advocates for Academic Freedom, an educational consulting firm and research group, have received calls from teachers across America who are being fired even though they have had outstanding performance records and their students out-perform students in other classrooms. Supreme Court rulings in California and the federal data collection programs used to evaluate teacher and student performance are opening the door to teacher dismissal. In many cases, these teachers come from inner-city schools where the teacher is providing instruction in science, math, and technology: the very teachers the Obama administration is seeking.
Once again, the federal government is using a bull dozer to solve a small problem with the constraints that tenure put on firing some teachers. Each state should be working with teachers and teacher groups to create legislation which defines valid reasons for dismissing a teacher and provides a simple but reliable process for school districts to implement.
Classroom teachers must be given the respect they deserve by involving them in this process. Educational experts and government officials will be stunned to learn the real reasons that teachers are leaving the profession, refusing to join the profession, and “failing” students. All levels of the educational system including principals and school administrators must be open to scrutiny. Most importantly, citizens must address the role of the federal government and major corporations in shaping these failed schools.