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Bonoff Bill Is Bad For Education - And Students

Category: Education
Posted: 01/16/15 04:31

by Dave Mindeman

State Senator Terri Bonoff is a Democrat in the Minnesota Senate, but when it comes to education, she might as well have an R emblazoned on her desk.

Bonoff has introduced a bill that would end the Last In - First Out aspect for determining layoffs in a school district.

Sen. Terri Bonoff said Thursday that "It is my belief that really in every profession merit ought to be what gets someone hired, promoted or kept. I believe especially in a profession where our teachers play such an important role in shaping the lives of our young people that we want to make sure the very best teachers are in every classroom."

I don't think any of us would disagree with the idea of wanting the"very best" teachers in every classroom. But Sen. Bonoff seems to have the mistaken belief that LIFO keeps "bad" teachers in these positions.

If school district personnel were hired and retained strictly on aspects of professional merit, then maybe Bonoff would have an argument. But that is not the case. Too often, hiring and firing is strictly a budgetary decision based on cost - and, as we all know, experienced teachers are going to cost more.

LIFO has been one method of protecting teachers who have served their district for more than three years and have passed a probationary period. The teacher's union supports it and therefore, the MN GOP is against it. Because Education Minnesota supports Democrats too darn often.

Teachers have a very difficult job. And they obviously don't do it for the pay, because the work load and compensation are not commensurate. Teachers work long hours and have to combine professional education with social work, counseling, and supply management. But since they are the most visible and direct correlation to student achievement, they are the target of education critics at every level.

The legislature has been pushing for teacher evaluation as a method of deciding who stays and who goes in the school districts. This evaluation has one thing at it core....

Under the state evaluation law, 35 percent of a teacher's evaluation must gauge student achievement as measured by tests.

There are a few problems with that.

First, testing is a flawed evaluation process. We keep changing that process and it is often a political football. One of the criticisms of No Child Left Behind is that if forces teachers to "teach to the test" and give them little time to broaden a student's understanding of any one subject.

Secondly, teachers begin each year with a different group of students. How can we evaluate a teacher's performance from year to year without comparing apples to apples? A completely different group of students can offer completely different challenges - and most importantly, different results.

And, in addition, teachers can have different resources to work with from year to year. Class sizes can change. Curriculum can have different goals. Parental involvement can vary widely. Supplies can be cut short. And support staff can be lowered.

There are just too many variables that are not accounted for in the evaluation processes.

Yet, it is the teachers we continuously focus on when it comes to student achievement.

Well, I would contend that the only tool in the education arsenal that can work through all those variables and still meet achievement goals is the experience of the teaching staff. And there is really only one thing that can truly protect that valuable education experience tool - and that is LIFO.

When a school district is facing deep cuts, what is the most tempting target to get the knife? High salary personnel. And what hurts students the most when it comes to their ability to succeed? The loss of experienced teachers.

Sen. Terri Bonoff means well. She apparently makes the assumption that education problems stem from too many "bad" teachers coasting along on tenure. And maybe there are even a few of those bad apples around. But they are damn few - and if LIFO goes, some of the best teachers in the state will go as well.

As I have pointed out before, teachers are NOT the problem. We have too many other issues in education to be singling out teachers as some kind of root problem.

I would suggest that legislators let teachers explain what they believe the solutions should be.

After all, they are the professional educators. Let them teach.
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Advice To the MN GOP On Education: Teachers Are Not The Enemy

Category: Education
Posted: 01/08/15 23:49

by Dave Mindeman

When the MN GOP talks about education their solution always involve some form of teacher evaluation (or more bluntly a dig at Education Minnesota)....and their latest version of what needs to be done is to get rid of the Last In - First Out (LIFO) restriction on how teachers are retained or laid off in many of the districts.

New Speaker Kurt Daudt left little "doubt" about where he stands:

A key part of the House Republican education platform is to including the state's teacher evaluation system that launched this fall as a criteria when school districts are forced to cut staff. Daudt said it was a priority both for Republicans and for parents who want to make sure students have the best teachers in the classroom. "I think it is very difficult to argue the other side of that," Daudt said. "To say, 'We don't want to give local schools the flexibility to keep the best teachers in the classroom.' "

Well, I don't think it is at all difficult to see the other side of the argument.

The insinuation from the MN GOP is that when layoffs occur and a seniority system is in place, "good" teachers are let go simply because they were hired last. And in some rare instances, that may have some merit.

But it is rare. To me, and I think there are studies to back this up, the real difference between an adequate teacher and a great teacher is really one thing.....experience. You can have all the education credentials in the world but if you have not had extended experience in an actual classroom in front of actual kids, you do not yet know how to teach.

Granted, if new teachers are laid off at the first sign of budget trouble, then getting that valuable experience can be problematic. But let's look at the Minnesota rules....

In Minnesota, new teachers have a 3 year probationary period. The school administration can let that teacher go within that time frame without a lot of red tape. In California, that same probationary period is only 18 months. Three years gives a school district a reasonable amount of time to evaluate a teacher and also gives the teacher a reasonable time to decide whether or not teaching is really for them.

As for experienced teachers, the idea that "bad" teachers are locked into their jobs is a fallacy. 40 percent of the school districts have a dismissal process that isn't solely based on seniority. But even those who do count on the LIFO system, this really is more of a protection for the experienced teacher who has earned a larger salary based on time served and might be a target as a "cost savings measure".

And there is another MN GOP element to education:

Republican leaders also want to overhaul the teacher licensing system to make it easier for qualified people who want to teach to get into the classroom.

Interesting that they use the word "qualified" - because the people they are talking about have no real education qualifications. They want Teach For America kids and experienced members of different professions to be vaulted into the classroom without all that "book learning".

Teach For America candidates may have some value in narrow situations. I agree that the achievement gap needs more minority teachers teaching in minority classrooms - and TFA can meet that need. But they still will not have that key level of experience and probably a bare minimum of actual teaching curriculum background. Minnesota would do well to request more credentials from such candidates rather than hurry a license through for quick (and cheap) help.

As for professionals given teaching licenses - I also have my doubts about that as well. You can't take a courtroom lawyer into a high school session and have him/her teach business law to a group of students without having some idea of the basics of "how to teach". Subject knowledge does not mean you have the ability to teach that knowledge.

Again, I have to say it. To further our goals in education, we have to quit making teachers the enemy or the scapegoat. They are the solution. Only they have the knowledge that can solve education problems.

Parents have got to be participants and advocates in their children's education, but it is the teachers who must control the end game. This idea of "local control" has to have some limits...and to a large extent - it is highly overrated. Education requires expertise from professionals. And that is still teachers.

Experienced teachers.
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MN GOP Solutions: Education? More Smoke And Mirrors

Category: Education
Posted: 12/23/14 21:45

by Dave Mindeman

Besides transportation (see last post), the MN GOP has set its sights on education....

Among the GOP's top priorities as outlined in its Solution Center will be education, particularly bills that address the achievement gap between white and minority students, Downey said. To that end, legislative leaders plan to revive bills that would expand charter schools, give schools more local control and allow the Teach for America alternative program.

If we are going to address the achievement gap, I am all for it. But these "solutions" look like the same old dodge that the MN GOP tried before when they held the majority. Same problem - same solution - probably the same result.

In fact, I'm not sure the state GOP is on the same page as some of their own legislators. Republican Rep. Sondra Erickson will be chairing the Education Committee.....

To the GOP, addressing how teachers are laid off -- and assigned to different schools -- would ensure better teachers stay in the classrooms they're needed most. "We're ending up with the newest teachers, the least experienced, in the toughest classrooms. That just is not good for students," Erickson said.

If you utilize Teach For America you get teachers with not only very little experience, but very little education based training. This is from the TFA website....

Corps members don't have to have studied education prior to applying to the corps. In fact, most corps members did not. But nearly all corps members must receive a state-issued teaching credential, certificate, license or permit before they're hired by a school and must be considered "highly qualified" under federal law. Since most corps members haven't completed a traditional course of study in education before teaching, they're considered "non-traditional" teachers in most states.

The one positive thing about Teach For America is that there is a better chance that a minority teacher will teach minority students. That is one thing we need more of.....however, TFA has the distinct disadvantage of having inexperienced teachers without education training involved. That is not acceptable. And judging by Rep. Erickson comments, that would seem to be her view as well.

Charter schools are fine for innovation in education, but does it really help the achievement gap? The students in charter schools are often less representative of their community as a whole. Charter schools find ways to get the students they want rather than students seeking help.

And, as usual, the Republicans think "Last In, First Out" is the culprit - hoping to score political points against the Teachers Union. Layoffs are less of a problem these days because of the economy - school districts have to work a bit harder to keep teachers in place. Teachers are still vulnerable in the employment sector, but not in the way that LIFO would be beneficial to the districts.

And then we have the GOP critique of Common Core. Something that is more of an issue in other places, but not Minnesota. Still, the MN GOP thinks the talking points require them to make it an issue rather than looking for the why it might be an issue.

The only thing of value that the MN House GOP is considering is the reduction in testing. Students are overtested and districts need more latitude in deciding what tests are true measurements.

Still, how that will help the achievement gap is questionable.

The only method being discussed that is the key comes from the Senate:

Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, DFL-Minneapolis, said she wants to tackle the achievement gap by recruiting a more diverse teacher pool and pumping more money into teacher training.

That is the kind of changes we need now. Early childhood education will eventually make the real difference.

As for the MN House GOP? Just smoke and mirrors.
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