My personal musings about anything that gets on my radar screen--heavily dominated by politics.


Unhappy Teachers

From today's Rocky Mountain News:

A survey of Denver teachers shows many are dissatisfied with district reform efforts and up to 40 percent either are leaving Denver Public Schools or would do so for higher pay.

If that number alarms you, it should. Or, at least, it is intended to. What you need to read a bit to understand is that 10 percent are leaving and another 30 would if they could get better pay. Looking at Denver's data, you find that starting pay in DPS is $32k, and average pay for teachers is $52k. Now, that's fairly high, so better pay is not commonplace, but not totally out of reach of other districts. Unfortunately, because of rules negotiated and created by the unions, for a teacher to change districts after their fifth year means forfeiting years of experience on the pay scale, which translates into forfeiting money.

At this point I can hear my conservative friends saying "well, why should you get extra pay just for surviving?" To which I, unfortunately, do not have much of an answer. On the other hand, wouldn't it be reasonable, and perhaps improve education in general, if a teacher had the ability to negotiate better pay for themselves if they deserve it?

At any rate, without getting too bogged down in the minutae of teachers' contracts, I think it's safe to say that if you polled teachers generally, not just in DPS, a huge portion of them would say they would change schools if they could get better pay. Duh.

But let's get past the newspaper's narration, and look at the raw numbers:

More than 1,100 teachers in Denver Public Schools filled out surveys in December to help union leaders decide contract bargaining goals. Among the findings:

So this is a poll BY THE UNION that had roughly 25% return about conditions leading to the latest contract negotiation. In my experience, those 25% were likely either union activists to begin with or, at least, somewhat unhappy teachers. The good ones, the busy ones, probably put the survey on the pile on their desk and never got around to reading it.

• 80 percent of elementary teachers say the focus on state tests has reduced time spent on science and social studies.

• More than 60 percent of middle and high school teachers say reform is needed in their schools, but they say district initiatives are not helping students.

Maybe it's just me, but it does seem as though focusing on reading, writing, and math are reasonable requirements at the younger ages. In fact, it seems that without a mastery of math and reading, science and social studies are just a little pointless and out of reach. But again, maybe it's just me. . . And of the 60 percent in secondary who say reform is needed, I wonder how many of them gave input to district committees who worked on the reform. And, by the way, I believe it is teachers who help students, not initiatives.

By the way, I've been teaching for just 13 years now, and I've seen at least six different waves of "reform," and there really is very little that changes in the long run. Good teachers modify and adapt the curriculum, but remain teachers; bad teachers get overwhelmed by new stuff because they never got the hang of the other stuff to begin with.

• Most of the teachers responding say their workload has increased by at least 20 percent in the past three years.Denver Classroom Teachers Association

First of all, I wonder how they measured the amount that their workload has increased. Hmmm. And second, note the credit: DCTA. Not just a poll by the union, for union purposes, but reported to the paper by the union. Makes you wonder (don't spend too much time thinking about it) what the purpose of writing this article was.

Look, the vast VAST majority of teachers that I know are hard-working, dedicated servants who do what they do out of love and a sense of purpose. There are, of course, both the goofy crusaders in the classroom and the burn-outs/never-should-have-beens. But I think, if you asked most teachers, they would trade in pay raises for greater power to enforce discipline in their classroom and greater ability to raise/maintain high expectations for student achievement. Reforms come and go, and some are more annoying and intrusive than others, but most teachers have seen this sort of thing before and go with it as they need to.

If you really wanted to change teachers' opinions, break the union stranglehold on education and allow a little capitalism to shine in. Good teachers should be fought over by schools like left-hand pitchers are fought over; experience should be what counts for something, not survival; and the ability to influence and challenge students should count for much more than drifting in and out of college classes (which is another way teachers earn pay raises).

A good teacher should have control over their destiny; a great teacher should have their pick of schools and salaries; good schools would attract good teachers for reasonable pay; struggling schools could bring in great teachers by incentivizing their employment with great pay.

Just my two cents.

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