Interesting piece by Irving Hamer, Memphis Superintendent, in Ed Week “Collaboration Is Essential in Public Education,” that is part of a larger debate about Joel Klein’s recent Atlantic Monthly article, titled “The Failure of American Schools,” which paints a grim picture of entrenched and corrupt bureaucracies, union and otherwise, in NYC. Hamer writes:
Reform cannot be something we do to teachers. We must work with teachers to develop and implement collaborative strategies to achieve common goals.
Blaming labor unions and the teachers they represent for the failures of our education system is in vogue. But there is no evidence that improved results in one school demand a villain in another. And there is no group less deserving of castigation than the men and women who devote their lives to the difficult task of teaching our children. We must find ways to continuously improve the effectiveness of our teachers without sacrificing their pride, dignity, or right to due process protections.
Klein’s characterization of due process is that “notwithstanding union rhetoric that ‘tenure is merely due process,’ firing a public-school teacher for non-performance is virtually impossible.” He describes the rubber rooms and other infamous wasteful practices.
As alternatives to the ‘combative’ NYC approach, Hamer cites Memphis, Montgomery County, and other districts that are reforming in collaboration with teachers. Montgomery County’s efforts are documented in the book, Leading for Equity in Montgomery County, which some of our partners are reading now for ideas and inspiration. Montgomery County Schools recently made headlines for refusing Race to the Top funds, arguing that they did not want to include student test scores as a factor in teacher assessment, as required by the federal grant, because their existing Peer Assistance and Review system works well without it.
Joel Klein is infuriated that it is “nearly impossible” to fire a teacher in NYC. In Montgomery County:
In the 11 years since PAR began, the panels have voted to fire 200 teachers, and 300 more have left rather than go through the PAR process, said Jerry D. Weast, the superintendent of the Montgomery County system, which enrolls 145,000 students, one-third of them from low-income families. In the 10 years before PAR, he said, five teachers were fired.
While test scores are not part of the PAR assessment, Montgomery County does show hard improvement gains in achievement and graduation. Perhaps one reason for its apparent success is that the PAR system locates assessment among peer teachers rather than as a top-down, undifferentiated rating based in part or largely on a standardized measure – student test performance – rather than on an authentic, contextualized assessment of teacher practice.