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Thompson: The Seventy Percent Solution

Micromanaging Catherine Gewertz speculates that the "Graduation For All Act" will be a warmup for the renewal of the discredited NCLB ESEA. If so, the Act's school turnaround grants present a perfect opportunity to act on the President’s wisdom of building on the 70% of issues where we can agree. I would take considerable risks in order to gain the capacity "to implement data-based early warning systems to catch students before they fall seriously off-track." And there are many ways to ensure that "‘teacher talent’ is distributed fairly" even though that issue, if mishandled, would accelerate the exodus of high quality teachers from the inner city. 

Surely we can agree with the Center for American Progress that "transferring highly paid teachers against their will to even out expenditures (for high-needs schools) seems nonsensical." And I sure agree with the "reformers’" description of a root inequity "in general, teachers who start in high-poverty, high-needs schools, transfer to lower poverty, less needy schools as they gain tenure and seniority." But will "reformers" abandon their micromanaging of local contracts down to a point where districts are prohibited from paying teachers for master degrees or

requiring state to rescind support for any mentoring programs that do not use test scores to select mentors?

I do not expect "reformers" to stop nitpicking over the amount of pay or contractual rights that can be accrued through seniority, but it would be appreciated if they stopped talking out of both sides of their mouths regarding forced transfers of teachers to achieve equity.

The Citizens Commission on Civil Rights condemned teachers unions for "gloom and doom" by raising the specter of forced transfers.  "Reformers" deny the possibility of those transfers as they criticize the AFT for mentioning how such transfers have backfired in the past. The Citizens Commission criticized teachers for opposing the Bush Administration’s efforts to override anti-transfer provisions. Neither they, or other reformers, explain how districts can prohibit teachers from using their seniority to transfer out of high-needs schools without curtailing teachers' transfer rights. And yet they question the integrity of unions that seek protections against a threat which supposedly doesn’t exist - even though it has existed in the past and "reformers" have also supported its return?

I still would take the risk of supporting some proposals by the Education Trust, even though I would feel much better if they displayed less grandiosity and more good faith. I would support efforts like the Boston contract that make it more difficult for a teacher to join the "must place" roster and allows principals in high-needs schools to reject transfers. I would allow the removal of teachers in the lowest decile of high-needs schools - at least in districts without an appetite for crude test-driven evaluations or creating a "rubber room" in order to perpetuate conflict. I’d support efforts to limit the number of rookie teachers in high-needs schools. I'm tired of seeing talented young teachers chewed up and spit out as they are dumped into the most horrific situations in the toughest schools.

That gets back to the problem of recruiting and retaining teaching talent in "dropout factories," and the expedited termination of ineffective teachers. I fail to see how new teachers would see arbitrary and incompetent growth models for evaluation in the hands of unchecked principals as an incentive. Teachers want conditions that allow them to teach. The most promising incentive would be the recruiting of teams of teachers to the most challenging schools in return for commitments to create respectful learning cultures at those schools.  Work with us on that issue and maybe there will be less reason to fight over the other 30%. - John Thompson


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I think you're absolutely right to stress the importance of working conditions. THAT has been the missing link in so many discussions of staffing high needs schools. I worry that so many policies to address staffing challenges will actually undermine the conditions that make teachers--and teams of teachers--most effective.

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