Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Policy Advice for Betsy DeVos from a REAL Policy Analyst

The Nashville City Paper featured a front-page story (“Metro School District
begins revamp of failing elementary, middle school,” May 21, 2007) that completely sugar-coated the situation in two metro middle schools that have fired (via involuntary transfer) the entire staff and faculty as a result of their failure to meet NCLB benchmarks.

For the last 5 weeks, I have been working as a substitute teacher at Jere Baxter Middle School and the experience has shaken me to the core.  Everything I used to believe about school finance reform has been turned upside down.

Jere Baxter is a Title I school with access to numerous resources including a math specialist on site full time, district mentors to advise and assist new teachers. They have mental health specialists come into several classrooms on
a weekly basis, and it is not uncommon to see caseworkers and prevention specialists from a variety of community agencies on campus.

However, despite the plethora of enhancement activities and access to resource materials, the majority of the 7th and 8th graders do not know simple math such as long division, subtraction (if they have to carry the one) or their times tables.  You could throw a million dollars into this school, and it would not make a bit of difference!

For the first two weeks, I was assigned to a self-contained classroom.  At one point, the Assistant Principal walked in, observed the children, and even acknowledged the small black and white television hidden in the teacher’s aide desk tuned in to the Young and the Restless.  She smiled and walked out.  Apparently, she did not have a problem with the children watching Tom & Jerry, Sponge Bob and BET music videos from 10 a.m. through dismissal.

A few days later, I gave a make-up assignment during the students “free time,” (lunch-time through dismissal) and I was told that my expectations were simply too high.  That class in particular lost 15 teachers this year alone—16 including myself.

The children are running the show at Baxter and they know it.  The faculty receives little, if any, support from the administration. As a result, the majority of the teachers have simply given up.
Dealing with disciplinary problems has become the primary focus in the classroom displacing teaching, learning, and cooperation.

The numerous behavioral disruptions that occur each and every day prompted the administrators to pull the most effective teachers out
of the classroom to enforce (or re-enforce) school policy while
their classrooms remained empty or were covered by floating substitute teachers.

The children are completely out of control and simply refuse to do any work. I was told not to give any student a grade below 75--
even the one who threw his crumpled up science assignment in my face and walked out of class shouting profanities.

What the students have learned is that there will be no consequences for inappropriate behavior or actions.  The administration treats teachers with complete disrespect: in front of students, teachers, and guests, completely undermining any sense of autonomy, authority or cohesiveness. Even I was embarrassed for them, and I was only there for a few weeks!

This is a classic example of a top-down policy failure.  As a policy analyst, I always advocated for equity in education, and believed on some level that throwing money into poor schools (poor performance and achievement records to disadvantaged students) might help level the playing field for disadvantaged schools, translating into better outcomes for students and the community.

The City Paper glossed over the magnitude of this desperate situation by calling it a “fresh start.”  These teachers have been treated poorly enough by students and administrators, and now we have a number of young professionals who are underpaid, uncertain, and unemployed.

We all know that teacher pay is ridiculous to
begin with, but coupled with the added stress of the re-application process, Metro may lose a large number of educated, motivated, displaced educators to surrounding districts, counties, and states.

This is simply ridiculous.  By cleaning house, Baxter will lose the few experienced, dedicated teachers they have, prompt the younger
set to leave the profession all together, and discourage future teachers from applying for jobs in Metro.

Everything we know about the positive outcomes in neighborhood schools is their strong reliance upon community buy-in and parental involvement.  One thing that makes magnet, lottery, charter schools, parochial, and private schools so good is the fact that parents,
teachers, students, and administrators fight to get in, and fight to stay there.

The act of choosing, in effect, leads to an enhanced sense of community and builds a supportive, consistent, and structured environment.  Calling this decision a fresh start is ridiculous-- it would be more accurate to call it a very bad ending!

In this case, No Child Left Behind is, in effect, leaving No Teachers Left Behind.

Elyssa Durant, Ed.M.
Department of Educational Policy
Columbia University, New York, NY

"You may not care how much I know, but you don't know how much I care.”

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Elyssa D. Durant, Ed.M.