Tuesday, April 21, 2015

My Humble Suggestions for the Blue Ribbon Education Panel

Daugaard is going to rely on a panel to investigate how to deal with problems in getting and hanging onto quality teachers in South Dakota.  This panel has already been shown to have several members that are not necessarily fans of teachers or public education in general.  The evidence keeps piling up, but to possibly cover all possible excuses offered by the GOP on why they do not need to look for additional revenue to improve the funding for education, I offer the following points to consider.

1. The reason that some schools have drawing and keeping teachers is complicated.

It is difficult to encourage young, new teachers to move out to the middle of the state like Winner or Ipswich.  I suppose we could run commercials that compare those cities to the moons of Jupiter, or we could recognize that complaining about the small, rural schools location will not do anything to get teachers there.  My experience has shown that we need to make the teaching field look admirable and you can get people that grew up in the area to come back to teach.  

Another issue forcing teachers to look for alternative occupations, despite a desire to shape young minds is the mind-numbing hoops established by the state and other institutions.  As described on the website Conversationed.com explains it:

But what about professional development and adequate training cited by so many educational leaders as the reason for the mass exodus? 
Not one teacher I asked mentioned college of education programs or lack of professional development. In fact, many teachers feel over-saturated with professional development and are frustrated that PD has become a vessel for an onslaught of unsupported district and state mandates.
With things like SLOs, Smarter Balanced, Write to Learn, ICU, and a number of new methods/concepts for teachers to adjust too without additional time to really try and understand it properly, teachers are feeling overwhelmed.  

A third issue to continuing to teaching is a general lack of respect.  Teachers continue to work very hard to educate students, but more and more often are being seen as a villain when an arbitrary test score on a test that has no consequence for students says the student is not proficient.  NPR reported last month:

The job also has a PR problem, McDiarmid says, with teachers too often turned into scapegoats by politicians, policymakers, foundations and the media. 
"It tears me up sometimes to see the way in which people talk about teachers because they are giving blood, sweat and tears for their students every day in this country. There is a sense now that, 'If I went into this job and it doesn't pay a lot and it's a lot of hard work, it may be that I'd lose it.' And students are hearing this. And it deters them from entering the profession."
 Why would a young person continue in teaching when they are to blame for everything and are considered lazy and should be happy with what they get paid.  

2. What can a state government do about these issues?  They could reduce the amount of new, quick fix tricks to improve education and rely on tried and tested concepts of education.  The state can stop buying into a program and then pull the funding after 4 years forcing everyone to go to something new.  The state politicians could stop trying to compare teachers in unequal competition models, and role up their sleeves to honor all the hard work teachers invest each day.  The state could stop trying to pass bills that are based on criticizing and hurting public education because it is a "failure."

They could do all those things, but they would be minor to one action that the state could do that would have a real impact:  Increase funding for our schools.  

The state taking steps to increase funding for education and tackle means of increasing revenue says that education is vital.  It is a very, very important profession and they are willing to take the steps to address those needs.  The state would also provide for schools to have more flexibility to reduce the stress on teachers to do more because they are unable to hire the positions to educate students.  

Richard Ingersoll, a former high school teacher and now professor that studies teacher retention, was quoted in an Atlantic article in 2013:

“Respected, well-paid lines of work do not have shortages,” Ingersoll says. He adds that he is happy with his new career, but he would still be a high school history teacher had it not been for the lack of respect and low salary he experienced. For a lot of teachers I spoke with, this seems to be the common sentiment: If the overall attractiveness of teaching as a profession gets better, the best teachers will enter the profession, stay, and help increase the effectiveness of schools. 
“To improve the quality of teaching,” Ingersoll says, you need to “improve the quality of the teaching job.” And, “If you really improve that job… you would attract good people and you would keep them.”
Please leave the excuses for not increasing funding for education outside the panel meetings.  They will do nothing but make the problem worse.  

Leave the blaming of greedy public teachers outside the room when exploring the problem.  You can take some helpful steps, if only you are willing to find the courage to do so. 

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