Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Sometimes Parents Do Know Best

Originally posted to NYC Moms Blog - April 28, 2010
 Never in a million years did I think I'd find myself siding with NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein.  For most of our overlapping tenure - mine as a parent, his as the "leader" of the NYC public schools I have whole-heartedly disagreed with him.  His non-stance on class sizes astounds me, his celebration of standardized testing confounds me and his infatuation with charter schools dumbfounds me.  Don't get me started on the simplest things like snow days.  But a recent NY Times article has me agreeing, shockingly, with Mr. Klein.
It seems layoffs of some 8,500 public school teachers are planned for this year (see what I mean about class size reduction? - maybe Goldman Sachs could fund reduced class sizes - sorry - I digress).  It seems Mr Klein has suggested eschewing the "last in, first out" method of deciding who gets laid off - meaning the most recent hires will be the first laid off, in favor of a performance based system of evaluation and lay off. 
Frankly I could not agree more!  
I'll take a wet-behind-the-ears 20-something or a midlife career changer just out of Bank Street over some jaded, bored, ineffectual lifer any day.  Which is not to say that all teachers who've devoted their entire lives to educating children are bored and ineffectual after 20 years - on the contrary - my daughter's teacher last year was a genius educator and a marvel at managing 4th and 5th graders without ever raising his voice.  But age and the system took its toll on him.  Now he's the math coach.  So I get it that being a teacher is not easy - not at all.  That said, a difficult job does not mean you get to be bad at it and still keep it.
There are some people who are just not cut out to be teachers and frankly, it is distressing to have to explain to your child the actions of such a teacher.  Like, say, for example, an art teacher who blows up on the kids for some outrageous infraction like talking, and decides that she now cannot be bothered to allow them to finish a papier mache body project and instead sends it home half-finished - out of spite - at a class of nine and ten year olds!  

The arguments against keeping new teachers is that they take five years to reach their peak of effectiveness and class room management.  And having had a brand new teacher for my daughter's first grade year I have seen that.  But I stayed with her for two more years with my son - it was a bridging classroom - and while she started out as loving and tremendously passionate, that passion only increased along with her general classroom effectiveness as the years accumulated.  Now, she's a marvel, while the aforementioned art teacher has only grown less and less interested in and more and more hostile toward the young minds she is supposed to guide every day.  So I'd much rather have that young enthusiast running the classroom who may be doesn't yet have her organizational system down but has a true passion and shares that joy of learning with her kids.
The challenge seems to be in finding an agreeable method for evaluating teacher performance.  Mr. Klein suggests principals use a test scores, class room observation and input from other teachers.  I applaud those ideas but have a much simpler method.  ASK THE PARENTS!!  We know because we care, arguably more than anyone, how our children are educated.  We know who the ineffectual teachers are.  We know who is phoning it in until retirement.  We know who says the kind of rude off-hand remark to a child that they will be working out in therapy for years to come.  And we know who has amazing passion, true joy and the right love of children that makes for an exceptional educator.  
And my idea is simple to execute, too.  We all completed a school survey last week.  How about a similar survey for ranking the teachers?  Something like, "On a scale of one-to-ten how do you rank this teacher's overall performance?"  Now, sure, you'll get some anomalies, vendettas, some parents who just don't jibe with certain teachers.  But the number of families at any given public school is statistically significant and with a representative participation of those families you'll get to the truth of the matter.  

So, how about it, Mr. Klein?  Let the parents provide the input about layoffs - or at least be included in the process.  In the end teachers and how they perform matter the most to us - the parents of these young people we hope to foster into dynamic and joyful adults.
This is an original post to NYC Moms Blog.

Jessica Ciosek is a writer living and raising a family in Soho.  She occasionally also blogs at     
Posted by Jess C on April 28, 2010 at 12:00 PM in Education, Jessica | Permalink
NYC Public schools, Joel Klein, layoffs, teachers, education
Becca Levey said...
I couldn't agree with you more. It makes me crazy when they say how do you know who's a good teacher? I always say, well look at the teachers that every parent wants every year. Parents know exactly who they covet for their kids and there's a reason. Now this is not a scientific method they can implement, but shouldn't a performance evaluation take into account this feedback? 
I don't think there should be first in first out, and I don't think there should be an assumption that 20 years on the job burns you out. My daughter has a teacher going on her 22nd year who is truly one of the best teachers she will ever have in her life. There is no doubt about that.
But, I think if there were a path for teachers to gracefully exit a classroom, maybe as coaches in their specialties, or as mentors to younger teachers, even at a pay cut for reduced hours, that would be better for everyone. It might not lead to the immense budget savings they're looking for, but teacher lay offs are never the answer for budget problems anyway. Not with the system we have in place now.
Plus, if we could effectively get rid of the truly bad teachers it wouldn't require so many lay offs to begin with.

So funny - I've suggested that Goldman Sachs might solve the education crisis in NYC too, in part by paying for the school lunch program;
Or perhaps we could get David Tepper, that guy with the 4 billion dollar bonus to pay for teacher salaries? 
I think YES ask the parents is a great idea about teachers, but I think that more often than not, unfortunately, parents don't often see their kids' teachers very clearly. I ran the PTA for two years in our elementary school (about 500 families) and was consistently amazed by what parents had to say about the point where I wondered if we were all talking about the same person! You're right, though, there does need to be a better way -- and yes, it is very weird to find oneself in agreement with Joel Klein (I like to think of Bloomberg and Klein as the lemur king and his sidekick, from Madagascar)

Jess C said...
The lemur king and his sidekick - hilarious image!!

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