La. must never go back to the past
There is a new state law that provides more autonomy to charter schools in the area of hiring teachers. It removes the requirement of having at least 75% who are “certified.” Charter schools are about innovation, and certification has not proven to be a guarantee of success in helping students learn. But opponents are trying to use this issue as a wedge to turn back reform.
A number of years ago, I met a passionate teacher in the EBR system who had a bachelor's degree in language and a master's from the LSU College of Education. She was voted Teacher of the Year at her school. One year, she began the school year in August and, after the Oct. 1 census, she was “surplused” by EBR due to the fact that she was not certified and low in the hierarchy (not because of her results). They transferred her over the weekend. Her students that year had a sit-in to protest. It didn't matter.
Eventually, her allowed time to teach without certification ran out. To continue teaching, she would have been required to return to college and take 80 more hours—despite having two degrees, including a master's from the College of Education, and being a Teacher of the Year. She had to stop teaching. That was a “certifiably” insane system that hurt children. (I am glad to report that there are now alternative paths to certification that make it less difficult than before.)
BESE member Chas Roemer told me, “The fact of the matter is that certification is not a good predictor of quality. If it was, we would not have a problem in this state. To limit our perspective to either an all or none approach to certification is careless. We live in a community with some of the greatest chemists and engineers in the world, and yet many could not go teach in our schools. Does that make sense?”
He added, “What does make sense is making certification relevant—or even more important, making re-certification relevant.”
“My estimate is that the best schools will have a mixture of veteran and novice teachers, a mixture of certified and noncertified teachers,” Roemer said.
And that brings me to an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal by Deborah Kenny, which suggests what must be done to retain, attract, inspire and support teachers in our schools. Kenny is the founder and CEO of Harlem Village Academies, and author of Born to Rise: A Story of Children and Teachers Reaching their Highest Potential.
She wrote, “A decade ago, I founded Harlem Village Academies, a charter network now consisting of five schools that will soon grow to serve 2,000 students in Harlem. Everything we do is enabled by the charter conditions of freedom and accountability.
“Accountability attracts the best teachers into the profession. Smart, driven people want to work in a place that holds them accountable, where they'll work alongside educators who share their values—first among them, a belief that all children can learn at a high level. It's exciting to work with talented colleagues who believe enough in their own abilities that they are willing to be held accountable for student learning outcomes.
“We give our teachers an enormous amount of autonomy, and that ignites their passion. They feel happier because they no longer have to endure the demoralizing impact of working with people who are lazy, who gossip and complain, or who don't believe in the potential of the children. Autonomy inspires teachers to be more creative and feel more committed. As one of our reading teachers, Michelle Scuillo, put it: 'My old school made me tired and depleted. I understood why so many smart people leave teaching. I have to admit that I stopped putting my best effort into my lessons. I was ready to change professions, which was devastating for me, because in my heart I wanted to be a teacher.'
“Working at our school, she told me, 'blew my mind. I'm the same person and it's the same population—even some of the same exact students I used to teach in my old school. Here the culture allows you to be yourself. I feel respected and heard. I'm motivated to make my lessons better.' It's a message I've heard from hundreds of talented teachers who were about to leave the profession before they discovered our school or similar charters.”
The biggest challenge schools face is not keeping out uncertified teachers but figuring out how to retain many of the good teachers we have—certified or not—before they bail out on a stifling and bureaucratic system. We also know there are a lot of aging teachers (baby boomers) who will soon retire. Who will replace them?
Kenny concludes her piece by writing, “When the union and political forces that are protecting the status quo finally come around to doing what's best for children, they will find that it is also what's best for the majority of teachers. Then we will see the best and brightest minds competing for the privilege of working in the teaching profession—a profession that will finally be elevated to its rightful place as the noblest in our nation.”
Note that Kenny's formula includes both freedom to try new things and accountability. That's what turned teachers on and made her schools work.
Although you will also find many brilliant teachers who came into the profession through the traditional route, the certification, like a diploma, is not a proof of talent. Neither Bill Gates nor Steve Jobs has a college diploma—but their results speak for themselves.
The world is changing rapidly, and that is why I am still puzzled by the constant resistance to change in Louisiana. Maybe it's fear. Maybe it's lack of vision. Often it is job protection. But we must innovate, and that is nowhere more evident than in education.
So tell those who resist this year's education reforms—including the media—that we are not going to turn the page back and retreat. Louisiana has seen the way it was in the past, and we have a couple generations of children who have suffered—and a state that is paying the price. I have certainly seen enough. The only path to the future is forward.
'Advocate' is transparent
Advocate Editor Carl Redman has always made “transparency” his issue, and that is certainly the case when you read its front page or editorial page or columnists—they just don't like Gov. Bobby Jindal. They take every opportunity to criticize him, his reforms and those around him. Maybe it's their liberal bent. It could be their bruised egos, since they seldom get face time with the governor. Could be they just all have inhaled too many fumes down there in the basement of the Capitol.
Whatever the reason, the paper's recent editorial on teacher certification was ridiculous. And ironically, its explanation for why BESE was handling rules differently in charter schools and traditional public schools was: “The short answer ... is politics.” On the contrary, their editorial was “politics”—and transparent. Operating under different rules is what charter schools do by definition.
The editorial criticized state Superintendent John White, a rising star who was deputy to New York City School Chancellor Joel Klein before taking over the Recovery School District in New Orleans. The Advocate wrote of his views, “It's more ideological politics than educational policy.” Fact is, White has more knowledge about educational policy in his pinkie than the Advocate editorial board has collectively.
Editor's note: This column has been changed since its original publication.
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