Since I began teaching in August of 2001, there have been many changes in education. For every change, every transition, every “newfangled” thing, there have been folks all around saying, “this, too, shall pass. We’ve seen it come and we’ll watch it go, and if we’re lucky enough to still be around, we’ll see it come back again later.” Part of me believes that’s exactly why the education profession has become so degraded and maligned; if educators always blow with the wind and never stand up IN PUBLIC for what we know is right, we become part of the problem. But that’s a story for another day.
Over the past year there has been a groundswell of awareness of and disciplined rebellion against the never-ending parade of reforms with associated acronyms often more memorable than the actual name of the regulation. Article after article has surfaced demonstrating multiple angles behind the genesis of each new educational idea being foisted upon an unsuspecting, increasingly blinded workforce. But there is so much going on it is virtually impossible to stay on top of it all.
Between the belief that we will outlast the reformers and the sheer volume of attention necessary to unravel the tangled web of good intentions, corporate greed, political aspirations, desire to be heard, and outright fear, it is no wonder educators, by and large, are focusing more on survival in their classrooms than on fighting the forces that seem hell-bent on destroying all we hold dear.
In short, we are so busy saving the kids that we are losing ourselves.
Approximately 13-17% of American educators either move within or leave the profession annually, with estimates ranging between 40 and 50% leaving entirely within the first five years of employment. Spikes in mid-year resignations have been seen in places such as Wake County, North Carolina, and turnover is often higher in urban, minority, and high-needs schools than in affluent schools. In 1987-88 the average years of experience of educators was around 15; by 2011-2012, it was 5. Educators leave the profession largely due to lack of support and the pressure of today’s educational environment.
So what, then, is the tipping point? In Delaware, I believe some of us have moved over the edge, and it’s only a matter of time before many of the rest peak as well. And here’s why:
Common Core is failing. Maybe not everywhere, maybe not for everyone. But in general, overall, questions are being asked that have no good answers, and irate parents are starting to band with concerned educators about the pressures on the children.
Smarter Balanced is frighteningly difficult. Is it a good way to measure what students know? Perhaps; as good as a standardized assessment given on a computer could be, anyway. (Can we say LOADS of cultural bias?) However, how it arrived in Delaware (purchased before given legislative approval for use) is suspect at best, and its implementation prior to the assessment even being ready for consumption is a serious issue.
Component Five was inaccurate before it was implemented. Researchers debunk the use of standardized test scores to determine teacher effectiveness on an almost daily basis. In the rush to get it done and be first and prove ourselves worthy of federal favor, we didn’t pause to ask whether we SHOULD be doing this. Turns out the first ones to walk the scary path through the woods are also the first ones to encounter the nasty cobwebs inhabited by poisonous spiders.
Observation “shorts”. Because we all know how accurate a 10-minute snapshot of a classroom is. Especially when taken by a person who has no knowledge of, connection to, or understanding with the staff, students, and community of a school.
Priority schools, identified by federally-approved parameters (we think) with a proposed MOU and turnaround guide based on research (they say) and a 120-day timeline for plan development involving multiple stakeholders (just like the proposed MOU…oh, wait…).
And now, we come to the pièce de résistance in the form of an alternative compensation plan. A taskforce (or is it a committee?) established and appointed by the Delaware legislature at the behest of Governor Markell to examine and enhance the educator pay scale. I’ve linked to the key piece of legislation and the committee website so as to avoid promulgation of misinformation; you can read for yourself and determine the feasibility and implications of the committee’s work.
If Delaware’s educational field is a roller coaster, I am one of those folks on the part of the tracks just past the first hill. My colleagues in these cars and I are gathering steam, rolling faster and faster, hearing the anticipatory gasps and first few screams of those in the cars just behind us. We have the momentum. We just need to convince everyone else to open their eyes and see what we’re zipping past – and towards – so we control the ride.