Teacher Equity: Where Do We Go From Here?

by Lorraine Richardson

This is an UPDATED version of a January 2, 2015 post titled: Needed- An Equitable and Stable Pipeline of Teachers.

As the American economy continues to be rocked by the unruly forces of technological change and global competition, state departments of education struggle with how to best prepare ALL students to succeed in the emerging economic environment. Of all the factors related to student success, teacher quality is listed as the most important and is continuously at the forefront of national conversations about school reform. What can be done to create/produce a pool of effective, quality teachers to prepare students for the tough new Common Core State Standards assessments that they face?

• Introduce performance-based pay?
• Privatize the profession (teacherpreneurs)?
• Eliminate seniority.?
• Eliminate or marginalize unions?
• Tie teachers’ tenure to student assessments?
• Create new/refine existing teacher assessment/evaluation tools?
• Establish teaching as an iconic profession like law or medicine?

As schools across America struggle with how to increase/improve teacher quality in order to prepare the next generation of taxpayers, Detroit and other urban districts struggle with a civil and human rights issue: How to best provide its classrooms with an EQUITABLE and STABLE PIPELINE of teachers! It is the elephant in the room reformers fail to consistently, persistently address. It’s the elephant that threatens to stampede any real chance for Detroit area school transformation, to stampede any chance for an economic comeback for ALL of Detroit.
In the words of Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. , “Where do we go from here?”

No Equality Without Equity

No Equality Without Equity

The following is an excerpt of a Twitter educational chat in which I participated. I am @lyrichardson.

@edmoderator What are some of the big ideas, issues, questions we need to address in education at the new year?

@lyrichardson #Teacherequity in underserved communities. A STABLE pipeline of teaching talent is DESPERATELY needed. #retentionmatters

@suburbadmin @lyrichardson I agree with you. I lead in a more desirable district. I see the quality we are able to lure over. Hired many of them.

@lyrichardson @suburbadmin Sadly, teachers LEARN to teach on poor students. Take what they learn to more affluent schools. #noequalitywithoutequity

@edmoderator Should schools require teachers be college certified in order to teach? Are credentials necessary?

@suburbadmin Yes, teachers should go through a college certification process. I am for alternative paths for urban schools though.

@lyrichardson @suburbadmin Urban children need certified teachers too.#Teacherequity is crucial.

@suburbadmin @lyrichardson I am sorry. All teachers should be college certified.

For me, this chat exchange brought to the forefront that the mission for acquiring teaching talent in American schools takes place in a fiercely competitive arena. All demographics: urban, suburban, private, rural are challenged with recruiting and retaining teachers over time. Not only are Americans competing with the billions of new capitalists unleashed since the fall of the Berlin wall, but are competing with one another for teachers. Now it is poor districts vs. rich districts; David vs. Goliath.
Hopefully, the new Coalition for the Future of Detroit School Children appointed by the governor will work to articulate a point of view concerning this moral challenge. Hopefully, the Coalition can/will create best practices and policies to win the war for teaching talent for Detroit area schools. The economic future of Detroit’s children depends on its schools’ ability to:

Equitably deploy,
Support, and
Retain teaching talent over time Across ALL Detroit schools.

Backstory: Turnover Patterns
Attrition, defined as teachers who are in the classroom year one but by year two and beyond have abandoned the teaching profession, is a costly phenomenon. According to the U.S. Dept of Education, the five-year national attrition rate for new teachers hovers around fifty percent; however, in neighborhoods beset by high unemployment and skyrocketing homelessness, the new teacher attrition rate is closer to fifty percent every THREE years. Annually, more than $2.6 billion of taxpayers’ money is spent nationally on teachers who abandon the field (Alliance for Excellent Education).
Teacher turnover, different from attrition, can be defined as teachers who are involuntarily transferred (school closures for example) from one school to another or who voluntarily move from one district to another in search of better working conditions and/or better compensation (above chat). That too is an expensive American phenomenon, more than $5 billion annually.(Alliance for Excellent Education)
Scarce taxpayer dollars are spent on constant recruiting, on replacing, on special incentives, on teacher processing (criminal background checks, health checks, reference checks) teacher orientation, AND professional development that walks out the door.

Attrition, Teacher Turnover Are Like Leaky Buckets

Attrition, Teacher Turnover Are Like Leaky Buckets

Playing an Unfair Game
Urban (Detroit) schools, fatigued and overwhelmed by Turnaround Models, School Closure Models, Restart Models, face an onslaught of teachers and administrators moved about like pawns on a chessboard.
For how many years have Detroit educators been released/ downsized at the end of the school year? (Can we really downsize our way to excellence?)Those who do not abandon teaching altogether (attrition) or the district (turnover) often are not deployed until August, September or beyond. What is the impact of this attrition, this turnover? It is classrooms without teachers for weeks and sometimes months, crowded classrooms (40 or more), and unprepared teachers who don’t receive their assignment until the last minute. It is a syndrome/pattern that destabilizes schools and creates #inequity of educational opportunity, morally indefensible. We put a man on the moon, but we don’t seem able to deploy teachers to classrooms in a timely fashion. Why?
How can reform models or pilots, on which taxpayers spend billions, take hold if educators are moved around or eliminated like pawns on a chessboard? What is the annual budget in Detroit for reform models or pilots? Can we keep track of any actionable and meaningful data if the cast and location of educators keeps changing?
Can we disrupt the-school-to-prison pipeline with a system that produces a revolving door of novice teachers who don’t stick around long enough to learn to reroute student misbehavior, student misconduct?

Teacher Talent Management – Write a New Song

This summer I had an exchange with a young Detroit teacher who shared with me that she had been teaching for seven years and was the most senior teacher in her school – UNBELIEVABLE! She was on her third school – INDEFENSIBLE! When I inquired about her schedule for next year, she looked perplexed. I shared with her that when I taught (I am retired) the union insisted teachers know their schedules before leaving in June. It gives teachers a chance to rework old lessons, plan new ones, attend content specific workshops, read the research. “Sounds phenomenal”, she gushed, “However, I have never taught in a school where that was a practice.” SAD!

Write a New Talent Management Song

Write a New Talent Management Song

Another talent mismanagement practice that needs rewriting is the repeated movement/reassignment of teachers from one grade level to another and from one content area to another that demoralizes teachers and negatively impacts students struggling hardest to catch up.
Hopefully, the Coalition can/will create clear and fair practices that determine how teachers are assigned to:
Single-grade, single-subject, in-field assignments VS. How teachers (often new) are assigned to teach more challenging schedules:
Teaching split grades, teaching multiple subjects, teaching out-of-field courses for which they are not prepared.

How can teachers develop the deep mastery needed to be effective grade level or content area specialists if they are shuffled about like interchangeable parts? How can the teamwork/teambuilding which is essential to the success of any organization take hold? Without a clear a policy, are both teachers and students being set up to fail?

Whether through attrition, never ending transfers, or repeated internal reassignments, constant turnover disrupts the continuity, cohesiveness, humanity, institutional memory, and stability of a school. It is a syndrome that creates an inequity of educational opportunity for Detroit area students. Sadly, this pattern is ambient noise in so many urban schools.

No reasonable person will dispute that some turnover is beneficial – fresh blood and new ideas rid a school of stagnancy. However, can we really address the “turnaround challenge” if every time we turnaround, a school is rebuilding its staff? Can we really leave no child behind without the leadership, vision, and strategic planning needed to recruit, to equitably deploy, to support, and to retain teaching talent over time?

A Chance to Make History
Public education in a democratic society is based on the principle that EVERY child is of equal and incalculable value. Secretary of State Arne Duncan has declared that education is the civil rights issue of the 21st century. Thus, Detroit is facing down a complex challenge other urban school districts also face. During the industrial economy, Detroit’s educational system developed the workforce that put the world on wheels and in the process created a new middle class. Can the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren help Detroit make history again? Will it be the catalyst needed to usher in a new set of best practices and/or policies for an equitable and stable pipeline of teachers – needed to prepare ALL Detroit school children to be contributing participants in the NEW world order? Some suggestions:
• Create dashboards to track the amount of money spent on repeatedly filling the same positions.
• Track/chart the percentage of teachers who leave EACH Detroit school EACH year.
• Create an online platform for framing conversations concerning attrition and teacher turnover patterns (crowdsource)
• Create structures that impede teachers from quitting or taking their teaching capital to other districts.
• Develop surveys to document why so many Detroit area teachers abandon the district/the profession.
• Create discussion boards to determine solutions to this societal challenge. (crowdsource).

“Where DO We Go From Here?” Will It Be:

#Taleof2Cities ? OR #DetReinvented ?