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The New Wave of Teachers, Perhaps a Wave bye-bye to Our Dollars? - Thursday, September 15, 2011

Hear the Echoes No. 28



The New Wave of Teachers

Perhaps a Wave bye-bye to Our Dollars?


                Education budget cuts are penny wise and pound foolish—public education is an investment in our future.  The idiom originated in 1712, but remains relevant today.


                Not long ago, we were reminded by State Sen. Ben Nevers that is a truism that Louisiana’s people and the Jindal administration ignore with a high degree of peril.


                Perhaps the Recovery School District was being penny wise when it proposed award of still another $2 million contract to Teach For America to recruit and train teachers; and another $ 1 million for the New Teacher Project.   Teach NOLA works in a partnership between New Schools for New Orleans, and the New Teacher Project.  The program recruits, selects, and trains committed individuals to teach in New Orleans Public Schools.


                The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation must think it a wise program to fund.  It granted $1 million for the RSD Pathways to Instructional Excellence, and another $997,500 for 2011-12 to be spent by the RSD for its teachNOLA and model staffing initiative.  In addition, $677,529 of MFP funding would be spent on that teacher recruitment program.


                Since 2006, teachNOLA has brought more than 600 teachers to New Orleans.  Since 2008, teach NOLA has placed 73 teachers in the RSD, but 30 of them have been made surplus due to school closures; while another 30 continue to teach in local charter schools.  Another 10 teachNOLA teachers work in RSD direct run schools.  Net result:  40 teachers recruited still working.


                Last year the project received 1,550 applications, interviewed 493 interested individuals, and hired 6 teachers.


                That must be the pound foolish part of the idiom.  If one assumes that there are six openings for teachers, then it would seem foolish to interview 493 applicants.


                But of course there were other activities paid for out of the program.  Those 40 hires were observed in classroom practice by a team.  A follow up survey revealed that 75% of principals in the RSD direct-run schools believe the new evaluation tool is more effective at differentiating teacher performance than the previous tool.


                Now let’s get one thing straight!  The RSD-New Orleans direct run schools are all among the lowest performing in Louisiana.  But, only 75% of principals believe the teacher evaluation is better than its predecessor.


                But those hard-to-please principals found that 80% of teachers believe the mid-year evaluation process was a positive experience that will help improve instruction.  Even fewer teachers (71%) thought the feedback from being observed helps them improve student outcomes.  Wow! 28 teachers reportedly felt the program helped their students to higher achievement.


                During the 2010-2011 school year 2% of the teachers were found to perform unsatisfactorily and were terminated.  Another group, the Level 2 cluster, fell between 2% and 15% graded and were also terminated regardless of tenure status.  According to the RSD only around 2% of the recruited teachers were judged to be exemplary performers.


                On the surface, it appears as if the aim of the teachNOLA and its partners is to upgrade the teaching in RSD schools,  it takes somewhat over $1 million to wind up with 40 working teachers.   That means  it will take an awful lot of $millions to filter in a new wave of teachNOLA teachers that will unseat all those poor performing teachers who came to their careers via traditional channels.  If their tenure, which is not reported by the RSD, is parallel to Teach for America nationwide, we’ll be recruiting to back-fill for more than half of the hires within three years.


                One of the other activities paid out of the $1.4 million program in 2010-2011 was a new Pathways Portal.  This is a data management system for school administrators and teachers.  The system enables principals, administrators and teachers to view individual teacher performance data.  Whoa there, old buddy!  One might be forgiven if he thought  that the well-established JPAMS system which  the RSD already uses, and which constitutes the core of the state department’s drop-out-early-warning system, was being run for the same purpose.


                Question:  Does the RSD’s right hand really know what the left hand is doing?  Or, is this another example of contracting out for a product to take care of some favored corporation?


                It is well recognized that the RSD schools have been, since inception, operating with a large differential between its budget and that of local districts.  It has been recognized by the charter-friendly Cowen Institute of Tulane University that such financing disparities will not endure and that the time is near for RSD to learn to operate on a level playing field with the state’s other 69 districts. 


Perhaps BESE, at its next meeting , will draw the conclusion that the time has come to pull the plug on the program?


Don Whittinghill




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