Math without math teachers

Philadelphia students told a congressman what happens when inner-city schools can’t hire qualified teachers.

Instead of learning math, Yusef Perry said, he and his ninth-grade classmates at Sayre High School played basketball. Latoya Andrews and other biology students at Simon Gratz High endured weeks of being split up among other classes.

Kenneth Ramos, who attends Kensington High, had no geometry teacher for four weeks this year.

“We have more long-term subs than regular teachers at Kensington,” he said. “Some of them don’t know what they’re doing. Sometimes I wake up and sit on the side of my bed and wonder what I’m going to school for.”

The teachers’ contract lets teachers choose their assignments based on seniority. As teachers gain experience, they can transfer to easier jobs, leaving behind low-income, high-minority schools.

Philadelphia is now offering bonuses for those who take difficult teaching assignments, and is trying to renegotiate the contract to ensure that all schools get their share of qualified teachers.

Chicago has improved teacher quality — and recruited a lot more math teachers — by streamlining alternative certification, says the Chicago Tribune.

Often they are people in mid-career who simply decide they would rather serve as teachers. Many are bankers, accountants, engineers, saleswomen, lawyers and scientists. They have life experience and they’ve developed an expertise in their field. Now they want to teach.

. . . “They’re a different caliber of people: smarter, more mature, more committed and more in it for the long haul,” said Chicago Public Schools Chief Arne Duncan.

Eduwonk has some other links to teacher quality stories, and points out that No Child Left Behind’s insistence that “poor kids get good teachers” is not as horrible as progressives seem to think.

Update: Here’s a “tipping point” plan to attract good teachers to difficult schools:

Lower class sizes, clean and safe schools, up-to-date materials, and state of the art technology are among the incentives some districts are using to lure personnel to their hard-to-staff schools.  While these are important, the single most important incentive for principals and teachers — the one that has the greatest chance of convincing them that they can make a difference in these highly demanding schools — is the promise of membership on a competent and committed team of teachers and administrators.  The Tipping Point plan is designed to lead dysfunctional schools to the point where they “tip” — a point where teachers and administrators come and stay because together, as a team, they are able to create successful learning experiences for their students.

This makes a lot of sense to me.

About Joanne


  1. Richard Heddleson says:

    Looks like there is an opportunity for a market. Perhaps pay could be adjusted so that all positions were filled with qualified teachers, especially if they’re always substitutes anyway.

  2. Why should the better teachers, or at least the senior teachers, not be able to go the school they prefer? It just seems to me that if I was a teacher in a “tougher to handle” school I would want first consideration for the jobs that come open in a better environment. Why punish someone for being good?

  3. Walter Wallis says:

    Don’t you justlove the Emperor’s new suit?
    I guess the only teachers who dare mention the real reason for all this crap is those who are retiring.

  4. And why don’t teachers want to teach in these schools? Is anyone asking that question? And what can be done to address the reasons why teachers are reluctant to teach there?

    If we can just admit that many kids in these schools are uncivilized little a$$holes, maybe we can start to solve the problem.

  5. Walter Wallis says:

    How many more generations will we sacrifice on the altar of PC and White Guilt before we realize that we are not doing a favor to someone by allowing them to disrupt a classroom?

  6. Winston,

    Maybe on their teachers salaries they can’t afford to repair and replace vandalized cars. Maybe they aren’t being paid enough to risk getting knifed or shot on the way to work, at work and on their way home.

    As someone else stated, why punish the good teachers? Schools are a reflection of our society and of the neighborhoods they reside in. You just don’t hear people saying that b/c it isn’t PC.

  7. Teaching in more difficult schools should probably carry significantly higher pay. This is the case in many other professions: air traffic controllers, for example, are paid more for working at Atlanta Approach than at Toonerville Tower.

    A value-added measurement approach should help, too. Someone who brings kids from 40 to 70 on a reading scale (for example) probably deserves more than someone who brings them from 90 to 95.

  8. Tim from Texas says:

    When it comes to teaching at the school across the tracks or that terrible school in the “ghetto”, the discussion should evolve around the question: How does such a rich nation with so many resources have so many bad neighborhoods and ghettos? But I will leave that for now.

    What happens with many teachers when they take or are assigned to one of those “terrible” schools is they wear their prejudices into the classroom. The students in those schools are like all other young people. They see the teacher’s prejudices and hatreds immediately. Then they set out to make the teacher’s life miserable.

    This happened to me. The third teaching job I accepted was at a high-school with a most terrible reputation. Since the pay was better and since I had, in my own mind, “done so wonderfully well” at my previous assignments, which were in the neighborhood in which I was reared,I didn’t foresee any problem. Why hell, I was a good teacher and certainly a likeable guy.

    Well, needless to say, I was sure wrong. They recognized the aleman-gringo prejudices I had and proceeded to make my life miserable. There were a few nights at home I shook with anger and literally cried, feeling sorry for myself. Not being a quitter,and because I liked teaching and had the greater part of the school year ahead, not to mention, “ahem”, I needed the money, I decided to learn much more about their culture and their community. I also decided to learn the names of as many students at the school as possible and addressed each one by name with a smile every chance I got. With these students a little bit of understanding and politeness goes a very long way. I proceeded to make my preconceived notions about them melt away and they recognized I was trying and paid me back in spades. I must add here I didn’t coddle them, nor did I get to know them “personally” for I think the teacher that does that, with any student at a bad, or fantastic school for that matter, could find himerself in a difficult situation. My advice to teachers at any school is not to go there.

    So, it worked. My students tried, as much as their situation allowed, to learn and get as much work done for me as possible. In additon, while many a teacher, from time to time, walked out to hiser car and found student art work and church-key scratches applied, it didn’t happen once to my car in the 5 years I taught there.

    The chidren in these “hoods” and in these “hood-schools” are very sweet and really want to learn. And yes, they can problem solve. They do it everyday in order to survive. They can also do problem solving in academics.

    Now, in the event the question crosses anyones’ mind as to why I left after just five years, the answer is this. I have never stayed at any job or job location for more than five years. I can’t say I recommend it for anyone. It’s just my nature.

    The next teaching position I took was at a school which was considered the best school in 400 square miles of my home. It was a school, probably needless to say, in a very affluent section of the city. The parents were of old money, doctors, professors, engineers, and the like and of course the newly rich and affluent. At such a school, any teacher has to make adjustments, and hard adjustments at that, to do well. The “wonderful” schools, as I’ve said before, are no walk in the park either. I made my adjustments and had a decent time there for five years.

    The next teaching assignment I accepted was at a school in another “hood” which was comprised of 85% black inhabitants. There again, I made the necessary adjustments and had a decent 5 years.

    Now my point here is not to pat myself on the back, but to point out to those who are at any school or who are planning to teach at any school, if you are having difficulties, make the appropriate adjustments to make your stay as pleasant as possible. I’ve seen too many teachers taking naps in the teacher-lounges and dragging themselves to and from work with shoulders slumped from too much stress. That doesn’t have to be. Adjustments aren’t easy, but well worth it.

    To close, I am certainly not saying that the difficulties teachers have are only from their on making. Certainly they are not. However, some are, and those, can most definitely, be turned around by the teacher and it will make your job, I promise, MUCH BETTER.

    Again, enough or too much.

  9. Braddock says:

    Back to reality.

    I’m completely in favor of alternative certifications that place mature adults with real world experience in the classroom. Kids sense when a person has walked the walk in real life, and not simply taught others to walk the walk.

  10. Anonymous says:

    …the discussion should evolve around the question: How does such a rich nation with so many resources have so many bad neighborhoods and ghettos?

    I think the question would be better phrased: How does anyone living in such a rich nation with so many opportunities fail to escape the ghettos?

  11. Walter Wallis says:

    Hey, don’t ask me. If you believe Steinbeck, when I got to California running away from the dust bowl in 1936, I didn’t have a prayer.

  12. Tim from Texas says:

    I don’t know who you are May or what you do, nor do I know anything about your successes and I’m sure you have worked hard to get where you are.

    However, better phrasing the question as you did, leaves only one reply, as follows: I suppose, then that Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and those persons of like ilk, unless you are among that level, would have to say you live, comparatively, in a ghetto. Now yes, everything is in degrees of sort. Not everyone can be as successful as others, and yes some will find themselves at the bottom rung, but does that bottom rung have to be so low. I contend it’s too low, for we have not been wise, but rather greedy in this country coupled with an unwise attitude toward the less fortunate. Yes, there are some down right lazy ones at the bottom rung, but most work hard, however. But being greedy and wanting more and more success and wanting prices to stay where we can at least maintain the legend in our own mind, we don’t want to pay them a fair living wage.

    Yes, it is such a complex issue, but it is still my belief that a society which has had the good fortune to live in such a rich and properous country, which then allows such a low rung, not to mention the homeless and the starving, is committing an abomination.

    Look around, are you pleased and feel good about your country when you see those “types” or do you just look away. It is an afront to everyone and everyone feels it and knows it. To allow it to continue is simply pathologic.

  13. Rita C. says:

    Joanne, you’re slipping. NCLB’s definition of “highly qualified” is to be certified and to have a degree in your subject area. What academic subject area does a mid-career saleswoman have a degree in? Nobody, including those horrible, horrible progressives, is saying that poor kids shouldn’t get good teachers. People just disagree about what makes a good teacher. NCLB and progressives lean toward traditional certification.

  14. Rita..’What academic subject area does a mid-career saleswoman have a degree in?” I’ve known salesmen & saleswomen with degrees ranging from Economics to Aeronautical Engineering to English Literature to Business.

  15. Tim (from Texas) – you need to get your hanky out and wipe away your tears. Maybe then you could speak to some of the “lower rung” folks and you’d figure out rather quickly that all they want is hand outs. Even in some of the worst schools there are students who prevail, overcome their circumstances and succeed. Why? Because they want to – if the class isn’t progressing, they go through their textbook and learn it themselves. If their teacher can’t/won’t help, they find another teacher, a mentor, someone who is willing to help (and they keep searching till they find such a person). What too many “low rung” people want is to have it given to them, we can’t GIVE them education, it takes effort (and good measure of it) on their part.

    To Rita C. – What can a housewife teach? How about basic math, how to do price comparisons. How about measurements for recipes which in turn helps reinforce fraction lessons. I’ve seen SO many teachers (qualified, all the certs, etc) who couldn’t teach their way out of a paper bag. I can teach some parts of math, religion, social studies and science much better than 40% of the elementary teachers I’ve met. Certifications do NOT mean you can teach, it only means you went through the hoops and passed some tests. How often have I wished that I could be taught by someone who knew how to use what was being taught rather than the sterile academic setting in which the teacher was trying (and failing) to teach.

  16. Roy W. Wright says:

    I don’t know who you are May or what you do…

    Sorry, I accidentally posted anonymously earlier.

    …yes some will find themselves at the bottom rung, but does that bottom rung have to be so low. I contend it’s too low…

    The “poor” in this country are living better than the vast majority of people have lived in the past. They have more than enough opportunities, even if they don’t feel like putting forth a commensurate effort.

    …we don’t want to pay them a fair living wage.

    I want everyone to be paid what their labor is worth. Many or most in the “bottom rung” are already collecting far more than that.

    Any adult who lives in a rich, properous, and free country such as our and wilfully inhabits that “low rung,” and subjects his or her children to that lifestyle, is committing the abomination.

  17. Tim from Texas says:

    Mike, I’ve talked to the less fortunate and I’ve taught them and I’ve lived in their neighborhoods. I live in one of them now, although, many years ago I could have moved away, like most with my means. However, I decided to stay and help make it a better neighborhood.

    Most at the lower rung do not want hand outs. You are wrong about that. Of course, many do take them, for they are dirt poor or it has become habitual. Yes it is, as I said, a complex issue.

    By the way, I detect somehow a high-and-mighty vein bulging in your head. Does the truth hurt and raise your blood pleasure. Unless you can prove that you have never taken a dole of any kind, either directly or indirectly, I don’t think you should be so condescending. But alas, I seriously doubt you can.

    Again, as I said before, it is a matter of degree. Yes, I can agree, like anyone would, that there is much truth in your statements. I do, however, think there is also much truth in mine as well.

  18. Tim from Texas says:

    Roy, I wasn’t being flippant or sarcastic, in addressing you as May and I don’t think you took it that way. I mention it here only to say that my minds’ eye did not pick up on it, and that isn’t it amazing how the mind will fail to pick up things so many times. At least, that is, I can speak for mine. At any rate, I had a good laugh at myself for it.

    Now to get back to the subject at hand, Roy, are you absolutely positive that you aren’t being paid too much for the work you do? As I’ve mentioned before and feel compelled here to mention again, it is a matter of degree.

    In addition, it is also a matter of perspective in my opinion. Of course, many people argue that the poor are living better now than the majority in the past. However, that has never been proven by any means by anyone. It’s a nice thing to say and believe, but impossible to prove. Maybe they did and maybe they didn’t. My point is, look about now. Do you like what you see happening in our country with the poor, homeless and yes, the starving? Do you think that it’s entirely of their own making? Do you feel ok when you see it?

    Furhermore, as to more than enough opportunities now, I think again it can be argued either way, but impossible to prove.

    Now, to the commensurate-effort-argument, it can be applied to anyone in this country. I argue again it’s a matter of degree. Furthermore, I argue, that the more affluent and
    wise a person is, the more the commensurate-effort-argument applies. That is to say, shouldn’t the wise and affluent beings, at least,so to speak, remove some of the tripping stones along the way or should more be laid out,as is happening now. For example, do you think gambling, the lottery, and all variations of the numbers game should be legal as they are now. At least in the past the wise and the affluent removed those tripping stones.

  19. Rita C. says:

    A degree in Economics or Business or Aeronautical Engineering is NOT a degree in a subject area. These people are unqualified under NCLB. Please note that I am not saying whether or not they are qualified; I’m just pointing out what NCLB requires in order to be considered “highly qualified.” This is the part of the provision that is giving many school districts fits.

  20. If that’s right, NCLB requirements need to be changed. Obviously, an aeronautical engineering degree requires far more knowledge of math and physics than the average high school math or physics teacher possesses.

  21. Tim: Have you ever lived abroad? Have you ever seen true poverty?

    I lived in Central America for a time and saw it. And yet, these families and their children went to school and became educated. With but a pitiful fraction of the resources our “poor” have.

    The teachers there don’t have to go out of their way to “make social adjustments” so that the kids “can learn.” Indeed, kids are instructed by their parents to behave, respect the teacher, and get an education.

    I’ve seen innumerable foreign families here in the US who are totally flummoxed at how ridiculously spoiled and ungrateful American kids are for the resources available to them at their schools. I’ve had students from India and Bangladesh who were lucky to have a desk and seat, let alone a teacher with a chalkboard, and they outclass American kids in virtually every arena.

    So, pardon me if I just slightly guffaw at your sob stories….

  22. Richard Nieporent says:

    Unfortunately Tim, in your well-meaning way you are part of the problem. All you can see is prejudice on the part of whites towards minorities. How in the world did you manage to go through school and come out with such an attitude? Is it because the educational establishment taught you white guilt that you feel that way?

    By the way, do the students also feel the same way about minority teachers? If not, why don’t we have a school system with only minority teachers and students? Let’s call it segregation. It sounds like you are in favor of it!

  23. Roy W. Wright says:

    DaveHuber: I lived in Argentina for a couple of years, and I echo your observations.

  24. Tim from Texas says:

    Yes, I have lived abroad. I lived in Germany off and on for a total of 4yrs., England for a year,
    France for 6 mos., India 9mos, Egypt 1yr, South Africa 1 yr, Mexico 18mos, and have visited other
    countries in South America, Asia, Europe, and the at-that-time Eastern Europe and USSR, not to mention an extended hike and adventure in Mongolia. All on my on ticket, that is to say, not in any kind of Gov. job or capacity, and all from the sweat of my on brow. So I have been around the block and I’ve seen “real poverty” in other countries and I’ve seen “real poverty” here.

    Yes, foreign families who have migrated here are
    astonished. Yes we are spoiled. However, there is, for the most part, a big difference between the impoverished abroad and many of the impoverished here. The impoverished in the countries abroad didn’t get their culture stripped and thrown onto the junkheap as the Blacks, Native Americans and the indigenous Mexicans had. They were not immigrants, which is a huge difference.

    As I’ve said repeatedly, it is a very complex issue, and I don’t assume by any means to have all the right answers nor all the right opinions.

    Moreover,it is quite sophomoric, in my opinion, to personalize the issue and to challenge one’s credentials, as if one had to have any in order to have an opinion.

  25. Um, Tim? You say

    The impoverished in the countries abroad didn’t get their culture stripped and thrown onto the junkheap as the Blacks, Native Americans and the indigenous Mexicans had. They were not immigrants, which is a huge difference.

    Completely incorrect. Let’s just take one example — South Africa. Black SAs didn’t have their culture thrown “onto the junkheap?” Say whaa…? And, a huge portion of blacks in SA were indeed immigrants from surrounding countries. So, are you serious? If so, your claims to have been there should arouse a certain amount of skepticism.

    Colonizing powers have always thrown indigenous cultures “onto the junkheap” to one degree or another. It is hardly unique to America.

    Not to mention that black culture in the US, just to name one, is quite alive and well. Indeed, it is many ways the dominant culture.

    I don’t know if you were addressing me in regards to “questioning credentials,” but even so, knowing what REAL poverty is would indeed give your opinion that much more merit.

  26. NCLB leaves it to the states to define a “highly qualified” teacher. Many states have set the bar low out of necessity, happily declaring that virtually all teachers are highly qualified. However, more states are requiring out-of-field teachers to show they know the material either by passing a test or by other means, such as classroom observation, portfolios, etc.

    In California, many very well-educated scientists and engineers discovered their coursework didn’t qualify for a teaching credential, because the course requirements are so broad (and weird). Most can meet the test requirements in math and physics, however. Generally, people in business careers have very good math skills, though I’ve met quite a few who prefer to teach at the elementary level because the kids are easier to deal with and more fun.

  27. Tim from Texas says:

    Uh, Dave, if we took into account each situation in each country, and wrote and argued about each exception and every nuance we would be at our keyboards for days on end. So, I generalized to a certain degree, perhaps too much. Please forgive me.

  28. Tim: Understood. You’re correct… and thanks.

  29. Tim from Texas says:

    Hey, Dave, I enjoyed the exchange.

  30. Tim, you say …

    “Most at the lower rung do not want hand outs. You are wrong about that. Of course, many do take them, for they are dirt poor or it has become habitual. Yes it is, as I said, a complex issue.”

    I would ask, how do you know that? I’ve heard folks (the lower rung folks) beg their way into jobs, only to be let go later because of … you name it – 1) they couldn’t seem to come to work when they were suppose to 2) turns out they didn’t have the basic skill sets (reading, writing, math) to be able to handle what was required 3) they lacked the social skills to be able to communicate with the public (without using four letter words, slang terms, etc.) 4) they apparently couldn’t figure out how to dress and groom for a “normal” job in public.

    I’ve heard folks (like you) complain that these “skills” should be taught – and I agree, but business doesn’t have the money or time to do it. They are skills that your parents are suppose to teach you (if you are willing to learn), they are lessons that you are suppose to learn at school (like making there on time and doing your assignments). If they are on the “lower rung” there are plenty of opportunities to pull yourself up. THAT is why immigrants LOVE to come here, BECAUSE we DO have those opportunities.

    later you write – directly to me:

    “By the way, I detect somehow a high-and-mighty vein bulging in your head. Does the truth hurt and raise your blood pleasure. Unless you can prove that you have never taken a dole of any kind, either directly or indirectly, I don’t think you should be so condescending. But alas, I seriously doubt you can.”

    No, I proudly proclaim that I am a product of community colleges, they have been subsidized by your and my tax dollars. The difference is that I’m not still there. I moved on, I’m willing to bet that I more than repayed in taxes, the amount that the state subsidized my education. I also worked like a dog doing a full time job while I went to school.

    Our “lower rung” is much higher than the “lower rung” of the undeveloped nations (although that has already been discussed I see). Our country has and provides more opportunities that any other country in the world. ANYONE who WANTS to pull themselves up, from the bottom rung has more chances to do it in this country than in any other. You do (each person) what you want to do, if you haven’t hit bottom (to you) and aren’t willing to do what it takes to move up, it’s not the fault of this nation.

  31. Mike: Regarding your last paragraph — Amen! (Wait — can I say that in a public school?) 😉

  32. Changing the subject a little…

    This I think is why we need vouchers. I am a public school teacher myself and I believe that vouchers would be a good thing. If a parent wants their child who attends a low performing school to get a better education, they should have the right to move them to another school. And if many kids leave, it should be a wakeup call to the school to fix things or shut down. Competition is a main foundation to our economic structure – why shouldn’t it be a part of the way our public schools operate?


  1. Hube's Cube says:


    Joanne Jacobs has some intriguing posts up. One asks how good, qualified teachers can be made to remain in the schools that need them most. I especially liked the reader comments since these usually cut through any pretense of PC….