How ‘we can’ educate children

KIPP founders Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin writes about What ‘Yes, We Can’ Should Mean for Our Public Schools in the Washington Post.

. . . Obama could establish a paradigm-shifting goal — ensuring that within 10 years every child in America will be on track to earning a college degree or completing a meaningful career training program. . . .

· Second, perhaps the single greatest lever for raising expectations and achievement for all children in America would be the creation of national learning standards and assessments. . . .

· Third, as president, Obama could help build enthusiasm and respect for all who enter the teaching profession. . . .

· Fourth, we should assess teachers on their demonstrated impact on student learning, not whether they hold a traditional teacher certification. . . .

Finally, we urge Obama to follow through on his campaign pledge to double federal funding for public charter schools with proven results. Because of technicalities in state laws, successful charter schools looking to open new campuses are often ineligible for federal money set aside for new charter schools.

One and three don’t mean much: They’re about talk, not action. However, two and four — national standards and assessing teachers on the basis of performance — would be a significant policy change. I support both ideas, though I don’t think the feds should be telling districts how to pay teachers. On charter schools, the action now is expanding the successful schools — not necessarily in opening brand-new ones.

Obama would have to work hard to get the states to accept national standards, presumably as part of a shiny, new No Child Left Behind.

Eduwonk thinks national standards aren’t a signficant lever for change. Flypaper is all for ’em and thinks it’s now a possible dream.

About Joanne


  1. Feinberg and Levin: “”Fourth, we should assess teachers on their demonstrated impact on student learning, not whether they hold a traditional teacher certification.”
    Kackobs: “One and three don’t mean much: They’re about talk, not action. However, two and four — national standards and assessing teachers on the basis of performance — would be a significant policy change. I support both ideas…”


    How do Art and Sp-ed teachers fit into this? How do new-hire teachers whom the senior teachers deliberately screw, by setering disruptive studennts into the new-hire’s class defend themselves?

  2. Sorry for mthe typo of your name. Also, “…steering disruptive students…”

  3. I think there are about 110 teachers in my building. In the spring, the State will test 10th grade English, biology, and algebra. That’s about 20 teachers, max. So, I’m all assessed, but what about the other 90? Are we really willing to invest funds in creating and scoring state tests in woodworking, auto maintenance, foods I, choir, piano II, Japanese, Latin, psychology, weight training,creative writing, and personal finance (the new state mandated class)?

    I’m pretty much fine with being evaluated by student learning because my kids make gains every year, but I’m not sure how you can compare what I do to what the PE teachers do.

  4. The idea that the federal government is going to intervene in public education as a watchdog or guarantor of equitable education through a legislative mandate such as NCLB or an improved version of NCLB is naive at best. Public education and the quality of instruction students receive varies from district to district because each district (large and small) is responsible for: electing quality board members, establishing high expectations for teachers, students, and families in the communities they serve, ensuring that public monies are spent to support student learning, creating cultures that build capacity so leadership teams can work together to implement change…the list is long. Financial management, thoughtful planning, good community relations where parents are empowered to participate in decion-making – all contribute to school success.

    Districts that do these things well have good results with kids and the vast majority of student from these districts do go to college or find meaningful work. Districts that fail to do these things well are not going to stop failing because our new president or culture change in Washington insists on it. Failing districts must be held accountable but a bigger stick doesn’t result in sustainable and genuine change that makes a true difference for kids.

    Offering incentives for teachers (financial or otherwise) is an extraordinarily dangerous notion for many reasons. Not the least of which is that it is impossible in a public school system for teachers or school administrators to control factors like mobility, poverty, lack of education, and language issues. Students come into schools all over America with needs that districts and schools valiently try to address and work hard to support. No one (schools, teachers, administrators, children, or parents) get credit for qualitatively working to address these challenges. Under NCLB, success is measured quantitatively. If we have learned anything from corporate America, it’s that offering incentives to make extraordinary gains in the face of nearly impossible circumstances results in enormous pressure on systems and individuals to “beat the system” to meet expectations.

    The answer to America’s education crisis is not a one-size fits all package of carrots and sticks. If we’re really going to change the experience students have K-12 in every school in America, we have to look at the conditions in great schools and ask ourselves how we can recreate those coniditions in communities where resources are not as abundant and the social conditions more challenging. We can reward teachers for doing innovative work and highlight those innovations nationally using technologies like U-Tube, the Internet, and social networking. We can offer students who attend school and do well a guarantee that no matter what their circumstances, their hard work will be rewarded with credits, scholarships, and other tangibles. Families who help their children succeed in school (as measured by attendance and academic progress) should be entitled to flex time at work, government subsidized continuing/higher education, and e-rate funding for Internet access at home.

    Standards are important as a threshold requirement for all districts and national board certification should be a requirement for all new teachers so they can move anywhere in the country and still be eligible to practice. Teachers who are willing to take on the toughest assignments should get federal support for low interest housing and GI Bill-like educational benefits.

    Finally, quality and equitable public education is a sure path to national and social security. We must have the political, moral, and spiritual courage to insist that every child has every opportunity to learn in a safe and supportive environment. It’s the job of every adult in America, whether a public school educator or not, to make a real commitment to the education of our nation’s children.

  5. I guess in KIPP world, where you can pick and choose your students and get rid of the ones who don’t fit the mold, than these kind of “reforms” work.

  6. Homeschooling Granny says:

    Are ‘national learning standards and achievements’ to be assessed by standardized, that is to say multiple choice, tests? Who holds the test makers accountable and to what standard?

    Perhaps the most significant traits of a good math student are persistence and the ability to tolerate not knowing an answer, not even seeing the path to the solution, but being will to work on it. This is essential for problem solving. Scoring well on multiple choice math tests means rapidly recognizing what process to use and getting it done fast. You don’t need to know why you are doing it, only to recognize what to do. Good for drill, not for problem solving.

    Now you know one reason my granddaughters are home schooled.

  7. “Standards are important as a threshold requirement for all districts and national board certification should be a requirement for all new teachers so they can move anywhere in the country and still be eligible to practice.”

    I do not see what national standards, applied to local school districts, will accomplish. A standard is a unit of measurement. Academic standards are to intellectual growth what yardsticks are to physical growth. Platinum measuring rods will not make children taller. Neither standardized tests nor national curriculum standards will make children smarter. The only standard that will improve the US K-12 education system is the parent standard: “Do I want my child in that school?”

    I only see one way that national curriculum standards could help.

    State-level and national teacher credential requirements are counter-indicated. Beyond subject-area competence (as assessed by GRE or college transcripts or suchlike) and verbal ability (as assessed by SAT, GRE verbal scores, or fluency in the students’ mother tongue), teachers need interpersonal skills which principals can only assess on the job. “Standards” for teachers are like “standards” for friendship. Chubb and Moe (1990) and Robert Holland oppose national board certification requirements.

  8. There’s something awe-inspiring in the human ability to ignore the obvious if it conflicts with our conceits.

    The folks who ought to have the clearest understanding that centralization in education is counterproductive, if education is what you’re after, think more centralization, but they’re preferred flavor of centralization, is just the ticket.

    Never mind that the expanding role of the federal government in public education hasn’t been attended by any noticeable change for the better, just the opposite in fact.

    Never mind that there’s not a single, large, municipal school district that does a half-decent job educating poor students and not all that good a job educating middle-class students.

    Never mind that school district consolidation result in higher budgets and poorer performance.

    Centralization at the national level though *will* result in all sorts of good things happening. The Fordham folks, working in Washington D.C. have their little, national policy hammer and, as a result, see nothing but national policy nails. The folks at Fordham at least have the excuse of living/working in Washington D.C. What excuse do Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin have for placing so much faith in a national policy when their own success, and the success of their schools, owes nothing to a national policy?

  9. I work in a very large school district where centralization has been anathema with both the current and former superintendents. In fact, we have one of the lowest central administration overheads (overall percentage of general fund going to support central administration) in the state.

    This means categorical monies are distributed to schools. We principals are charged with ensuring that our budgets are transparent to all of our stakeholders and expected to use monies to support the needs of the students our communities serve. This allows us to work flexibly and collaboratively with teachers and parent leaders. It also empowers our school communities to develop appropriate achievement goals that we can own and do something about. Finally, it takes finger pointing out of the picture – schools are managed at the site level and are held accountable for how well they manage time, resources, personnel, and programs.

    As for the role of the federal government in public education – I think your editorial, allen, misses the point that the federal government does have an important role to play in public education. Most people aren’t aware of just how much federal money school districts receive to support programs aimed at our nation’s poorest children. Notwithstanding, and to your point, mandates like NCLB cannot “fix” schools by setting benchmarks (AYP) for target groups to close achievement gaps any more than standards (state or national) can ensure that all teachers do a good job in the classroom delivering quality instruction.

    How well schools perform depend on the ongoing commitment that school districts, teachers unions, parent groups, and administrators have to working together in good faith to tackle complex challenges so kids can have a meaningful experience at school every day – speaking as one in the trenches, I’ve never done anything more difficult in my life and never felt so grateful to be doing it.

    Finally, I really like your final comment – perhaps Feinberg and Levin hope the new national policy will be less imperial and judgemental in exchange for one that dignifies and supports schools for the good work they do.

  10. If one gets to choose between schools then its nice to have a way to compare them. Given the mobility of people within the US and the trend towards flexible work locations, it seems like there would be some utility in having common standards. At least according to the people at the Fordham Institute, Flypaper, the difference in state standards is substantial.

  11. I think we should have simple National Standards for literacy and numeracy. Every year every child from first grade on should need to pass a basic skills test prior to promotion. I wouldn’t bother with science and history or content area, eliminating the need to “teach to the test”. Once adequately literate most individuals are capable of persuing other subjects individually. Those kids that fail should be offered extra help via full time summer school, and then offered the chance to re-test.

    The test would included several fiction and non-fiction paragraphs. The student would need to read and identify key facts or story elements. The math test would be grade level computation problems with a few word problems thrown in. Beginning in 6th grade, the test should require a writing component. Building from a basic, coherent paragraph in 6th grade to a complete 5 paragaph essay in 12th. It should be timed and take one hour or less to complete in 1st – 5th and two hours in 6th – 12th.

    We can leave questions of higher level content to districts, states, colleges and the free market to figure out. A high school diploma should have a bottom floor level meaning. A graduating senior from any school in America should be able to read a newspaper article and identify key elements, have mastered basic arithmetic, algebra, and geometry and be able to write with some coherence. It would be nice to include a portion on traditional logic and American Government for Seniors.

    Of course, colleges would loose out on all that extra income they earn offering remedial classes.

  12. Yes, we need Obama and the federal governemnt involved in education because both Presidents and the governement with its massive and intrusive bureaucracies have already done so much to improve achievement in schools…right? Government can do nothing to improve school achievement anywhere. Government can only spend massive amounts of money and guarantee failure. It’s very good at those those two things.

    Both Allen and David are correct. But, please, let’s be direct about government involvement in education.

  13. Obama will improve education by buying every kid a unicorn!

    Or maybe I’m just being cynical.

  14. I have said this before, but there are a few things that all good schools have in common. The first is safety/discipline, so put all of the serious problems (dangerous/psychotic/criminal etc.) in separate schools.

    Then, IF the lawyers can be restrained, apply real disciplinary methods/dress codes etc. and segregate the routinely disruptive in conditions sticky enough to motivate them back into regular classrooms. Maybe hiring some retired military noncoms would help instill the idea that respect must be earned. I’d also take a fresh look at possible ways to push families to instill decent behavior/self-control into their offspring, before they reach school age.

    There should be explicit and unapologetic expectations of work ethic and a clear, content-rich curriculum, of the Core Knowledge type.

    All classrooms need to be grouped homogeneously by subject. It is not reasonable to expect cooperative behavior from students who can’t understand the content or who have already mastered it.

    Unfortunately, I don’t see it happening on a large scale, since all of the above is antithetical to the beliefs of the educational establishment. I’d also remove all non-academic activities from schools; extracurriculars are not only expensive, but they are a distraction from the academic mission. Those European countries so beloved of so many leftists don’t have any sports. Sports and other extracurriculars can and should be run by other community or private organizations and schools can contribute to that mission by allowing use of school facilities.

  15. I think the best argument for a national (or widely accepted, even if private) curriculum is the mobility one. The days when most, or even many, kids stayed in the same school system k-12 are long gone. Even withing the same system (city/county/state), there are wide variations and kids who move often are likely to have significant gaps. At the bottom of the achievement spectrum, mobility issues are often huge and these are the kids who can least afford to miss anything.

  16. momof4,

    What curriculum is so important? Everybody misses a lot. Maybe specialization works better than common standards. Who is to say? People are not standard.

  17. as if we could even all agree that the measuring rod should be platinum! think of the money wasted debating platinum vs. bamboo, gold vs. carbon fiber. Oh, wait, is there a green alternative?

    And the standards for the measuring rod would never be compromised by political viewpoints, no, heavens no. nor their manufacture!

    Were the people who suggest national standards educated in public schools? perhaps that should indict the schools right there.

  18. I think you’re incorrect about the federal government having a role in public education.

    As I wrote, the federal role has been on the increase for the past forty-five or so years and while perceptions may vary my perception is that that intrusion hasn’t resulted in noticeably better outcomes. Those support programs aimed at the nation’s poorest kids may have funneled money into school districts but they haven’t had much of an impact on the educational outcomes of those kids.

    NCLB, you’ll note, was specifically a response to the vast sums sent to school districts with little to no results. If simply shoveling the money into school districts with the expectation that the recipients will do the right thing turns out to be a false assumption then there will be, by God, some goals to meet. There was a GAO or CBO report – I can’t remember which – that discovered much of that money was being used as general revenue, or effectively so, despite the specific prohibition against that sort of thing.

    Since that sort of widespread misuse makes our elected representatives look like fools we can assume that if it’s bipartisanship you value then the way to achieve it is to make our elected representatives feel like a bunch shmucks.

    You are correct about what it takes to tackle those complex challenges but what you overlook is that the motivation to meet those challenges necessarily comes from the pride and concern of all the various stakeholders and, quite simply, that’s not enough. Absent institutional recognition of success, the equivalent of a profitable year in the private sector or a winning season in sports, the only motivation to overcome the challenges of public education lies with the pride and self-discipline of all the professionals involved.

    Worse then that though is the fact that absent an objective measure of success there’s no compass to guide professionals in the direction of further success. A baseball player’s motivation to study the greats in the field is financial as well as personal and his success in emulating those greats is measurable via comprehensible statistics. Same for an engineer or a business person. Their successors can measure themselves against the greats in the field. The teacher, by contrast, sees no financial benefit from the pursuit of excellence in their craft nor is there any means of measuring that skill so how does a teacher determine whether they are emulating one of the giants of their field or not?

    The lack of substantive rewards for skill, the lack of the measurement of skill and the subsequent lack of examples of skilled practitioners puts a very great burden on the pride of the teacher and I’d say, too much of a burden.

    If it’s worth doing it’s worth measuring. If it’s worth measuring it’s worth rewarding. If you don’t measure or reward good performance what’s that say about the importance that attaches?

  19. In public education, the tail often wags the dog. Whether the federal government should or should not have a role is moot – it does and will for the forseeable future. The question is, who determines what that role should be?

    Have you noticed that in public discourse, the fault almost always lies with the teacher? Rarely do you hear (at least in political discussions about where education needs to go next) critical discussions about the role parents need to play. It’s bad form in public education for teachers and administrators to “cite” the lack of parental involvment as an excuse for underperformance but the data I look at ad naseum shows that the poorest performing students have three things in common: low socio-economic status, difficulties with academic English usually due to limited English, and high mobility (they move a lot). God bless those poor kids who have all three of those factors.

    Even in the lowest performing groups, students who stay with the same school for three or more years (in K-6) improve academically and reach proficiency benchmarks. This is true in nearly every case as long as the school provides a standards-aligned curriculum (like it or not, kids are tested to meet state standards) and teachers are highly qualified (I’m not limiting the term to NCLB’s definition).

    Good teachers do have models they look up to and good schools are collaboratively working with other schools to improve practice, engage in meaningful dialogue about what works for kids.

    Allen, you have done a good job of identifying many of the problems, but you haven’t suggested what might or should happen to fix them. Surely, it’s not all bad – and many of us have benefited from public school in spite of shortcomings. I am a product of public schools in several states (Texas, California, Arizona). And…as someone who works in this environment more than 80 hours/week, I wonder why some districts manage to build capacity and create can do cultures while others fail and fail.

    There are many factors that contribute to success in systems charged with educating children: accountability, shared responsibility, transparency, activism, fiscal responsibility, a commitment to an well-articulated and shared mission/vision… You can’t legislate success or throw money at a sinking ship and hope for a sudden change in outcome. School districts who don’t value their teachers won’t succeed but school districts who have the vision and will to succeed (wherever they happen to be) can.

    Districts and schools who are succeeding appreciate objective measures and look for ways to create tangible rewards for all stakeholders but a mere objective measure of success overlooks the subjective ways we educators measure what is and isn’t working.

    In any case, the dialague has been interesting – the passion this topic provokes means we have a long way to go… Having said that, when I get up to go to work every day, most days… I think, “There’s no better gig than being the principal of a public school.”


  20. Here’s my prediction (you heard it here first): no changes at all under Obama.

  21. Malcolm Kirkpatrick: Maybe specialization works better than common standards. Who is to say? People are not standard.

    Well, firstly, the people who are to say are the elected politicians, who also assign the taxes that pay for the public education system. They get the say as the representatives of the people who pay for education.

    Secondly, yes, people are not standard. This is why we have standardised ways of communicating with each other. If we share a language and a common alphabet, we can communicate a vast range of messages to each other, from “There’s a leopard, get out!” to Romeo & Juliet’s balcony scene to debates about education methods. If we didn’t have standardised ways of communicating anything, we would be limited only to standard messages that we already knew ahead of time, eg, take the example of an art show dedicated to “Love”. As everyone already knows the message is “love”, artists can take all sorts of creative twists on the idea of “love” and represent it in all sorts of imaginative ways.

    Thirdly, while people are not standard, we can often make some reasonably safe assumptions about what students will face as adults – eg they will mostly be citizens of the country they are being taught in, which means a knowledge of the history of their country will be useful (eg the Vietnam War is still a common reference point in American political debates, so knowing what the Vietnam war was is useful if you are going to be an American), as citizens they will be expected to think about a variety of policy measures, so science is useful, they will deal with money (which means some basic maths is useful), they will likely fall in love, and lose loved ones (poetry and literature for the emotional side), they will suffer at least some of the ills that flesh is heir to, so health and first aid training is useful, and I doubt if my list is comprehensive.

    Of course there may be the odd student who at age 18 joins a restricted medical order and spends the rest of his or her life withdrawn into solitary meditation, mortifying the flesh, and sadly there will be the odd student who dies before or shortly after leaving school, but on the whole, there is a certain similarity between people’s adult lives that justifies some common standards in at least some years of schooling.

  22. You’re serious about parents not coming in for knocks? Oh come on, supporters of the current system love to claim that the poor quality of parents is a big contributor to everything that’s wrong with public education. There’s almost a tit-for-tat element to the exchanged charges of responsibility for the shortcomings of public education between those who blame parents and those who blame teacher.

    It’d be funny if it weren’t adults engaging in the sort yes-you-did-no-I-didn’t nonsense one would hope would be limited to kids in single digits.

    The fallacy in the blame-parents argument is the same as that in the blame-teachers argument: they both require a selection process that selects for unusually callous, stupid or uncaring parents or unusually callous, stupid or uncaring teachers. Since there’s no such selection process, to the best of my knowledge, the problem must lie elsewhere.

    Following that train of logic however, leads to a pretty scary conclusion.

    If it’s not the parent’s fault and it’s not the teacher’s fault then who, or what, bears the responsibility for an education system that while not precluded from producing good results seems far more inclined to produce lousy results?

    If parents or teachers can’t be saddled with the blame then how about administrators? They’re a popular target among teachers yet the same objection to saddling teachers or parents with the ills of public education operates just as well in relieving administrators of the responsibility: there’s no process that selects for the sort of administrators that’ll produce lousy schools the snarky comments of many teachers notwithstanding.

    Assuming school board members aren’t inherently evil either we’ve come to the end of the list of possible culprits. About the only thing that’s left is the structure of public education itself. Something inherent to the way in which public education’s put together that predisposes the system, and those entrapped in the system, to the pursuit of mediocrity rather then the pursuit of excellence.

    The culprit, in my opinion, is the local control that’s inherent in the concept of the school district and generally portrayed as an unmitigated good.

    Local control means that each district operates as its own, little universe without much, if any, regard to any comparison with other districts. A truly awful district can share a border with an excellent district and no one in the lousy district, nor the district as a whole, suffers by the comparison because no comparison need be made.

    A good part of what kept this counterproductive system going was sheer inertia but an important component was a lack of imagination.

    Fortunately that lack of the ability to imagine an alternatives to the district system has found a solution in the form of charter schools. So we don’t have a long way to go because now we’ve got a direction to move in.

  23. Lightly Seasoned says:

    Oh, comparisons among districts are made, and the verdict is property values. I live in a so-so district and work in a well respected district. The difference in property values is probably about $200K.

    The answer, of course, is that this is a complex system in which we all have to work together. When that happens, so does good education. When any one piece is not working, then the whole system wobbles. We’re all to blame in some sense, but parents can’t make up for me when I screw up, and I can’t make up for the parents when they screw up (for the most part — sometimes kids are remarkable). I enjoy a great deal of success because I have good families, good administration, and a community that supports what I do — and I’m also good at what I do. I’d have a much harder job without those supports in place. It is unfortunate that the issue is cast as a blame game, but all these factors are interdependent. I’m not sure adding another player and increasing the complexity of the system is the best answer to the problem. I suspect the answer to the problem is really societal and I don’t think were going to find that answer any time soon.

  24. I agree lightly seasoned with your analysis – and you as well allen. In fact, blaming teachers, parents, school districts, the government, or anyone else doesn’t get us closer to a solution. I also agree that charter schools are a way forward which is why I am opening one in July of this year. However, having a charter is not an instant road to success, and there are many charter schools all over the country who are failing and folding.

    Allen – I’d love to have this conversation over coffee – anyone as articulate as you and as passionate about this issue must have a shared love for education and a commitment to making it better. I share the feeling and the frustration.

    There are those who say that public hasn’t changed much (structurally or functionally) in the last century while the world has been reborn at least three times. I think that’s largely true and yet it can be difficult to dream about possible other directions when a student, teacher, administrator, and district are judged on the basis of standardized test scores and growth targets that are developed by the same folks who told Wall Street that sub prime loans would keep the economy strong and healthy.

    And to clarify my statement and subsequent comments, I didn’t say parents don’t come in for knocks because they do… I said it’s not politically correct for teachers/administrators to talk about parent accountability, at least not in my neck of the woods. The standard response is, “All the research says that teachers make the biggest impact on how well kids do.” – and, if you ask a parent if they are losing sleep at night over NCLB mandates, many would say – “what’s NCLB?”

    I think some of this goes back to something you said in an earlier post when you discussed the skill sets teachers need being akin to those of pitchers and engineers – lightly seasoned also alludes to it in his post…

    Success is connected to many factors and schools have to do a better job of measuring how each of those interdependent factors contribute to the overall success or failure of a system to meet its obligation to provide high quality education to children during their public school career. Private schools are generally much better at this because there is a direct connection between the survival of the school and customer satisfaction. Charters are similarly sensitive to meeting the needs of stakeholders and ensuring a more inclusive, user-friendly experience. I’m not sure many public schools make this connection and in many situations, parents meet hostility when they try to engage teachers or administrators about their child’s educational needs or challenges.

    By focusing on student performance and using it as a tool to judge overall systemic success, real measures of evaluating what’s truly going on in any given system are overlooked or ignored. When this happens, resources (training, money, curricula, and technology) are misdirected or overlooked. For example, I’ve always wondered why teachers and administrators (who are in the business of working with children and adults over lengthy periods of time) have little or no training in customer service, communication, ethics, etc. These “soft” skills are as important (maybe moreso) than good pedagogical understanding of teaching and learning or content area expertise. At least in elementary education… There are no categorical monies to provide ongoing professional development for these things.

    Teachers like lightly seasoned who are good at what they do have either brought these skill sets with them from some other experience or have a highly intuitive ability to respond with the appropriate soft skills. They sure don’t get it in their credential programs, student teaching, or graduate school – at least explicitly.

  25. Choice = buy-in, which = better results. I offer lots of it in my classroom. Of course, sometimes the choice is an illusion, but the kids fall for it. (For your final, you can write an AP-style anlaysis of THIS butt-kicker poem by John Donne or THIS butt-kicker poem by John Donne. It’s up to you!) So good luck creating a successful charter.

    I wish the charters in my neck of the woods were successful. I like doing new and interesting things, but I’m too old to be screwing with my paycheck and pension by hopping around. I’m lucky that my district lets me play and innovate. I’ve always thought that the way to get good teachers into urban schools is to let us suburbanites go in for a few years and come back out without penalty. I do think urban teaching is a sub-specialty, but I think some of us would go in and do good work if we knew we wouldn’t be stuck — and some might stay. As it stands, an urban district has no chance of luring the best teachers away from the suburbs.

  26. My high school English teacher changed my life…I’m almost fifty and still in touch with her. So…keep the faith.

    You raise an interesting point – I didn’t realize this fully until I became an administrator and started looking at tenure from an HR perspective. Districts have every reason to want to retain good teachers (maybe even mediocre ones) and tenure is a way of keeping one’s assets from being enticed away. Makes sense from an organizational perspective – districts invest alot in teacher training and professional development. So, as you point out so superbly, after you’ve been teaching for more than 5 years, leaving your district becomes more painful. I have a teacher friend who left her district after twenty five years. She got five years service credit in her new district which means she took a catastrophic paycut. Since retirement is calculated on the last year’s pay (at least in California) and number of days worked, it doesn’t make sense for teachers with 15+ years to work somewhere else i.e. an urban school, new charter, etc.

    It doesn’t even make sense for these teachers to become administrators because once you’re an administrator, you are no longer part of collective bargaining and have no safety net – yes, we serve at the pleasure of the superintendent and can be fired…something most teachers after probationary service don’t have to worry about.

    Some districts have exchange programs where teachers like you can be TOSA (teacher on special assignment) to another district for a period of time without losing all of that. Other teachers take leaves of absence from their districts to go work elsewhere for a few years while protecting their employment – in this case, you’re frozen in time until you come back and then resume where you left off.

    The points you raise in your post add another layer and dimension to this discussion.

    PS – read your blog and enjoyed it.