Wednesday, December 24, 2014

More unqualified teachers assigned to schools serving poor and minority students

Harvard students are calling for and end to the university's ties with TFA.

MORE STUFF WE ALREADY KNEW…The feds are telling us once again that there's a huge disparity in children’s access to fully qualified and experienced teachers. The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights has begun collecting data on student enrollment by race and ethnicity and teacher characteristics. Their data indicates that 1) black students are more likely to be taught by a first-year teacher than white students, 2) their teachers are more likely to be paid less and 3) they are more likely to have an uncertified or unlicensed teacher.

In states like Pennsylvania, with wild charter school expansion, more than 20% of teachers are unlicensed in the schools with the largest concentration of minority students. In largely white schools, just 0.2% of teachers lack a license.

In southern, so-called right-to-work states like Louisiana, with weakened teacher unions, 20% of classes in the most impoverished schools are taught by teachers who don’t meet the federal definition of “highly qualified” — which generally means they lack a bachelor’s degree, are unlicensed or don’t have a strong academic background in the subject they’re teaching. In the wealthier schools, fewer than 8% of classes are led by a teacher who’s not highly qualified.

As I pointed out in yesterday's post, in response to the Southern Poverty Center's lawsuit, Louisiana has admitted that the state under-served special-needs students and those with disabilities.

OK, interesting, but why and what to do about it? Conservatives and corporate-style reformers are calling for more Vergara-type suits aimed at getting rid of teacher tenure  and collective-bargaining agreements which they claim, serve only to protect incompetent teachers who too often end up assigned to teach the neediest students in the most impoverished schools.

But their argument has been debunked simply by looking at the widening gap between no-union states like Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana, on the one hand,  and union-strong states like Massachusetts where tenure rights are protected, on the other. Isn't it obvious that you don't get rid of inequality by eliminating the teaching standards that lead to tenure and other means of attracting keeping experienced, qualified teachers in the profession?

A better approach would target the regulation of the conduct and the expansion of privately-run charters schools which are often allowed and encouraged to hire uncertified teachers and teachers teaching outside of their field.

Another would be to take a long, hard look at corporate-reform groups like Teach for America (TFA) which receive an obscene about of funding from school districts, charter operators and power philanthropists  for placing hundreds of unqualified or under-qualified teachers into schools that serve poor and minority students.

USE supplemental Title I funding to disadvantaged schools to boost salaries to attract and retain top teachers. According to a report in POLITICO, in nearly every state, teachers of minority students and students from low-income families earn significantly less than teachers in wealthier schools, even after adjusting for the local cost of living.

More importantly, stop debasing teachers and rating them on the basis of student scores on standardized tests and other test-and-punish "accountability" systems which only discourages teachers from working in the very communities that need them the most.

Finally, we need to look at the inequities in the distribution of qualified teachers as but one component of an apartheid-like, highly-segregated education system that systematically denies poor students and students of color, access to a range of resources including equitable funding, newer and better equipped facilities and learning environments,  a rich curriculum, small class sizes and up-to-date technology.

FINAL NOTE… Pres. Obama tried to push the issue by proposing $300 million in competitive grants to push new strategies for getting high-quality teachers in front of needy kids. But Republicans scrapped the program in the Omnibus budget agreement (which many Democrats then supported and Obama signed into law).

Go figure.

1 comment:

  1. Mike,

    The AFT just spent $450,000 to help win the December 5 2014 Jefferson Parish School Board election for a set of pro-union candidates.

    Jeff Parish is the suburban region that surrounds New Orleans. This parish-wide school district is actually a larger school district than NOLA's public schools, and has become considerably more diverse in the post-Katrina period. It has a booming Hispanic population, and is struggling to put together stronger ESL services to meet the needs of that population. (Latinos are 22% of the district v. 5% in NOLA's public schools.)

    Here is some coverage of Randi's successful electoral effort in Jeff Parish that might be of interest:

    Most of the cities have organized teachers, and a good number of the larger suburban parish districts do as well. As a right-to-work state negotiations are more difficult, to be sure, but the idea that there are no unions in LA is incorrect.

    And organizing is ongoing. Two charter faculties in New Orleans voted to affiliate with teachers' unions recently -- in 2013, progressive Morris Jeff charter school (a teacher- and parent-led charter) voted to affiliate with the Louisiana Association of Educators, the NEA affiliate in the state.

    LAE represents 20,000 educators in Louisiana, and are based in Baton Rouge.

    The other charter school to unionize is the fairly traditional charter secondary school, Benjamin Franklin High School. BFHS is a highly regarded selective admissions school, not unlike Whitney Young in Chicago. Their faculty vote took place this year and they are going to affiliate with the United Teachers of New Orleans (UTNO), which is part of the AFT and was the affiliate decimated by the firing of 7,000 unionized teachers and staff after the storm.

    You should know that AFT has a set of full time organizers in New Orleans working to get more charter faculty members into the union. I've heard there were always 3-5 organizers working here this year. They work out of the UTNO offices.

    UTNO is part of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, which represents 21,000 teachers across the state and is also based in Baton Rouge.


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