This was written by Brett Rosenthal, assistant principal at the high-achieving South Side High School in New York. He used to work at Jamaica High School in New York City.

By Brett Rosenthal

  Education reformers have attempted to improve the quality of teachers by changing public policy with questionable initiatives and by insisting, falsely, that educators are to blame for many of the public education system’s — and the country’s — problems.

School reformers — and some of the billionaires who fund their efforts — have ignored research about the factors that go into student achievement and have decided to impose their own “magic formulas” for determining who is a good teacher and who is a bad one. Of course everyone wants all students to have great teachers, and it is important to work towards that goal. It is important, too, to recognize that family structure, poverty, and other outside influences are equally if not more influential in how well a student does in school.

The bottom line is that what is being done in the name of school reform is creating a profession where the quality of teachers is decreasing. Let’s look at five ways school reform is hurting teacher quality:


1. Teacher evaluation systems Teacher evaluation systems are changing to include as a major factor how well students do on standardized tests. Teachers in New York State have a terrible new evaluation system known as APPR.  It is highly inaccurate, meaning that truly good teachers can be deemed ineffective or developing, or truly bad teachers to be classified as highly effective.  Forty percent of a teacher’s evaluation is now based on student achievement, which is measured by the student standardized test scores.

But what if a student knows he/she is going to fail a class and decides not to put in effort on the exam or not take it ? This is not unusual.  How about seniors who famously put in minimum effort during the second half of their school year since they know they’re going to college?  I wouldn’t want to teach them if I knew that my job depended on their scores.  Or how about the 11th grade class that contains students from other countries where they were under educated, barely literate, here for a year and are now supposed to show growth on Regents exams? 

Good teachers are already leaving the profession because of this reform. More are considering leaving. 


2. Scapegoating. For the last decade teachers have been demoralized and trashed by the media and politicians at the local level all the way to the White House.  Teachers have been scapegoated, often for problems that policymakers have created.  The constant bashing and calculated attacks on teachers have made a teacher’s work practically unbearable.  According to the annual Metlife Survey of the American Teacher, teacher job satisfaction has over the last two years dropped 15 percentage points going from 59 percent to 44 percent.  This is the lowest level of job satisfaction seen in the survey over the last two decades.  The study also indicated a large increase in the number of teachers who are likely to leave teaching for another occupation. No one wants to work in a workplace where they are trying to do good but instead are portrayed as liars, cheaters and unprofessional.  Strong educators have left for this reason. Quality professionals who want to go into teaching are now discouraged.


3. Unions — School reformers have targeted unions, seeking to weaken their ability to protect teachers’ rigbhts. They’ve succeeded in many ways. Union members realize that their unions don’t have the power to protect them as they used to. A strong union would have been able to block many of the new reforms, including the formation of Absent Teacher Reserves, teachers who have been removed from buildings that are being closed and then are bounced around weekly from school to school as substitutes.  Many are excellent teachers who are now demoralized and want to leave teaching.  Teacher tenure and collective bargaining rights are under attack in states and unions have been unable to shut down the assault. Teachers don’t feel protected by their unions as they once did.


4. Teaching to the test.  Teachers want to help students learn how to think, create, imagine and love learning. Test-based school reform that started under No Child Left Behind has caused teachers instead to teach to tests.  Autonomy is extremely important to the profession, but that is gone   It is an extremely important factor for those choosing to teach and those who decide to remain in it.  Strong teachers will choose other professions where they can use their minds and creative skills and feel good about doing it. 


5. HEDI ratings — Part of the new evaluation system in New York State (and other places) means that teachers will now be rated highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective.  Sounds simple, right?  Not exactly.  How will parents react to the teacher who was rated developing or ineffective?  They will want their children out of their classrooms and placed into the highly effective teacher’s class.  Who will be left in the ineffective teacher’s classrooms?  Lower level students who come from poverty, many of them minorities with parents that don’t have the means or the voice for their child. Is this fair to the teacher who was rated ineffective the year before?   This will create tracked classes in schools.  No one wants to teach under those conditions. 

These are just some of the reasons why quality teachers are leaving the profession in New York and elsewhere.  Many are flocking from urban areas to the suburbs or specialized schools where students more often score well on standardized exams.  Less experienced teachers will take their place in the cities and rural areas and will likely leave after a few years to try a different profession. 

  The current path of education reform is doing exactly the opposite of what it purports to do. It is not improving teacher quality but underminig it.


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