Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Diane Ravitch: Turnaround schools experience teacher bloodbath, teachers let go at record pace

From the Diane Ravitch blog

This era may be remembered as the time when our nation’s leaders decided to break the spirits of our teachers and to close enough schools to instill fear in the hearts of all educators

I don’t know which “thought leader” came up with the idea that the best way to “fix” a school with low test scores is to fire the principal and at least half the staff. I don’t know the evidence to support this policy of wiping the slate clean without individual evaluations.

But now with the federal imprimatur of Race to the Top, it’s happening in many school districts. And of course, the U.S. Department of Education will stretch to prove that lowering the boom works, because it’s their idea. But how do you persuade the public and especially communities of color where the axe will fall most often that this punitive strategy is a good idea?

Imaginary scene: Some bright PR guy or gal figured out how important language is in selling a really destructive idea. “How can we explain to people that we are firing most of the teachers and renaming the neighborhood school? The one that everyone knew and loved for fifty years? How do we make this unpleasant reality palatable?” Ponder, ponder.

“Ah, I’ve got it! When we shut down their school and fire everyone, let’s call it a “turnaround!” That sounds like a dance around the Maypole. It sounds so festive. It’s positive and happy.

“Crazy idea. No one will believe that. No one is that stupid.”

“Think so? Let’s try it and see how it goes.”

With that context, here is how it went for this teacher in New York City. This comment and the events it describes occurred before the arbitrator postponed the school turnarounds last Friday. Some teachers had already found other jobs. Those who choose to remain have a one-year lease on life, unless a court throws out the arbitrator’s decision. The bottom line: chaos, uncertainty, disruption. This is no way to run a school or a school system.

It was a bloodbath today (or yesterday now, I guess) in my turnaround school in Queens where a majority of the teachers received rejection letters from the hiring committee. It was a surreal day… Highlights include: the apologetic school aide giving out paychecks/stubs asking you to turn in your keys if you weren’t hired back; the receiving line of people who felt too guilty for getting hired back and stood giving out hugs and saying teary goodbyes to people they won’t ever work with again; the line of people leaving the building with cardboard boxes that encompassed their careers; and the keepsake pen left in our mailboxes with the former name of the school–the cheap goodbye prize that will forever remain a reminder of the humiliation and degradation suffered on this day.