Improving teaching and learning by doing
something for teachers rather than to them.
Much of the talk we hear from the corporate education reformers is about what we can do to teachers to make them teach better. Here is a quick list of what has been suggested and in many cases tried to improve teacher performance:
1. Evaluate teachers using student standardized test score data (Value Added Measures or VAMs).
2. Eliminate teacher job protections like tenure and seniority (see California’s Vergara case).
3. Do away with traditional experience and educational level salary advancement and use a system of merit pay designed to reward high performers and punish low performers.
Every one of these ideas is flawed in application and none has been shown to improve instruction. Maybe instead of focusing on what we need to do to teachers we might want to focus on what we can do for teachers to make their very difficult jobs easier. After all, as any good teacher knows, we do not get children to learn well by doing things to them, but by doing things for them (providing the needed instruction, providing feedback on their progress, providing needed resources, re-teaching when necessary, providing the needed guidance or direction, setting achievable goals, helping them organize for learning, establishing routines, etc.)
One thing we could do that would help many teachers would be to provide on-site, professionally run, school district managed and state regulated day care for teachers who are working parents. Everyday tens of thousands of teachers drop their children off at a day care facility, often far from their place of work, and then report to work where they are responsible for their students’ health, welfare and education. Teaching is a job that requires 100% concentration at all times. It can be very difficult providing that attention with your own child miles away in the care of others.
All parents face a daunting challenge in today’s world. Two salaries are generally necessary for a growing family. One family member is often responsible for holding a job that provides health benefits. Even in the 21st century the burden of child care falls mostly on the mother. The vast majority of teachers are women, so the connection is clear. Many teachers arrive at school with part of their minds and much of their hearts elsewhere and with one ear tuned to the cell phone.
This is not a critique of women or men or parents or a plea for the “family values” of 70 years ago. Nor is it a plea for mothers or fathers to quit their jobs and stay home with their children. Rather it is an acknowledgment of the truth of the situation and a plea to do something about it.
School or school district based child care is very desirable and very doable. From the perspective of the teacher/employee, school based child care means a safe and secure place to leave your child during the school day. It means a greater assurance of quality care due to school district oversight and the employment of certified staff. Current school based daycare programs often seek national accreditation through the National Association for the Education of Young Children and are run by experienced administrators tied to the district’s administration. On-site daycare means that the teacher/parent can visit the child during a lunch break and be readily available if a need arises. Further, school based day care means day care that is responsive to a school’s calendar, meaning that the parent does not have to pay for days when schools are closed and care is available for times when teachers must attend meetings or conferences after hours.
School-based day care is desirable for the school district because it helps the district recruit and retain teachers. A professionally run, on-site daycare may help a district attract top candidates for open positions. In my career as a school district administrator, I have seen many excellent teachers make the hard decision to leave the profession when they started a family. Secure and professional day care may help prevent this brain drain.
Of course, as I have argued above, the greatest benefit of school based day care may accrue to the students. With secure knowledge that their own child is being well-cared for and is close by, the teacher can give that necessary 100% to the children sitting in the classroom.
Cost? The cost of the program to the school district should be zero. As long as the district has available space, facilities costs should be a minimum. In any event the district would base the cost to the teachers on the cost of running the program. In places where this has been tried, the cost to the parent/teacher has been about the same or a little lower than other day care arrangements. See here.
So here is one way that the corporate education reformers could do something for teachers that would help attract top candidates to school districts, help retain talented teachers and ensure students get the best their teacher has to offer in the classroom. I would like to see the reformers put their money behind this idea. Or is it only about doing things to teachers?