An open letter to Public School Teachers …
We are sorry. On behalf of graduates of public schools, parents of children in public schools, those who value public education and teachers unions, we apologize. Your profession has been vilified, scapegoated, mined for profit, and deprofessionalized.
Earlier this year, a kindergarten teacher named Suzi Sluyter resigned after more than 25 years as an educator. She wrote: “I have watched as my job requirements swung away from a focus on the children, their individual learning styles, emotional needs, and their individual families, interests and strengths to a focus on testing, assessing, and scoring young children, thereby ramping up the academic demands and pressures on them… I did not feel I was leaving my job. I felt then and feel now that my job left me.”
Ms. Sluyter taught in Cambridge, MA, but her letter articulated the concerns of teachers from across the country — from small towns to cities. Tenure protections have been gutted and public schools starved while standardized tests, lay-offs and charters proliferate.
Here in New Jersey, in the city of Newark, under the state appointed superintendent’s One Newark plan, several schools will be closed, turned over to charters, or “renewed.” A “renewed” school means that all the teachers have to reapply for their jobs. (It’s quite the euphemism.) Black teachers would bedisproportionately affected by the plan as they are more likely to teach at schools targeted by One Newark. Black and/or low-income students are also more likely to attend these schools.
From students to PTO presidents, Newark residents are fighting the plans to privatize, close or “renew” their schools. This month, hundreds of students walked out to protest One Newark and the underfunding of their public schools. “I’m sick and afraid about what’s going to happen to our school,” said Nydiqua Johnson, 16, a junior at West Side High School in Newark. “They’re closing my school, and I really don’t appreciate it. And most of our teachers are getting fired.”
Down the turnpike, off Exit 9, the small town of Highland Park has not been immune to the school reform agenda. Last fall, the district eliminated nearly a dozen essential positions, including literacy coaches and a counselor who helped students with substance abuse issues; two of the eliminated positions were held by the local union President and Vice President. At the same time, a data analyst (a new position to the district) and two administrators were hired, each commanding a six-figure salary. In response, the teachers and staff union endorsed a letter stating, in part: “We are currently working in a climate of fear and uncertainty due to the lack of good judgment, foresight, communication, and absence of humanity shown by our Board of Education as well as the sweeping changes that are being implemented by our administrative leadership.”
As teacher autonomy and creativity is replaced with uniformity and data-driven instruction, no detail is too small to be managed, scripted and judged. Earlier this year, administrators in Highland Park told teachers at the primary school, which houses pre-Kindergarten through first grade, how to craft their bulletin boards. The bulletin boards were to follow specific guidelines on how and what was displayed. The teachers’ evaluations were to be based, in part, on their bulletin boards. In New Jersey, poor evaluations in two successive years jeopardize a teacher’s tenure. More than 200 parents, residents and alumni signed a letter (including this author) addressed to the Board of Education, stating their opposition to using bulletin boards to assess teachers.
And, so, to the educators in Highland Park, to those in Newark, to those in Cambridge, to those across the nation, we apologize. To those educators who value play, critical thinking and creativity, we apologize. To those educators who are driven from the profession, we apologize. To those educators who believe that not all children learn at the same speed or in the same way, we apologize. To those educators who have seen public education turned into a business to make the rich even richer, we apologize.
But we know words are not enough. We all learned the importance of “show, don’t tell” in the public schools that educated us.
We refuse to allow public education to be privatized, perverted by profits, and reduced to endless hours of test preparation. We refuse to allow our schools to be judged, opened, closed, and funded on the basis of test scores. We refuse to allow the teaching profession to be scripted and threatened.
We write this letter to apologize, yes. But also to say we are angry, fed up, and inspired to opt-out, speak out and stand with you in solidarity.
Not Enough Teachers To Go Around In Colorado
DENVER (CBS4) – With Colorado’s population boom has come an educator collapse. There are more students in classrooms across the state, but not enough teachers.
“We’re just not getting the bump in the number of folks who are interested in becoming educators,” Dr. Robert Mitchell, Director of Educator Preparation for the Colorado Department of Higher Education, said. “There are areas with severe shortage.”
Since 2010, there has been a nearly 25 percent drop in graduates from teacher preparation programs, according to the CDHE. Enrollment is also declining in those programs, about 23 percent over the last six years.
“You compound that with the fact that we’re looking at about a third of all our teachers are either at retirement age or will be within the next two to three years, together we have a serious educator shortage across the state,” Mitchell told CBS4’s Kelly Werthmann.
Mitchell said rural districts, especially those in southeastern parts of Colorado, are having a particularly tough time. They are struggling with not only recruiting teachers but keeping them as well.
“We’re seeing schools go multiple years without a math teacher,” he said. “We’re seeing an elementary school position that was posted this summer have zero applicants.”
That reality is a warning bell to other school districts in Colorado, Mitchell said.
“We talk to our districts in the I-25 corridor, like Denver Public Schools, Jefferson County and Douglas County,” Mitchell explained, “and they’re not seeing nearly the number of people who are applying for positions they’re posting.”
The severe shortage is why the CDHE is partnering with the Colorado Department of Education and hosting town hall meetings across the state. Throughout the summer, state leaders will visit all corners of Colorado to have conversations with teachers, parents, students and all others concerned to develop an action plan.
Following three town hall meetings in Ridgway, Parachute and Fort Collins, Mitchell said an important issue raised by many teachers is compensation.
“Our lowest paying district in the state pays about $25,000 a year for a full-time teacher. You just can’t live in Colorado on that,” he said.
Other concerns include perception — teachers are more than just employees, they’re professional educators — and retention.
“It’s not just a job, it’s a career,” Mitchell said. “It is a profession that is the basis for all other professions. Focusing on retention is a huge need. We want to make sure people want to work in the buildings where they’re at.”
The meetings come to the Denver metro area this week with one scheduled for Monday evening at the Cherry Creek School District building Centennial and the other in Denver on Tuesday at the Mile High United Way CoBank Leadership Center. Those who cannot attend those meetings or the six others planned in August, the CDHE asks they take an online survey to submit their suggestions.
“I don’t think we’ll ever get to the point where we won’t have qualified teachers in the classroom, but we need to make sure we have the best possible folks there teaching our kids,” Mitchell said.
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