The Sustainability Problem

This is Jessica Reid, a minor character in Steve Brill's new school reform book who, as Brill reveals in this Wall Street Journal excerpt, quits her grueling New York City charter school administrator job at the end of the book and takes one at a traditional public school.  She feels that will be more sustainable. Following a similar path, author Brill acknowledges in the last pages of his occasionally fascinating 400+ page account of school reform over the past few years that the "no excuses" charter schools and Race To The Top reforms he focuses on aren't actually sustainable, either. If only someone had told them sooner.  My interview with Brill -- he's quite a character -- will be in the next issue of Scholastic Administrator. [Cross-posted from TWIE]

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  • I thought Brill did a good job showing the intensity of teaching urban students. But the question I have is it always necessary to have the students on task at the level that was being described in this article? In my opinion the on task intensity being described is typical of what many younger teachers raised themselves in non-inner city situations need to do to maintain effective control over urban students. The curriculum that Kipp, and many urban schools drive now is basically a completely teacher controlled classroom, with no power shared at all with students.

    To hand power or any control over to urban students with out their being prepared for it is an invitation to mass chaos and the principal calling you in for the - get the room under control meeting. I learned this the hard way teaching at old Calumet High. But the art form of urban teaching is gradually having students take some responsibility for their own learning via engagement. The truth is this can be accomplished with some classes and not other classes just because of the composition of room. Great urban teachers can evaluate the composition of a room and measure how much control and pressure must be maintained in order for educational progress to happen. But if teachers must always maintain total control virtually never turning their backs to the class burn out I think is going to happen for sure. I don't think Mr. Brill grasps that aspect of education.

    Rod Estvan

  • I have been considered a super star teacher - I have always been fortunate to be able to help students learn. But, it wasn't tiring or overwhelming. I wasn't burned out - in fact, I was envigorated. It looks like ridiculously hard work, but when you develop systems and routines as an educator, you find that your work is easier, not harder. I see too many teachers working hard and getting nowhere. On the other hand, I see too many administrators working hard and getting nowhere.

    I think that the last few years have shown us that we don't know much about what it takes for people to be successful in the work of educating students. We can't identify good teachers or good administrators consistently until after they are in front of students or leading a school, but even then we lack the cajones to address those who are falling short in a kind, respectful manner. Those things that we assume will make good people in schools, doesn't. Where is the gap?

    I think it is the fact that so many people can't just admit that they don't know or that they don't understand. We see this in the poor implementation of interim exams, data accountability, and the implementation of best practices where one size fits all regardless of teacher ability or student needs from central office to classrooms. Education has become a fashion show where everyone pretends to be at the top and know everything; even worse, it seems, there is a pre-occupation with being the next superstar, gaining a consultancy, and being able to charge exorbitant prices for the secrets of individual success.

    The facts are the facts: the only people who can teach classes are teachers - everything else needs to be around supporting that fact. In CPS, too many people want to be the teacher or the principal, and this is true in many districts. It is the easiest thing to walk into a classroom and tell someone that they're not teaching correctly; the hard part is helping them to identify their issues and improve to benefit the students in a KIND and RESPECTFUL manner. That is what everyone, including the Unions, should be focusing on.

  • As an experienced, successful teacher currently trying to get into CPS (don't get me started on TeacherFit, etc......), it is becoming more and more evident that the very last thing of any importance in CPS, and probably all of the American educational system is the students. Why hire someone who has already proven they can teach, with the references to support it, to teach in CPS or any other district when you can hire a cheap 22 year old who will be overwhelmed and probably out of the profession within a few years. Who wins? The bean counters who save a couple of bucks? The "professional education consultant types" who are always coming up with some new trendy approach to education that is sure to turn the whole game around? How many times have we seen that shell game? The suits in administration who've never set foot in a classroom? Yadda, yadda, yadda... I couldn't tell you who the winners are, but it certainly isn't the kids!!!

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