Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Common Misconceptions

A comment today by Gideon is so representative of the pro Fair Student Funding model that I thought it was worth commenting on separately here. Gideon comments:

You state "The opinion piece wrongly says that under the old system, richer school districts got more money. In truth, the money was for the salaries of more senior teachers who transferred into those schools." That's exactly the problem: more experienced teachers go to the least challenging schools with the least need; as a result the schools with the lowest poverty end up spending far more per student than the high poverty schools.

I don't know Gideon, but this sounds like the comment of an admin or someone who has only heard the mayor's spiel of FSF. I have worked in what Gideon would call a "challenging" school for most of my career. What made it challenging was a lack of discipline, violence, gangs, crime in the streets, and a huge turnover of the least senior people. That's right...least senior. I put in 20 years in that school, and I watched hundreds of new teachers come and go once they discovered how difficult it was to maintain discipline in such a tough neighborhood, and how dangerous it was to leave your car on the street, assuming you could find a spot within walking distance of the school. At any given time, at least half the staff had 3 years or less of experience. The problem here was not one of funding, but that conditions in the school made it hard for anyone to do a good job. It's ridiculous to think that teachers should spend their entire careers in buildings that are unsafe and where conditions make many classes unteachable. If the mayor and chancellor actually fixed the schools--made them places where people wanted to work, there would have been no need to dream up FSF as a fix.

And your argument about using Fair Student Funding to discriminate against senior teachers doesn't make sense. You yourself state that it takes 5 years to become a proficient teacher, but fail to note that most teachers don't improve significantly beyond 5 years.

Proficient isn't excellent. Many teachers become proficient in five years, but excellent takes a lifetime of experience. I don't know who dreamed up the myth that teachers don't improve after 5 years, but it's nonsense. I get a little better every year. I'm much better now that I've been teaching more than two decades than I was after my fifth year.

And let's take your argument to its logical conclusion. If teachers don't improve after 5 years, why not just sign teachers up for 5 year tours like the armed forces does? After that, you're out. Would that make the system better? Would you want your child educated by such a transient workforce?

Ignoring the ATR problem doesn't make it go away. It was caused directly by FSF, no matter what they mayor and the Daily News say. Principals have no incentive to hire senior teachers, and that is discrimination, pure and simple. Young teachers are more pliable and cheaper, but they certainly aren't better.

FSF is just a way to claim the schools are getting better without doing a damn thing. If BloomKlein ever get serious about fixing the schools, they will focus their energy on making every school a safe, pleasant place for teachers and students alike to be.

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