Editorial: No Teacher Left Behind

Subject: No Teacher Left Behind

SUBMITTED THIS MORNING… DO YOU AGREE?

To the editor:

The City Paper featured a front-page story (“Metro School district
begins revamp of failing elementary, middle school,” May 21, 2007)
that completely sugar-coated the situation in two metro middle
schools that have fired (via involuntary transfer) the entire staff
and faculty as a result of their failure to meet NCLB benchmarks.

For the last 5 weeks, I have been working as a substitute teacher at
Jere Baxter Middle School and the experience has shaken me to the
core. Everything I used to believe about school finance reform has
been turned upside down. Jere Baxter is a Title I school with
access to numerous resources including a math specialist on site
full time, district mentors to advise and assist new teachers.
They have mental health specialists come into several classrooms on
a weekly basis, and it is not uncommon to see caseworkers and
prevention specialists from a variety of community agencies on
campus.

However, despite the plethora of enhancement activities and access
to resource materials, the majority of the 7th and 8th graders do
not know simple math such as long division, subtraction (if they
have to carry the one) or their times tables. You could throw a
million dollars into this school, and it would not make a bit of
difference!

For the first two weeks, I was assigned to a self-contained
classroom At one point, the Assistant Principal walked in,
observed the children, and even acknowledged the small black and
white television hidden in the teachers aide desk tuned in to the
Young and the Restless. She smiled and walked out. Apparently,
she did not have a problem with the children watching Tom & Jerry,
Sponge Bob and BET music videos from 10 a.m. through dismissal. A
few days later, I gave a make-up assignment during the students
“free time,” (lunch-time through dismissal) and I was told that my
expectations were simply too high. That class in particular lost
15 teachers this year alone—16 including myself.

The children are running the show at Baxter and they know it. The
faculty receives little, if any, support from the administration.
As a result, the majority of the teachers have simply given up.
Dealing with disciplinary problems has become the primary focus in
the classroom displacing teaching, learning, and cooperation.

The numerous behavioral disruptions that occur each and every day
prompted the administrators to pull the most effective teachers out
of the classroom to enforce (or re-enforce) school policy while
their classrooms remained empty or were covered by floating
substitute teachers.

The children are completely out of control and simply refuse to do
any work. I was told not to give any student a grade below 75–
even the one who threw his crumpled up science assignment in my
face and walked out of class shouting profanities. What the
students have learned is that there will be no consequences for
inappropriate behavior or actions. The administration treats
teachers with complete disrespect: in front of students, teachers,
and guests, completely undermining any sense of autonomy, authority
or cohesiveness. Even I was embarrassed for them, and I was only
there for a few weeks!

This is a classic example of a top-down policy failure. As a policy
analyst, I always advocated for equity in education, and believed on
some level that throwing money into poor schools (poor performance &
achievement records to disadvantaged students) might help level the
playing field for disadvantaged schools, translating into better
outcomes for students and the community.

The City Paper glossed over the magnitude of this desperate
situation by calling it a “fresh start.” These teachers have been
treated poorly enough by students and administrators, and now we
have a number of young professionals who are underpaid, uncertain,
and unemployed. We all know that teacher pay is ridiculous to
begin with, but coupled with the added stress of the re-application
process, Metro may lose a large number of educated, motivated,
displaced educators to surrounding districts, counties, and states.
This is simply ridiculous. By cleaning house, Baxter will lose the
few experienced, dedicated teachers they have, prompt the younger
set to leave the profession all together, and discourage future
teachers from applying for jobs in Metro.

Everything we know about the positive outcomes in neighborhood
schools is their strong reliance upon community buy-in and parental
involvement. One thing that makes magnet, lottery, charter schools,
parochial, and private schools so good is the fact that parents,
teachers, students, and administrators fight to get in, and fight
to stay there. The act of choosing, in effect, leads to an
enhanced sense of community and builds a supportive, consistent,
and structured environment. Calling this decision a fresh start is
ridiculous– it would be more accurate to call it a very bad ending!
In this case, No Child Left Behind is, in effect, leaving No
Teachers Left Behind.

Elyssa D. Durant, Ed.M.

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