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Tuesday Talk: How do we ensure quality in our classrooms?

March 06, 2012 By Michael J. Diedrich, Policy Associate

Conservatives are trying to undermine teacher tenure. They've pushed an untried evaluation system grounded in test scores as the first step in laying off teachers, but have done nothing to prevent those layoffs in the first place.

What do you think is the best way to ensure quality in our public school classrooms?

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53 Comments:

  • Herbert A. Davis, Jr. says:

    March 6, 2012 at 8:34 am

    First, acknowledge that the problems are so varied there can’t be just one solution.

    Well rested students who came to class well prepared usually thought I did well, those exhausted and living in stressful homes were never happy.

    After a career of teaching I think the simplist thing is to reduce class size.Easier on teachers and students get better supervision.

    Another concept I saw work well was a fully funded team approach that allowed teachers to meet in small groups and work on improving their disciplines impact.

    As we see the rise of the theocrats, the concept of “public education” will suffer, it has in the past 30 years and will continue as the anti-science, pro-faith crowd push for cost savings and Minnesota “miracles”.

  • Earl Hoffman says:

    March 6, 2012 at 8:41 am

    Count me as one lifelong Democrat who FULLY SUPPORTS the bill the eliminate tenure as a factor for layoff decisions.  It’s time to change this systems that hinders quality education for our children.  There are plenty of legal protections—laws forbidding age discrimination, for example—that can protect against job elimination based on age.  It’s time for a change!

  • Feryle Borgeson says:

    March 6, 2012 at 8:49 am

      If you eliminate teacher tenure you are taking the first step in destroying pubic education.  I have had administrators say many times “I can’t hire you because you are too high on the salary scale ”  This is what happens more if you eliminate tenure.  I know after leading the first teacher sanctions (called a teacher’s strike by the newspaper) 46 years ago in another state.  Several other districts in that state stopped their false termination reasons when they saw our district not get any teacher applications.
      Getting rid of tenure because of poor teaching is a big lie.  Poor performance can be handled by competent administrators.
     

      Feryle Borgeson

  • Dan Conner says:

    March 6, 2012 at 8:52 am

    I don’t believe test scores should be the prime measurement in teacher effectiveness.  Afterall, what consideration is given to teachers teaching in poor economic and sociologic neighborhoods where test performance has been poor.  In fact, what criteria is used for teachers where he graduatiuon rate is extremely low and drop-out rate high.

    Using test scores in affluent neighborhoods, where parents highly value education should be easy compared to “inner city” schools.  There have to be other characteristics other than test scores.  We should have already learned from NCLB that test scores aren’t it.

    How about measuring improvement?  That might be test scores for for affluent neighborhoods.  It might be graduations rates in another.  Improving drop-out rates in another.  And collegeacceptance rates in another. 

    Things are not going to be as easy as one measurement.

  • W. D. (Bill) Hamm says:

    March 6, 2012 at 8:57 am

    The first question we need to ask is, has tenure improved the quality of education for our children? The answer for K-12 is a clear and resounding no. Has it helped teachers? That answer is a clear and resounding yes. No other, so called, Union structure needs tenure, in fact it does not exist in the real “Blue Collar” Unions organized against the private sector. Tenure should never have been allowed out of our College areana and may not even be valid there anymore as a way to retain quality proffessors. If this rediculas elitist concept is maintained than it truly needs to be earned and maintained by proof of quality not seniority.

  • W. D. (Bill) Hamm says:

    March 6, 2012 at 9:15 am

    Wow Herb, such a dizzying array of excuses, let’s look at a few of them. First, “the problems are so varied there can;t be just one solution”. If the majority of those problems trace back to teacher Unionization, than there may well be one solution. Second,“well rested students/ living in stressfull homes”, this is just more of your unions transferance of guilt. Let’s blame the parents, well the problem with that is that they are not being payed to solve these problems, you are. What is even more important is, they didn’t create most of these problems. Let us take the issue of studends coming to school “well rested”. Who is it forcing our rural children to ride an hour and a half each way everyday in the name of consolidation, I’ll Garuntee it is not the parent. As for the teachers panecea of “smaller class size”, that too has been proven to be a overuse piece of teachers Union BS. I do agree with you on the danger of the theocrats though Herb.

  • Bernice Vetsch says:

    March 6, 2012 at 9:26 am

    Long, long ago when I attended Roosevelt Grade School in Minot, North Dakota, my 2nd, 3rd and 4th grade teachers—Miss Anderson, Miss Pender and Mrs. Sinclair—had each been teaching there for about 30 years.  We all learned the basics of math—even long division—by practice, reading and writing by means of phonics, plus poems, geography and the names of all the state capitals by memorization.  I’m sure I’m not the only student of theirs who still remembers their names after decades and who still loves to read.

    Minot’s school system and Roosevelt would have been incredibly poorer if these teachers had been judged by the narrow measures of the anti-teacher/anti-union/privatization crowd that may well end up destroying public education.

  • Rose Pettit says:

    March 6, 2012 at 9:33 am

    Ensuring quality in our classrooms is grounded in teaming among parents, students, teachers, and school administrators. 
    First, parents must find ways to parent their children, insisting on good rest, good nutrition, and good communication with their child’s teacher(s).  This communication does NOT stop once a child reaches middle or high school.  Next, students should begin to think of teachers as guides…to be trusted.  I do not know of ANY teacher who is out to punish or persecute a student; teachers want to teach!  Teachers need to be courageous and bold with their students; expecting great participation and great work.  Teachers are READY every day of the school year to educate, guide, care, and work hard to reach all kids with administrative support.  School administrators also need to have courage to speak plainly to parents with struggling students, to speak encouragingly with students, and to speak with forcefulness to teachers who are not making their classrooms places of learning for ALL students!  There are systems already in place, which are supported by teachers’ unions, to remove ineffective teachers.  Administrators need to have the courage and persistence to use them!  No teacher remains in any classroom if working with students is not what s/he finds fulfilling and rewarding—it is just too hard and life is just too short.
      Finally, if great teachers are needed to educate our students, STOP bashing teachers!  Who would WANT to go into a career that is underpaid, disrespected, maligned, and changed yearly (depending on the whims of any legislature)?  Let us do what we do BEST:  Teach!  Support us in our efforts and send your child to us in the BEST condition to learn.

  • Brenda Van Vugt says:

    March 6, 2012 at 9:50 am

    How do we know if tenure has or has not been a factor in school success?  I have not seen a blind study where a system with the exact same environment existed in two settings, with one setting being ruled by tenure and the other not.  Until we do a true scientific study - i.e, pose a hypothesis, test and then disprove the hypothesis, we will not “know” anything about the effects of tenure.

  • Bill Johnson says:

    March 6, 2012 at 10:08 am

    The question is, What is the problem we are trying to solve?  To me the answer is how do we remove teachers who are performing at a substandard level.  As a parent I have seen teachers who are retired into the job.  Teachers who lack the enthusiasm and passion to teach, but just go through the motions. 

    So the real question is how do we remove substandard teachers, and how do we measure that?  Also does removing tenure effect teachers who provide quality, but are not necessarily politically correct in the eyes of the administration or the community?

    These are important questions, that require more than a band aid approach.

  • Larry Moloney says:

    March 6, 2012 at 10:17 am

    I am a life-long Democrat and a former high school teacher. However, after reading Class Warfare by Steven Brill, I think Democrats need to have a more balanced view. I think that teacher’s unions have sometimes done a great job for their members at the expense of students. Read the book and see if you disagree. While evaluation of teachers and students is no doubt difficult, some form of accountability regarding the quality of teaching is desirable for both teachers and students in my opinion. Simply arguing for the status quo is not good enough in my opinion.

  • W. D. (Bill) Hamm says:

    March 6, 2012 at 10:20 am

    Brenda, we don’t need 2 identical systems existing in the same time frame to prove this point. We only need to look at the quality of education in the years before tenure compaired to now. Two factors combine here 4 year degree teachers and tenure both came together in the same timeframe. 4 year degree teachers expect more money than 2 year degree teachers, but have clearly not increased the quality of education for our students when evaluated from a student perspective. Eliminate tenure and go back to 2 year degree teachers for at least, K-6, and we can began to cure the arrogance, (“if I only had a brain”), aspect of this problem.

  • Mary says:

    March 6, 2012 at 10:57 am

    Actually tenure has helped our students.  If you look at test scores between states that have tenure and those that don’t, the states that have tenure also have higher average test scores.

    I think some people don’t realize what tenure is.  Tenure doesn’t prevent a bad teacher from being fired, a bad boss who doesn’t go through correct channels and doesn’t document properly keeps a bad teacher from being fired…just like any other profession.  I’m sure every person on this website who has ever held a job can recount someone who perplexed everyone as to why they continued to hold their position.

    People want to get rid of tenure because they think it makes it impossible for a bad teacher to be fired, that simply isn’t true.  If you want to make it easier to fire “bad” teachers (which is different than underachieving teachers) then you need to look at the firing process, not tenure.

    Also, other professions may not call it tenure, but they don’t fire all their bad employees either…in fact, many get promoted.  For example, they get promoted to work with a less important team where they will cause “less harm”.  It’s ridiculous to pretend that companies fire all their “bad” employees.  Ask anyone who works for an organization with more than 30 employees, what percentage of the staff do a great, satisfactory, and poor job. Ever heard of the Pareto Principle and what it’s been applied to in the business world?

  • KJC says:

    March 6, 2012 at 11:04 am

    I have not studied this problem in enough detail to have an answer yet.  Maybe more are still in the “question and find facts” phase as well?
    As to the “why this has been made urgent now” in our state?  I suppose it could be for the billions in IOU’s the state sent to our school districts in the “balanced budget” Pawlenty years? 
    Of course, if you could bring this up in a way that would cause in-fighting inside the teacher’s union… like elsewhere, there is a scramble for scarce jobs (tenure)... then one political party might find creating that internal dissension a useful “divide and conquer” anti-union tactic? 
    Yes, one of the dangers I see? Is to keep this discussion about students and education, and be wary of those who seek to use it as a political football.  As soon as I hear the word “tenure” being used as a primary focus, my “radar” goes off… this is far too complex a problem for that to be the only answer.

  • Rachel says:

    March 6, 2012 at 11:15 am

    From Anne (via email):

    I disagree with you about teacher tenure. We need to identify effectiveness in the classroom and reward it. Public education and its unions have lost credibility with the general public partly due to years of retaining mediocre and ineffective teachers. I am a teacher and have moved from private to public to public charter schools.

  • Ginny says:

    March 6, 2012 at 11:37 am

    Some excellent questions are raised here. One is: how do we know if teacher tenure is effective or not. There is no way to compare the education of the past to the present. As someone from way in the past, and someone who has volunteered at a local school, I think education is better today than yesteryear. But I don’t have any way of knowing. If incompetent or disinterested teachers can be let go despite teacher tenure, what is the problem here?
    What is the proposal the republicans are pushing—without any experience or apparently even providing details? If this system should be improved, how? Let’s not rush into an untried system. That’s what we did with NCLB. Actually, many professional educators knew that was a lousy system.

  • Mary says:

    March 6, 2012 at 11:48 am

    I’ve been teaching for almost 15 years in a large school district.  I am also a co-owner of a small business.  Getting rid of “bad” employees is the same in both.  You must evaluate and document, provide assistance to improve where deficiencies are shown, etc. ultimately to prevent a lawsuit.  I’ll tell you why not all “bad” teachers are fired…it’s the same as why other “bad” employees aren’t fired, be it doctors, nurses, sanitation workers, managers or any other line of work…time. The time it takes to evaluate and train people by managers/administrators/bosses of any sort.  School administrators are so busy dealing with kids in crisis, discipline issues, parent issues, meetings and basic continuous improvement that there is next to no time for them to actually work with teachers, except for a hand full of designated staff development days.

    It is my opinion that one administrator per building should have the sole job of evaluating and training teachers.  Yes, the administrators generally know who the “bad” employees are but it’s not tenure getting in the way, it’s the time it takes to go through the legal process to demonstrate that they are “bad” that prevents their termination.  Keep in mind that administrators have to agree on whom and why, which doesn’t always happen.

    It is critical that this conversation shift from discussing tenure to discussing teacher evaluation.  How do you objectively evaluate a teacher using valid and reliable measures?  You can’t compare scores from one year to the next as they are a different group of subjects, it simply is not valid.  Ask any successful coach and they will tell you that you evaluate and develop the process/technique, not the outcome.  If you improve the process the outcome will be improved as a result of higher effectiveness or efficiency.  Thus my suggestion is that evaluation be based on the process of teaching which is decided on the local level supported by each individual community.  Don’t get hung up on the buzzword of tenure, it’s not the problem. 

    After we work that out, perhaps we can start discussing having our students take standardized tests that they aren’t invested in and that aren’t valid to make the comparisons that are currently being made.  Want to save the state millions of dollars, get rid of the state tests and have the students all take the ACT…it’s meaningful and we can actually make comparisons on both a local and national level.

  • Paul says:

    March 6, 2012 at 11:58 am

    One thing we know about tenure is that it is considered a benefit that will be a loss for teachers.  That will be one more lost incentive to attract the best candidates to the profession.  Without tenure it will be easier to lay off those with highest compensation, thereby facilitating age discrimination in the interest of cost savings.  Why do workers have to make all the sacrifices in our race to the bottom?  What are administrators and executives doing to deserve their compensation and golden parachutes?

  • Kaye T. says:

    March 6, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    Thank you, Mary, for saying what I would have pointed out myself. Ineffective teachers have been let go; and when not, it is not because of tenure law, but due to inefficient administration not doing their job.

    I am a retired teacher of 30 years and there were days when I was not such a good teacher and days when I was an awesome teacher. My effectiveness was influenced by many things out of my control (students who came to the classroom with their own issues, social and familial, that occupied their minds more that algebra ever could; distractions and interuptions to instruction which I had no control over, some decided by administration; and more.

    Teaching is a people business and we are not always able to control our environment or our clientele.  It takes patience, diligence, long hours, energy just to get through one day of lessons and answering demands of administration, student, parents. 

    For one prinicpal to observe me three or more periods during a 175+ day school year; and then to judge I am ineffective is just wrong.  Certainly formal parent and student input should be sought. Test scores could be included with appropriate weight. Certainly a professional growth plan should be developed as needed and time allowed to observe and be mentored by ” effective teachers.”

    Anyone who thinks this job of teaching is as simple as having content knowledge and good motivational strategies to be used with students is just plain ignorant.  A profession as vital as teaching our youth needs to be held in higher regard.  Time needs to be allowed for regular profession development, discussion and growth activities.  We need more parent/community partnership.

    I could go on and on, BUT the bottom line is that tenure is not a big deterrent to lack of student success. Many other factors need to be addressed. As teachers we should be valued and supported for the enormous job we are assigned.  It is most certainly NOT an easy job, even when passion for educating youth is our prime motivator.

  • Rodean says:

    March 6, 2012 at 12:20 pm

    It really depends on your definition of quality.  The current US education system is set up to try to get every student to a basic level of proficiency.  I have 34+ students in 6 classes and spend the vast majority of my time working with the bottom 20% of my students.  My middle school made AYP every year.  Do I feel that my mid/high functioning students are being challenged?  Absolutely not.  All that I have time for, all that my administrators evaluate me on and all the public seems to care about is that I get the bottom kids up to proficient (AKA make AYP).  If I am pretty sure that a student is going to get a proficient score on the MCAs I have no time or need to push them any further.

  • Myles S says:

    March 6, 2012 at 12:28 pm

    My daughter has taught in the Minneapolis school district for 22 years—most at one school. While few could or would truly inept teachers, retaining teachers has many advantages. First it puts them on a career path that allows the district to find ways to improve performance rather the “churn” staff. Secondly, it develops a “team” approach to teaching by keeping principals, teachers, and staff in place over an extended period. Team performance is vital in virtually every profession becaus it is synergistic. Finally, most competent teachers stay and make teaching a career; poor or poorly motivated teachers often leave the profession on their own to seek other fields of employment.

    The bottom line is, while tenure may not be sacrosanct, eliminating it must be done with great caution and understanding the downsides of “churning” staff.

  • irene says:

    March 6, 2012 at 12:46 pm

    Tenure is a good thing but needs some adjustment or it will be eliminated for sure. Once Republicans go after something, they tend to get their way. The flaws in the tenure system will be to their advantage, the main flaw being absolute seniority. A teacher with 4- 8 kids in a class well be kept full time, while a the younger teacher, (teaching the same subject) is cut to half time, even though his classes have 25 to 33, with waiting list to get in the class. I know someone in this situation). This wastes money and learning opportunity. It angers parents who then tend to be against the tenure/seniority system and tend to agree with the Republican stance, without even realizing they are against teacher unions as well, and public education in general. Taking away tenure entirely,  (seniority is automatically next), and promoting teachers by “merit” sounds good but is too dependent upon the Principal. The more talk there is about merit the more the teachers treat the Principal like a boss to be wooed, gushed over and impressed which often leads to back-stabbing, rivalry and fakery.  The poorer the teacher the more they feel the necessity to do this and its upsetting how well this works. We don’t need this attitude in schools.

  • Susan Rengstorf says:

    March 6, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    Teacher tenure is necessary to keep politics and personal predjudice from derailing teacher careers. Supporting teachers by reducing class sizes and making funds available for materials to teach to all intellect levels would go a long way to improving the quality of education.

  • W. D. (Bill) Hamm says:

    March 6, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    Rodean is absolutely correct, what does the system describe as quality? Then you need to understand that the systems definition does not match the peoples definition, or the definition of buisness. Minimum competency Standards work for no one. Only a liberal arts based system, teaching knowledge based curricula that is developed from the bottom up via competition and validation begins to cure this top down SOCIALIST rats nest teachers unions have supported for years. Only under a system like we had when we were education leaders not losers like now will fix this problem. All the top down educrat intelectualizing of the past 40 years has undermined the once great education system we had. We need a system again that allows and encourages children to excell where they are good and encourages them to be better where they are not. Forcing them to all jump over the same hoop in every subject is widget technology not child education technology. Teach to the child not some damn test.

  • Rodean says:

    March 6, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    The biggest problem with this entire tenure/seniority debate is that people who have no idea how the system actually works are weighing-in with what they think/heard.  I say we stop using the term tenure altogether.  It does not describe the reality that teachers work in.  Teachers are either probationary(can be fired for no reason) or non-probationary(can be fired if due process is followed).  That is it.  Anyone with any first-hand experience in the hiring and firing of public school teachers will tell you the exact same thing.  If a school district follows due process there is absolutely nothing, NOTHING, the union can do to help a teacher keep their job. All the union can do is make sure the district follows the contract that the district agreed to follow.  And believe me, that is a full time job itself.

  • Terry says:

    March 6, 2012 at 2:28 pm

    The biggest problem with the various anti-tenure plans being discussed is how to decide who is the best teacher.  I teach AP Calculus.  I will put the test scores of my students up against the the test scores of the algebra teacher’s students any time!  Does that mean that I am the better teacher?  The principal can come observe us his customary 3 times per year.  He has no idea if I am even teaching the concepts correctly.  He doesn’t know any Calculus.  Will he be able to say whether or not I am a good teacher.  He is more likely to judge based on how much of a “team player” I am rather than how good of a teacher I am.  You can survey the students.  Of course, the more “A"s I give will influence their decision greatly.  All of these politicians think they know something about how they can improve education, but most of them don’t have a clue.  By the way, I have taught for 27 years.  The students I have today know far more mathematics than the students of 27 years ago.  Why do people keep saying that our educational system is so bad?  Our ACT scores have never been better.

  • Scot M Kindschi says:

    March 6, 2012 at 2:58 pm

    Tenure is an absolute necessity. Seniority should be dropped. Dropping seniority makes discussion on merit pay moot. Without tenure there is no reason for anyone to even consider teaching as a profession. Say good-bye to good teachers.

  • Scot M Kindschi says:

    March 6, 2012 at 3:18 pm

    Rodean, I am in total agreement.

  • Alec says:

    March 6, 2012 at 3:33 pm

    New York City just released their results from value added tests. The so called “growth model” that wouldn’t punish teachers who take on the most challenging students.

    The “worst” teacher in New York was identified for public ridicule. The press went to her parents house to tell them how terrible she was.

    Problem is, she is an A rated teacher with an impeccable record with some of the most challenging students. The value added tests had a margin of error of +/- 30% on reading and +/- 50% on math. Read about this “terrible” teacher singled out for ridicule and humiliation.

    I could go to Edina, and every one of my students would pass every, single year, with flying colors. I don’t care about Edina. I want every single student in Saint Paul to pass with flying colors. However, if it comes down to feeding my own family or being fired because of some stupid system, I’ll just go where it is easy.

    http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2012/03/05/24darlinghammond_ep.h31.html?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Feed:+EducationWeekOpinion+(Education+Week:+Opinion)

  • david nass says:

    March 6, 2012 at 3:39 pm

    Tenure is important for presrvation of academic freedom. Anyone who remembers the controversies of Civil rights movement, Cold war. Vietnam war knows a teacher’s views on these topics could cost him/her job.
    This appeasr to be overlooked in debate.

  • ChristeenStone says:

    March 6, 2012 at 3:44 pm

    I have found the discussion of tenure and evaluation interesting. I come from a family of three generations of teacher a lot of them dedicated a life time to that profession. I share the concern that several expressed that the people doing this must be qualified to do a totally unbiased evaluation and that parents must have a chance to express an opinion. I could have told you who was the best teachers from my children’s point of view.When my children came home excited about what they were learning, that was a good teacher. One of the best was a teacher who convinced my son
    who did not like to read to become an avid book worm, by rewarding those who read the most with a field trip. He went on to become a College Professor. I do have concern that new teacher’s get paid less and that saving money is needed, or that personal bias could effect the evaluation of a teacher.

  • John Crampton says:

    March 6, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    If teachers are to be evaluated, retained/ laid off based on “performance” then what is the system of “performance measurement” going to be?  And will this be defensible in court?  It seems to be the schools will be spending more in administration, human resources and legal costs to defend their so-called performance ratings than it costs now to retain experienced teachers based on seniority.

    How will they pay these additional costs when the state of Minnesota is borrowing money, delaying payment of school aid to them in order to avoid making the richest 2% pay the same rate of income taxes that the middle class does? 

    This is just another vicious Republican trick to distract and to solve a problem which does not exist (and in the process burden our public schools even further), all in order to bust the teacher unions and give it all to the vicious, despicable, undertaxed and over-subsidized richest 2%ers.

  • Ginny says:

    March 6, 2012 at 4:20 pm

    I don’t think politicians have any business dictating how schools should be run. It’s clear that they are not qualified to judge.

  • Scott Charlesworth-Seiler says:

    March 6, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    I will absolutely grant that there are high-quality teachers with few years of experience, However, aside from levels of energy and enthusiasm, I do not turn to them as I look to continue to improve my teaching after almost 30 years. Experienced teachers - ones who have participate in meaningful staff development and are properly supervised - are the authorities on the many different techniques that work best for the diverse learners in classrooms. Of that recipe, classroom teaching technique is the ingredient that is the sole responsibility of teachers. Organizing and authenticating staff development and properly supervising teachers are administrative functions. Often those jobs are being given to administrators with little or no experience in the job.  I would turn this whole thing on its head and suggest that teacher seniority is often a key ingredient to quality classroom work and that we would be more likely to have it if administrators themselves were expected to have supervised experience in the job before being given sweeping authority.

  • kay kessel says:

    March 6, 2012 at 4:55 pm

    I was a teacher and administrator in the Minneapolis Schools for 22 years total.  I have been retired since June 2002.  From 2002 until 2010 I was a volunteer lobbyist for the League of Women Voters and monitored the Legislative Education Finance and Policy Committees and reported about them in our LWVMN Capitol Report. 

    As an Administrator for 15 years, teacher evaluations were one of my most important responsibilities.  During those years I colloborated with Lynn Nordgren, the district administrator who coordinated all the evaluations including administrators. She is now President of MFT.  I took this responsibility very seriously.  Beginning teachers were part of a program where they were coached and mentored and evaluated at the end of each year.  At any time we could terminate them and I did so in a thoughtful but kind way.  I was asked by those teachers, including tenured teachers who were terminated to be a reference for them.  Through the many hours that I spent observing and documenting I formed a relationship with them.

    There is pressure from conservative groups, including Kathryn Kersten, to eliminate seniority.  It is up to the Legislature not to tie the hands of Superintendents by cutting funding for early childhood, ESL, Extended Day, Special Education, etc. so that the staff can be retained. If these teachers are successful in their first three years we need to keep them.  At South High in Minneapolis we had partnerships with Carlson College,the University of Minnesota and St. Olaf to accept their student teachers.  Many were hired because we knew them to be highly qualified teachers.

    Please don’t denigrate educators in this way.  Would you prefer going to a cardiologist who is just beginning his or her career or someone experienced?  How about an inexperienced police officer arriving in a domestic dispute compared to one who has experience?

    There is the pressure from ALEC to break up our public schools and privatize them.


    Some Legislative leaders on the Education committees were reported by Minn Post to be part of ALEC.  The legislators in the majority have lost their way when looking out for our children from birth through college. There isn’t an early childhood committee in this legislative body.  There needs to be healthy prenatal and postnatal care for our low income mothers so that their children have healthy babies who will grow up and thrive in our schools.

    Just look to Eden Prairie as an example of the political pressure to remove their Superintendent? Not only were her Principals and teachers successful with their students of color, they wanted them integrated with other schools. The well to do parents and other leaders including legislators did not support district leaders. Integration aid was taken away from the largest school districts with the most diverse and low income populations. 

    I repeat, the legislators and billionaires that want to destroy our public schools have lost their way.  I hope everyone who can thank a teacher or many in their k-16 experience can help stop this negativity towards teachers.

    I attended a memorial service for Peter Nekola, a long time elementary teacher in Minneapolis.  Two of his former students in their 40’s came to honor his life as a teacher. They had him in third grade and he was the outstanding teacher in their lives.

    Kay Kessel
    Retired MPS Administrator

  • Dan Conner says:

    March 6, 2012 at 4:59 pm

    Well. I have read a few responses on this site and noticed some filled with a preoccupation about tenure.  I have also noticed that one of those responders seems to have preoccupations about unions in general.  I discount that concern because it seems less about improving education for our children and more about some kind of employee pay-back.

    I think an important element missing in the quality education of our children is a collaborative effort between parents and teachers.  I could presume to blame one over the other, but it does seem that too many parents seems to have an adversarial relationship with schools/teachers.  Where are the days when being disciplined at school was followed up by more discipline at home?  Today, many parents are more likely to sue and school districts are, to a large measure, intimidated by parental retaliation.

    The question people need to answer is, what they can do to solve educational issues.  Parents need to resolve their many problems and teachers need to resolve theirs.  If everyone endeavored to improve themselves many of our educational problems would be resolved.

    Are parents helping their children with homework?  Do they review their work and give their child feedback?  Do they periodically visit the school and the teacher?  Do they participate in PTA?  Do they discuss expectations with the teacher?  Parents don’t abdicate their responsibilities while their children are at school and they should be working with school officials to enhance their child’s education.

    Let’s get away from hateful recriminations and finger-pointing.  Instead, let’s be part of the solution.  Anyone can point out problems.  That takes no intelligence or effort.  Working to resolve problems requires intellignce and effort.  However, the reward is great.

  • Lyelle Palmer, Ph.D. says:

    March 6, 2012 at 6:21 pm

    No tenure is to be found in Minnesota public schools or colleges.  What we have is “due process” that requires that a cause be given for dismissal.  During the initial years of employment the teacher/instructor can be dismissed for any reason or whim.  Tenure is misunderstood by the press and therefore the public misunderstands also.  Unions are not the problem—political manipulation through misinformation and disinformation is the problem.

    Every teacher has an opportunity to set the record straight every time s/he is engaged in a conversation with a parent/citizen. 

    All but a few persons outside fields of education have any true understanding of how the systems work.  Please pass the word and engage in educating citizens.

  • W. D. (Bill) Hamm says:

    March 6, 2012 at 8:41 pm

    Lyelle, I think I have it; there is no tenure but rather due process. Then you say tenure is misunderstood by the press and therefore the rest of us. How can something that doesn’t exist be misunderstood? Than you say Unions are not the problem, political manipulation and misinformation is. How did political manipulation and missinformation create the most racist and socio/economically biased education system in Minnesota’s history. It doesn’t seem to matter to you that Black kids in Duluth only achieve a 25% graduation rate, I asume it is their own fault in your world. Let’s look at native Americans anywhere in the state. Show me how this miserable failure adds up to success in your world.

  • Dick Coad says:

    March 6, 2012 at 11:09 pm

    Older understandings may well apply. One, the inmates are never to run the asylum. This applies to schools as well. The inmates, excludes most students and most staff, should not be allowed to run the schools either; this particularly applies to politicians and their ilk.
    If it’s competence we want, it starts with seed, then root; cornerstone, then foundation. It’s been like this a very long time: Poorly planted seeds yield the same results as poor seeds. Cornerstones have the same requirements; if set poorly, the price is paid with the foundations and their heirs.
    Recent advice: Look up Jorge Santyana’s quote - “Those who will not remember history are condemned to repeat it.” Been parsing this one to the root for over thirty years now. “Condemned” continues to hold my attention to this day.
    If we are to fire teachers as we wish, why not turn Hierarchies right side up and fire from the top down, as an exploratory rule, to see what a difference that makes. Begin with Hierarchs.
    Perhaps firing at whim has little or less to do with quality and more to do with personality. George the Third was King of England when our Revolution began, finally. King James, when examining the extant Bibles of England became annoyed with the “markings” in one of them and their failure to support “The Divine Right of Kings,” in both of them. Thus began the creation of my favorite version, the “King James.” However, neither King makes the cut if the rules of the Stanford MBA program and its requirements of “exhaustive and inclusive” work are to be met by any and every would be “King”. Those of us who claim “Christian” are pretty sure there are only two Kings - father and son. Those who would be Kings - self-anointed, self-appointed, are mostly buried now, some in Hamlet’s Denmark. Perhaps the issue of tenure should be also buried. Let excellence and wise funding take its place. As example let me refer you to Ben Franklin’s investments in Philadelphia and Boston, note his requirements, tied tightly to each gift, be your guide in this matter. For further references would offer Abigail Adams and Eudora Welty for starters.
    Thanks, dc

  • W. D. (Bill) Hamm says:

    March 7, 2012 at 8:41 am

    There are nuggets of wisdom in your words Dick.

  • Kristi Anderson says:

    March 7, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    I am a liberal. I believe good teachers are worth their weight in gold and should be lauded and supported. I do not believe that teacher tenure is inherently bad, but the state teachers’ union goes WAY too far in protecting tenure over quality. I agree with Lynnell Mickelsen’s commentary today. She is very gutsy for sticking her neck out on this.
    http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentaries/141673773.html

  • Lyelle Palmer, Ph.D. says:

    March 7, 2012 at 1:54 pm

    Well, Dick, your question points back at your statements:

    Most racist system? By what measure?
    There is more to the story about Duluth underachievement, but who is willing to look into the entire story in depth.

    Beware of blanket generalizations.  The system is much more complex than most people realize, and in education it comes down to individual students.  Don’t blame the teacher when a student transfers into the class two weeks before taking the test.
    Don’t blame the principal when the high school is declared “failing” while having a 95% graduation rate.  Rigid labels such as “all”“every” “None” “chicken in every pot” “no child” “every child” terms should be red flags for political speech that is just wishful thinking.  We all want good things for our citizens, I hope, but some people just want to complain or apply the idea of the moment to solve complex problems.  Every problem discussed in relation to education has a research literature that provides insights into the problems and how others have handled them (successfully or otherwise).  Europeans say that “Americans don’t read,” meaning that people want easy slogan-type answers and do not bother to search out the more detailed aspects of problem and the complexities of success.  There are no easy answers and just saying the system is racist without specifics implies that every teacher and administrator is racist.  Everyone can understand that such a statement is untrue: it is just a statement to arouse emotion without any legs of fact. 

    My opinion on teacher seniority is that if a teacher is so weak as to be laid off first, then that teacher should not have been teaching before the layoff.  Dismissing a teacher involves documenting cause. Unions do not want a weak teaching and embarrassing profession; unions want administrators to do their jobs as agreed to in the contracts.  Be specific.

  • Lyelle Palmer, Ph.D. says:

    March 7, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    Sorry, my last post was for (Bill) Hamm.

  • Herbert A. Davis, Jr. says:

    March 7, 2012 at 3:01 pm

    In seven years as a grievance representative for an education union, I NEVER dealt with a grievance where the administration alledged incompetence or poor performance re; a teachers abilities.

    NEVER,NEVER,NEVER! Does that tell you something?

    Most administration actions that resulted in union grievances were about harassment of teachers that objected to something the administration did, usually an intentional contract violation by the administration in an attempt to punish people who spoke up or to favor a teacher who was an administrator in waiting!

  • W. D. (Bill) Hamm says:

    March 7, 2012 at 4:34 pm

    Let’s start with the states statistical data Lyelle, You are right there are other contributing factors in Duluth just as the rest of the State, Racist assults in an organized fasion no different than the chain gangs of the old south. We arrest people of color at 9 times the rate of White people for the use of one of this planets oldest recognized medicinal herbs. This is a rate of over 1% of these populations per year for the past 4 decades, you do the math. You seem to have trouble understanding that this is Racist and that is intentional. You also seem to have trouble understanding how a felony conviction undermines ones abilitiy to provide for a family thus undermining their culture. You sidestep any facts you don’t like and spout the standard educrat ittellectualizations. You sure seem to be blaming poverty on the poor here, not your standard “proggressive high road” here.

  • W. D. (Bill) Hamm says:

    March 7, 2012 at 4:45 pm

    One more thing Lyelle, back before the “Minnesota Miricle” started this education reform process in Minnesota, we were an education leader. That was before education decision making was stolen from us by educrates like you. Ater 30+ years of this useless top down educrate socialist sewage you and yours are still trying to claim it as a success and tell us it is working. I don’t know how stupid you really think we are, but the public clearly agrees with the concept that your kind of over educated intellectuals have done nothing but ruin the great education system we had just 4 decades ago. Give control back to us and I garuantee we will fix it with none of your kinds sorry excuses.

  • Ron says:

    March 7, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    Let’s give this “idea” back to the leaders in Wisconsin and Minnesota.Would they pass the teaching test and be evaluated by the governor(principal)?MOST WOULD NOT PASS!

  • Lyelle Palmer, Ph.D. says:

    March 7, 2012 at 6:37 pm

    IN RE (Bill) Hamm

    You are clearly frustrated and want to be heard, but your tone impedes connection with others.
    Your comments appear to me to be impolitic for public discourse/discussion. 
    You are doing what you accuse me of saying—.

    You sidestep the issue under discussion and substitute another (this discussion is about teacher seniority)

    You sidestep a factual discussion and use allusions (you have cited no facts so far as I can tell).

    You assume poverty is blamed on the poor (I never did).

    You appear to blame the MN Miracle for problems with unidentified schools
    (You have interjected “racism” without connecting the term to the topic of discussion.)

    You exaggerate without qualification (“chaingangs! Of teachers?”)

    Educational decision-making proposed by the administration, teachers and citizens, ia approved by your elected school board, not outsiders (For change, change the board).

    We could list reasons why marijuana should be legalized, but that is a different discussion.

    Four decades ago public schools graduated about 70% of children entering first grade; today’s graduation rates are higher or lower depending upon the demographic characteristics and the particular high school dropout rate (Good systems have been documented for better graduation rates so look at your local school).

    When you find a specific problem I urge you to connect with someone who can do something about it.  Talk is easy.  Action is required.

  • don samuels says:

    March 8, 2012 at 12:42 am

    i worked in corporate contexts for 30 years. When i heard about LIFO, i was shocked by the departure from what was, in my experience, simple wisdom. Your boss hires or inherits you to get the job done. You are evaluated on how well you did your job and she on how well a job she got out of you and your peers. Nothing else. I had great bosses and some not so great ones. but they were my bosses within the system that chose them, the system that i was hired in. That’s just the way it works. You either live with their evaluation of you or try some legal or other extreme alternative or quit. That’s what bosses are for in this flawed world. Why did i live up to that standard for 30 years while the people my thusly earned tax dollars hired, were being indulged with this codependent and ridiculous alternative labeled LIFO?

  • W. D. (Bill) Hamm says:

    March 8, 2012 at 8:40 am

    There you go compartmentalizing the problem Lyelle. By doing so you don’t have to look at anything but “teacher seniority” and that small compartment, how it affects child preformance is not allowed, how it makes the system more racist is not allowed. I live in the real world where your simple minded but over thought solutions are just more top down intellectualizing. In my real world these things do connect, and that is why the power has to come back to those of us at the local level who have the ability to see these real world realities because our feet are planted firmly on the ground and we are not living with you in the clouds of theoretical application and unfounded justification.

  • Lyelle Palmer, Ph.D. says:

    March 8, 2012 at 11:11 am

    Real change can take place only by locating the specific source of the problem and finding a real solution.  Teacher seniority was agreed upon for a reason.  Administrators and school boards must do their jobs and that means getting highly specific.  We have records of teachers abused by whims of superiors.  Just as we have protections for racial and gender discrimination, we have seniority to force supervisors to go through an objective process of documentation.  I agree that some teachers should not be in the classroom another minute—they create a toxic environment that harms students.  We have all had experiences with incompetence.
    Teachers must be evaluated systematically and fairly, with opportunity to become professional quality.  This process can take a year or two but the process is there.  That topic is teacher quality and training.  Training is the best investment.  When a teacher retires, 40 years of training walks out the door.  When a new teacher is hired, after seven years (sometimes less), with proper supervision and training, that teacher is probably an expert in both curriculum and instruction.  Our problem seems to be that we have no objective standards for what that professional level should be.  Even with standards, advanced practitioners in other fields sometimes act unprofessionally or criminally.

    Teacher seniority is a totally different topic.  More than a decade ago Rochester had to reduce the teaching force because of declining enrollment.  About 70 teachers—some really great—with up to 14 years of experience in the district had to be laid off (including math—a high demand area for teachers).  Seniority may appear to be harsh at times, but as a process it is simple, transparent, fair, and known as a protection for teachers that is ultimately least disruptive to the students. 

    We can have a different system, any system, but the problems will change.  For decades we have had a widespread teacher shortage and turnover.
    Low pay, poor teaching conditions and disrespect lead half of new teachers to depart the profession after 5 years.  By taking away seniority rights, how many more young teachers will leave after a taste of personal subjectivity of particular supervisors? 

    To create effective change look to the people in your local school, not a general law that creates more problems
    than it solves.

  • KJC says:

    March 11, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    One of the big reports is in.  What makes a country prosperous in a modern globally economic world?  There is a powerful correlation with education.  Here’s a link to OECD comparison graph:
    <http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/43/9/49881940.pdf>
    It reasonably proves that, in terms of overall competitiveness, having an well educated populace is more valuable than oil in the ground. 
    Yet, we’ve given Minnesota schools billions of dollars of IOU’s in the delay-payment-into-the-next-budget-period game, in terms of making the budget look-like-it-was balanced in the T-Paw years.  Why would we make them the “fall guy” when it’s so important?
    And our support for higher education? In terms of a percentage of the public support, it has also suffered a big drop. 
    As a society, we just aren’t walking the talk.  It’s not too late, and excess discussion of teacher tenure is mostly a diversionary tactic that’s being used to score political points.  We need to face our real issues, which are far larger and more complex than that. 

  • Kari Haug says:

    March 13, 2012 at 10:32 am

    I think that test scores have NOTHING to do with the quality of the teacher, but rather the quality of the student.  Rather than scrutinizing the teacher, start by scrutinizing students to identify why some students learn and others don’t.  Addressing this problem at it’s root (like clamping off a bleeding artery versus putting a bandage on it) to develop creative new solutions to repair damaged kids and promote learning is the place to start. 

    Stop laying the blame on the teachers!  In my opinion, teachers really are not the source of the bleed in most cases and we are wasting precious time in diagnosing the problem by looking at test scores.