Packed agenda but most of the airtime in tonight’s meeting was consumed by additional discussion and a vote on the district’s proposed contract with Teach for America. (Jill Tucker from the SF Chronicle wrote about the controversy this morning, and posted a followup story on tonight’s vote).
There is a national teacher shortage because there aren’t as many people going into teaching (which is hard work, and not paid as well as it should be) as there are teachers reaching the end of their careers and retiring. The district is projecting 300-500 openings next year, and my first priority is making sure that every classroom is covered with a permanent teacher on the first day of school. As I wrote someone earlier today in an email:
In SF TFA is not our only or even our biggest strategy for filling teaching jobs. Would I rather have every one of the 400 teacher openings we expect for next year filled with teachers with more than a few months experience, who expect to stay in the profession long term? Yes. That isn’t going to happen, and we need to have permanent teachers in every classroom starting on the first day of school in August. Teachers will not magically appear from elsewhere if we cancel the TFA contract. We’re talking about 24 teachers that are guaranteed — given that we have to screen four resumes for every teacher we hire, that’s 96 resumes we don’t have to evaluate and interviews we don’t have to conduct because TFA guarantees us those hires.
Many of our TFA teachers are wonderful teachers, and some are not. Many of our teachers from traditional credentialing programs are wonderful, and some are not.
My expectation for the Superintendent is that he opens school for the year with fully-staffed classrooms, and I will hold him accountable for that. I will not tell him how to do his job nor will I limit the tools he thinks he needs to meet that goal.
The Superintendent did reach a compromise to ensure the contract would be renewed. He decreased the number of teachers we’ll hire from TFA next year to 15 — the same number we’ve hired each of the past three or four years — down from the 24 teachers he originally requested. In the end, four Commissioners voted to approve the contract with three voting no.
It was a very negative debate, and felt very personal and unfair on all sides. I think the Board and staff will bear some bruises on this one for a while. From the outside, it’s one of those crazy debates we engage in from time to time — hours and hours of air time spent on what ended up to be a $37,000 contract to hire 15 teachers (3 to 4 percent of what we’ll need come August). But the real issue–one that the Board is united on–is that we need to improve our support for beginning teachers because so many of them leave the profession after a few years; we also need to build stronger pipelines and partnerships so that we have a reliable supply of new teachers to fill openings left by retirements. I think to move forward, we need to focus on these two areas where we all agree we need to pay attention and put resources. So in the end maybe some real, long-term good will come out of all this negativity and discord.
We also renewed Gateway Middle School’s charter by a vote of 6-1, and unanimously adopted an ambitious rewrite of the Wellness Policy. We had another lengthy discussion, late, after most spectators had left, about a proposed agreement with The New Teacher Project to recruit and support administrators. Things got a little hot between the Superintendent and Commissioner Wynns when she accused him of acquiescing to the anti-democratic privatization agenda she believes The New Teacher Project represents. In the end, the proposal passed 6-1.
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In other news, our 2014 cohort graduation rate has been released by the state and there is both good news and really bad news. The good news is that SFUSD is graduating more kids ready for UC/CSU than ever before, and the rate is higher than the state’s as a whole — 56.9 percent of students in SFUSD’s class of 2014 completed the A-G course sequence with a C or better in every class, compared to just 41.9 percent for the state as a whole.
The bad news is that our overall graduation rate fell slightly behind the state’s — 79.9 % of the Class of 2014 graduated in four years from SFUSD, compared to 80.8% for the state as a whole.
And the really bad news continues to be the performance of some of our subgroups (Class of 2014 four year graduation rates — SFUSD/State):
- English Learners – 66%/65.3%
- Latino/Hispanic – 61.2%/76.4%
- African American – 57.3%/68.1%
- Special Education – 55.7 %/62.2%
- White – 84.0%/87.4%
- Asian 89.4 %/92.3%
The dropout rate also went up — from 11.3 percent last year to 11.9 percent this year. The state’s dropout rate for the Class of 2014 is 11.6%.
While I think it’s fair to own these numbers and admit that we need to do a lot better, I also think one explanation behind the slight dip we see this year is that the Class of 2014 was the first class who had to satisfy the much more rigorous A-G requirements — requirements that were instituted when the members of this class were in the 7th grade.
We have a teacher shortage. Is that a surprise? Does anyone wonder if a teacher could even afford to live in San Francisco? Instead of asking for more and more commitments from our public school teachers, we should be making a commitment to paying them a living wage, supporting them in the classroom, giving them subsidized housing, and paying back their student loans. A public school teacher will never have stock options or the chance to IPO. They simply can’t compete with the income and wealth of people who work in tech and financing for basic resources like housing; if we want great teachers, we are going to need to make an economic commitment to teachers. Last year, the district lost several experienced principals – Miraloma, Alvarado, Sunnyside and probably others- to other districts. We will continue to loose experienced administrators and fail to attract new teachers if we do no make a commitment to public education with money. We need to implement a loan forgiveness program as public sector wages have not kept up with the cost of higher education. Unless we are willing to pay more for more experienced teachers, we should be embracing the TFA applicants as they are willing to come and work.
The discussion is a red herring that many invested in the status quo use to distract from the real issues: teacher retention from all pathways is low, particularly if you hold constant the schools that teachers are hired into (which no one has produced this report for SFUSD); the current policies around teacher evaluation, compensation, recruitment and training disincentive people from choosing the profession and sticking with it — independent surveys of teachers nationwide tell us that they want to be held accountable but not to just one measure, they don’t want their salary to be based on time rather than contribution, and they want career pathways; and lastly, we seem to be ignoring generational trends — this generation and all those that follow will have many careers in their lives and education and teaching will be no different. We can continue to debate whether having diverse entry points is good policy, which to everyday people is simply a ridiculous debate — we need to find ways in our context to get as many diverse, academically strong, culturally responsive teachers as possible into the profession and then work together to tackle the systemic challenges that push so many out talented and committed people out. This will take collaboration and a coalition beyond those of us in the education bubble. My hope as a career educator who entered via Teach For America is that we can work together to address these issues — and stop attacking the good people who sign up to join the effort via alternate routes. A huge kudos to Commissioner Norton and her colleagues for taking the first step in this direction. The lives of tens of thousands of children in our city are counting on us adults to find common ground and move forward together.
How is it bad policy?
It was a bruising fight because TFA is bad policy. http://cloakinginequity.com/2015/03/10/do-you-have-five-minutes-to-understand-whether-teach-for-america-is-effective/