If Georgia wants teacher-leaders, it has to grant them a real voice

Today, I joined education reporters from around the state at the annual Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education media forum in which we get a preview of the legislative session. We listened to the state school chief and other Department of Education officials, as well as legislators and advocates.

And we heard great ideas about programs and changes that could improve teaching and learning in Georgia.

But I always leave the annual event wondering about the gap between what’s needed and what’s possible. And let me share two examples from today.

GPEE policy and research director Dana Rickman outlined the top 10 education issues to watch this year in Georgia, including a new focus on the “teacher-leader.” She explained that 70 percent of teachers say they’re not interested in becoming principals, but a quarter are interested in a hybrid role that allows them to continue teaching but also lead education reform from inside the classroom.

The answer, said Rickman, was “purposeful pathways to teacher leadership.” I asked Rickman how that was possible in an atmosphere where teachers are afraid to publicly share their views, where even simple requests to teachers – their favorite holiday gift – have to be approved by district communications staff.

In my experience, many teachers fear speaking out even on innocuous topics. Another reporter stood up to concur; he said in the rural districts he covers teachers are terrified because of “dictatorial principals.”

For many reasons, the culture of schools neither supports nor encourages a strong teacher voice. And that includes experienced educators with Teacher of the Year honors and excellent performance reviews. It is true for teachers in private and public schools. I’ve seen principals nudge effective but opinionated teachers out the door because they found their outspokenness an irritant. (I have also seen principals who make waves on behalf of their students pushed out by their bosses.) Many teachers have told me they “keep their heads down and do their jobs.”

I assume it is a domino effect of weak-kneed leadership from principals, to deputy superintendents to  superintendents. Or maybe school leaders feel so beat up by the public and politicians that they squelch any criticisms from within, even constructive criticisms.

The second issue that drew a lot of discussion today was the pressing need for schools to provide social services to struggling families in need, something that DeKalb Superintendent Steve Green noted has fallen on schools because no one else is stepping up. “We can have the debate about who should provide the services. But schools are being called in more and more to fill in the gap,” he said.

He’s right, but schools are attempting to confront complex social problems for which they lack the personnel and expertise to resolve. I understand why Green and other panelists sharing the stage with him contend that kids can’t learn if they are hurting, fearful or mentally ill. They can’t.

But under current funding and structuring, I don’t think schools can tackle addictions, homelessness, joblessness and mental health and still teach math and reading. Consider the American School Counselor Association recommends one school counselor to 250 students. The average ratio in Georgia is one to 450, and some schools have one counselor to 1,000 students.

I sat down a few years ago with an education researcher from France who observed that American schools attempt to be everything to everybody, offering sports, clubs, music and theater, after-care and summer programs. In her country, such programs and cultural enrichments are the community’s purview. Schools concentrate on academics.

U.S. schools have let communities off the hook; these programs and extras are now regarded as school responsibilities. Yet, when schools do them badly — nothing riles parents as much as poorly managed or underfunded sports teams — no one remembers these duties aren’t part of the schools’ core mission.

The question isn’t whether schools should do it, but whether they can and still fulfill their mission to educate children. As Green discussed the district’s plan to hire more social workers and psychologists to work with troubled families, I received an email from an irate DeKalb parent whose child’s class was still being taught by substitutes because the district hadn’t found a language teacher.

I just don’t think schools can do it all well.

Your thoughts?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reader Comments 0

35 comments
Douglas Cumming
Douglas Cumming

Hi Maureen. Regarding point 1, that teachers are terrified of expressing opinions to education reporters, a job I had at the AJC in the 90s. Yes. It was one of the challenges of my job, trying to deliver the "public" part of public education. But I couldn't promise teachers that they wouldn't get in trouble. So I had to find enlightened leadership higher up, and work my way down to the classroom and parent. 

I'm impressed, at least, that you are free to express opinions in your covering schools, and that your readers are too. This is a real improvement. I hope readers appreciate that.

   I'll be following you more closely the next few months, since I'm teaching "The Education Beat" for the first time here in the journalism department at Washington & Lee. 

   Maybe I can Skype you into the classroom?

Doug

Carole Veschi
Carole Veschi

I heard this is the first time that the free lunch program is over 50% in a National Average. Could that be true?

Carole Veschi
Carole Veschi

Wow! There has always been correlations between income levels and test scores.

Starik
Starik

Entire school districts provide free lunches to all the kids. Good idea. 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Starik You have to have a certain threshold to qualify your school or system, however.

feedback11
feedback11

Grant parents a real choice in which public or private school best meets their child's needs—and ignore these union-organized whining sessions.

BrettFavreFan4Life
BrettFavreFan4Life

Who is stopping you from sending your kids to private school? No one. And you have unlimited choices when it comes to public schools. All you have to do is move into the district. Sounds like the only one whining here is you.

feedback11
feedback11

@BrettFavreFan4Life 

Yes, I can afford to move to a better neighborhood. But most parents can't easily do that—nor should they have to to escape a failing neighborhood school. 

feedback11
feedback11

@Harlequin 

They pretty much own the Democrat Party when it comes to education policy.

All GAE and GFT members pay into their national union's political slush fund.

BrettFavreFan4Life
BrettFavreFan4Life

I'm a teacher and for lack of better options, I'm also a democrat. The teacher's unions here are basically non-existent and I have never heard of any teacher organization donating to any political party. In my experience, state education policy is decided by state politicians, state superintendents, and technology companies. Since almost all of GA's politicians have been Republicans for at least the last 50 years, no one can blame Democrats for anything that they like or don't like about public education here.

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

@feedback11 @BrettFavreFan4Life You really think that the private schools, that do not have the same accountability that the public schools have, should be the ones to fill the gaps that the author is talking about? How would they deal with homelessness, poverty, and mental illness? Do you think they would want these children in their classroom? No, they would increase the price to make it even more expensive than it already is. On another note, the private voucher system in Chile created a hugely inequitable system that left the public schools barely able to meet the mandated services while it provided the already rich with a huge windfall to help pay for their kids private education. Now, after years of deprivation, the country is having to invest billions to help revitalize the public schools. Don't be like Chile and make the same mistake-be smart and recognize that the public schools are a necessity that need to be supported for the public good. 

feedback11
feedback11

@BrettFavreFan4Life 

"I have never heard of any teacher organization donating to any political party."

"Almost all of GA's politicians have been Republicans for at least the last 50 years."

If you're in fact a teacher you're the most uninformed one visiting this blog today.

BrettFavreFan4Life
BrettFavreFan4Life

Looks like I am wrong. Ga Had looks of Democratic governers and senators before 2003. Unlike your president, I can admit when I don't get the facts straight. :-)

Starik
Starik

@sneakpeakintoeducation @feedback11 @BrettFavreFan4Life  Shouldn't the good kids in bad schools have an alternative? Isn't to our benefit to educate kids out of poverty where possible? Even the worst schools have some good kids who could have successful futures if we provided real education for them. 

BrettFavreFan4Life
BrettFavreFan4Life

Yes. The bad schools should group the good students together in classes made just for them. With great teachers that push them to high levels. And have summer programs and after school programs that's just for them. It just takes some people saying that they want a gifted or honors group in their building.

Starik
Starik

@BrettFavreFan4Life  I had a kid who was placed in a "normal" English class. The teacher recommend he be moved to an advanced class. The school refused because they were going to do away with advanced classes anyway. I suspect they didn't want to remove the only white kid in the class.

Starik
Starik

@BrettFavreFan4Life  Our current Governor tried to reform failing schools and was rebuffed by the Democrats and teachers' unions. Money flowed in from national organizations. 

SavTeacher
SavTeacher

@Harlequin @feedback11 We don't  have teacher unions in Georgia, for we live in a right to work state.  We have PAGE, GAE but they do not negotiate salaries.  Teachers are on their own.  PAGE helps get issues out to members, but they do not get salaries or benefits for teachers. 

BrettFavreFan4Life
BrettFavreFan4Life

Yeah, but he was only looking to send public money to private, for-profit companies to pretend to make a difference. His plan wasn't to help poor kids In failing schools. He only wanted to fatten the pockets of rich friends. Prime example is what he did with the Race To The Top money he spent. Obama sent $400 million dollars to GA to improve education and the Goveners people blew every penny of it on redundant tests. So test makers and test software companies made $400 million dollars over about 5 years with nothing to show for their efforts to improve GA education. So when Republican Govenors show interest in helping poor kids, you better believe there is a hidden agenda that reveals the real beneficiaries.

BRV
BRV

Yeah my entirely republican school board who collectively opposed that power and money grab by the governor were bought off by evil teachers and their corrupt unions. My wife works for a public school so I personally witnessed the bags of money being handed to Forsyth County school board members. All of the voters who defeated the amendment in ruby red counties, yup duped by those scheming teachers. And of course all of the money on the Yes on One side came from salt of the earth humble Georgians. No out of state PACs or billionaire donors involved. No sir, none at all.

BrettFavreFan4Life
BrettFavreFan4Life

These are two ideas that teachers are supposed to accept without question as universal truth or else be placed into the margins and pushed out of the profession: First, "technology is good and makes our classes better." But is it?

Second, "more data is the only way our students are going to grow." But is it true? Since have started this data driven, technology centered way of teaching, United States schools have produced fewer doctors, nurses, and teachers than we did in the decades prior to having classes that were centered on "big data" and technology. However, if you say this at a school, expect for the administration to treat you as an outcast. And expect to be treated as a relic that has outlived it's usefulness. So don't ask "why" when it comes to technology and dont ask "why" when it comes to data and people will think you are a genius.

mgnance
mgnance

Shared leadership in schools does exist and it can work. Alpharetta High School does it under the leadership of Principal Dr. Shannon Kersey. She has created a model where teacher leaders are encouraged and expected to speak their minds and play a major role in developing solutions to the problems we face. It is true that our job is hard and we cannot solve everything, but at Alpharetta we work together and with her leadership have created a culture of collaboration that works for us and our students.

SavTeacher
SavTeacher

@mgnance I agree.  It depends upon the administration at the school level. I am a teacher leader and I had an extra planning to take on the role of teacher induction and working with new teachers.  It can vary from schools and districts.  Most teachers are not asked their opinion, but if you want to improve a situation speak to the people in the trenches, they can tell you what works and what does not work. 

BurroughstonBroch
BurroughstonBroch

Public school education has become yet another government-controlled business. Its first objective is to meet legal requirements while imposing minimum disruption on school boards and top level system bureaucrats. Some systems like DeKalb want to grow their bureaucracies and budgets by exercising more control over students’ lives.

SACS is part of the problem, not part of the solution. They pick a system as a whipping boy every so often so they can appear to perform a task of value.

readcritic
readcritic

@BurroughstonBroch SACS reviews are a joke. The principals get to choose what teachers will be allowed to talk to the SACS evaluators. Everything shown to SACS is administratively controlled.

Grob_Hahn
Grob_Hahn

Too bad teachers can't identify discipline issues honestly in the Stalingrad we call education in Georgia.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

I was in the classroom 41 years.  Almost ever year, and especially when SACS rolled around, teachers were told to give input--that it would be used to set priorities.  It NEVER happened.  And SACS NEVER asked, "We see there was no follow-through on these priorities/programs/initiatives/surveys.  Why not?"


In your sixth paragraph, did you mean "dictatorial princiPALS?"

Starik
Starik

We need to rethink the entire public educational system. 

Tange English
Tange English

Yes, to it all. No, we can't teach kids who are worrying about food..being cold and struggling! Yes, the school is becoming a social service institution. You find a low performing school...you find poverty. The community has no idea of the issues that some of these homes. It is survival of the fittest and crime will continue to rise. As you have noticed, young kids are committing these crimes because the consequences are minimal.

readcritic
readcritic

Even the police are disgusted with the "catch and release" policy of juvenile delinquents. Courts & judges keep letting offenders off for their crimes. One group of thieves stole out of mailboxes and were caught numerous times. They were released 15 times. They or their parents were never held accountable and never made restitution to the victims. That explains the discipline problems in schools. Administrators do the same thing with students who disrupt class.The students get sent back to class with no consequences only to disrupt and repeat endlessly while administrators blame the teachers.