In his blog, "Class Struggle," Jay Matthews said here in July he'd never talked to any teacher at Columbia Heights Educational Campus (CHEC) who had problems with the administration. Some alert readers caught this and emailed me. I was more than happy to provide Matthews with a detailed account of my time at CHEC, and I posted that account here.
After emailing my account to the administration at CHEC and gathering their feedback, Matthews posted his take on the situation today over at his blog.
In his post, Matthews quotes Maria Tukeva as saying that I did receive support from my content-area administrator and there were curricular documents for AP US History and AP US Government. I don't know what to say except for that's not true. I'll assume she's been misinformed by my content-area administrator. Also, Tukeva apparently said most of what I said was incorrect and that I did not show any indication that I diagnosed my English language learner's ability to read my AP textbook. I did, and I admitted I felt unprepared to help them make meaning of the text. I asked for help; I received none.
Jay goes on to quote me as saying that my administrators had little classroom experience. That's certainly what it felt like, but apparently I was misinformed about the classroom experience of my grade-level administrator. As a result, I posted an edited letter to Jay and apologized for that mistake. It's certainly not my intention to spread falsehoods; it defeats my objective.
The next point that comes up in Jay's blog post is the teacher attrition rate, which I honestly didn't even make a big deal out of in my original letter, although I should have, so I'm glad Ms. O'Brien brought it up. According to her, CHEC lost 40% of its teachers in the summer of '07, 20% in '08, 37% in '09, and 36% in '10. Keep in mind that the staff at CHEC is over 100 teachers, so 36% is probably a little over 36 teachers. She says teachers are leaving because they're finishing their Teach for America stints, they're ineffective, they're moving, health reasons, retirement, and career change. She should have included administrative harassment, but I don't think she really knows anything about what it's like to work at CHEC, so I guess I can't blame her for leaving that off the list. In any case, I think most teachers would tell you that when your turnover rate is that high, there's something wrong. You can chalk it up to TFA, health reasons, career change, or whatever you like, but it needs to be fixed. It's not healthy.
The issues I really wanted Jay to highlight were essentially these:
- There is an administrator at CHEC who is extremely abusive and is responsible, to one degree or another, for many teachers leaving, myself included. Letters have been sent to Michelle Rhee, Adrian Fenty, and Jim Graham. Nothing has been done.
- The reliance on Teach for America types who believe students equate to data points and will leave education in a few years to advance up the career latter is not a model for sustained quality education. Teacher experience matters. Mary Levy has found that nearly 1 in 5 DCPS teachers are in their first year. Few teachers I worked with at CHEC had been around longer than 3 years, and if they had, they were considered a veteran.
- CHEC plays the numbers to make it appear as if it has a silver-bullet solution to urban education, and it doesn't. It treats teachers poorly, expects them to work much harder and longer than many others, and has a high degree of burnout. I suspect the drop it saw in test scores this past year may have something to do with this flawed model.
- Finally, teachers should be observed to help them grow, not to be vindictive and not in order to fire them. Unfortunately, that's not how CHEC's administration sees it.
Unfortunately, Jay Matthews is naturally more interested in focusing on AP coursework, as its legitimacy has an impact on the legitimacy of his school rating system. Yea, I loved the one AP conference I attended and have received great ideas from colleagues who have attended others. But, as I told Jay in a private email, a good course is a good course, and just calling a course "AP" doesn't magically improve the likelihood that students will achieve. In fact, if you have an inexperienced teacher attempting to teach kids way behind grade-level college material, I think it's likely they'd be negatively impacted by the course, as it would probably disengage them fairly quickly. A good class has a lot more to do with the school and teacher than it does with the title.
For the past year, this blog has attempted to shed some light on what I now perceive to be the highly political and highly corrupt system that is DCPS. I feel the following posts express my views on the problems in DCPS in much more detail.
Abused Teachers Syndrome?
What Makes a Great Teacher?
It's All Been Done Before
Columbia Heights: A Case for Teachers Unions <---- see this post for details on harassment by admins
But, for some insight on what I perceive to be the biggest problem with the reform implemented by Fenty and Rhee (aside from a gross disregard for stakeholder input, particularly from the most needy communities), I'll leave you with a paragraph from a piece I recently read by Sue Hemberger. I couldn't have said it any better myself:
"Often, the attempt to idiot-proof a process involves imposing a formula designed to produce a consistent result. When this approach is successful, that result is reliably better than incompetence but generally far short of excellence. And the task has become sufficiently de-skilled that no one who aspires to excellence wants any part of it."
Unfortunately, this is what DCPS is doing to teaching, and CHEC epitomizes it. And that, Peggy O'Brien, is why good teachers are leaving.