I suppose the leaders of D.C. Public Schools want me to be happy that social studies teacher Kerry Sylvia won’t be coming back to Cardozo Senior High next year. The sound bite sounded appealing when DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson announced recently in her new strategic plan that one way to improve graduation rates is to focus on teacher talent — to remove bad teachers and replace them with better ones. But what if, however well intentioned, the reforms are actually leaving uninspired teachers in place and getting rid of some of the best talent?
When I heard that Sylvia had received a notice last month that she was being “excessed” from Cardozo after 13 years, it didn’t add up. I know good teaching, having taught high school for 16 years myself and helped to design the celebrated teacher evaluation system in Montgomery County. My daughter is about to graduate from DCPS, and I have been an engaged parent and a close DCPS observer for 14 years.
Sylvia is clearly a brilliant teacher, committed to her students, her school and its community. She is not only an award-winning teacher but also a leader and student advocate. I’ve talked with her students, several of whom told me that Sylvia’s class was the reason they come to school. If the District’s new plan is eliminating teachers like Sylvia, it’s on the wrong track.
In March, Post reporter Bill Turque penned an insightful profile of another demonstrably terrific teacher, Sarah Wysocki from MacFarland Middle School, who was fired from DCPS after getting low scores in her IMPACT evaluation. The mechanical process of IMPACT insults good teachers and doesn’t do justice to the complexities of good teaching.
If the reform strategies in place in DCPS were working, then perhaps a resolute and unsympathetic response to so-called “soft issues” of staff morale and workforce culture would be understandable. But gains in student achievement in DCPS have stalled. The dropout crisis continues. It’s not that reform isn’t a good idea, but these modest results call for some humility. They might even call for listening to the wisdom of accomplished teachers we can’t afford to lose.
And next year, this kind of teacher evaluation system comes to New York State, thanks to Governor Cuomo, NYSED Commissioner King and Regents Chancellor Tisch.
Should go swimmingly.
And when it doesn't, the people in charge will blame the teachers, as Bill Gates did when his "small schools initiative" failed.
Hell, it couldn't be his fault the program was a bust.
Must be the teachers.
Let's put some galvanic skin bracelets on them, put some cameras in the classroom, add 35+ high stakes standardized tests a year and tie teacher evaluations to the scores.
That should improve things!
And when it doesn't, we'll blame it on the teachers and the policymakers and the edu-entrpreneurs like Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee will continue to cash in for millions.