Dear Mr. Hanauer,
I am a teacher in a high-poverty, rural high school. In 2010 we received Washington State’s highest award for “overall excellence” and US News and World Report recognized us as a bronze medal school for the 4th consecutive year. Today, 40% of our students are not on a straight track to graduate. By the beginning of next year I predict that number will rise to 60%.
How can we be “failing” so miserably just 3 short years after being awarded top honors as a high performing school? I’d like to invite you to visit us and find out.
Teachers at my school are true “top of their class” types. Over thirty percent of them are National Board Certified in their field. We were early adopters of standards-based reform because; a) we could see the need to get started right away on changes that were by nature long term, on-going, and systemic, and, b) we knew it was best for kids. Our collective bargaining process has been interest-based and (with full support from WEA) managed to find ways to strike a balance between caring for students and caring for teachers with the resources we had available. Moral has been high, everyone has gone the extra mile and, if awards mean anything, it was working… until now.
Do you really think, that after 10 years of continuous improvement and demonstrated excellence, our union suddenly decided to block our way to reform? Do you really think suddenly declaring ourselves a Charter School would keep us from “failing” our students? Do you really think the 2% or 3% of our faculty that (we are told) must be awful teachers suddenly rose to leadership positions and derailed the entire success story?
We are going backwards. But it isn’t because of the union, and it isn’t because we aren’t a charter school, and it isn’t because we have a few awful teachers. It is because the margin has finally been cut too thin. After years and years of expert juggling and balancing resources and biting our nails every spring during the budget process as we slice, dice, and adapt, we finally have come to the point where resources are just too few and mandates too great (if narrow) to overcome. We are seeing the systematic dismantling of every exemplary thing we’ve worked years to build. It feels inexorable. Watching the effects on kids is heart wrenching.
We are going backwards, but teachers aren’t what has changed in the 3 years since we were a high performing school (and trust me, we had to work towards a long-term vision with a lot of dedication to earn that distinction!). What changed are the resources we have to support the kids who need support. What changed are our class sizes and the number of class sections we can offer kids who need remediation and extra support. What changed is the loss of our curriculum director, a principal, part of a math teacher, part of a science teacher, a reading support teacher, money for the new curriculum and materials required every time the state changes standards and assessment, funding for professional development, and the loss of our entire alternative program for very at risk students (putting those students back into the regular classrooms with 30-36 other kids simultaneously decimating the surround-support services we’ve provided in the past).
I would like to respectfully submit for consideration that the answers may not be quite as simple as you and the Seattle Times editorial staff would have everyone believe. I honestly wish you were right; it would make an effective solution much quicker and cheaper. But you aren’t even close. And the fact that you, and others like you, continue to insist the answers are simple, (vilifying those of us who have to live, work, and breath in the toxic political environment being created by this belief, while desperately trying to keep working towards real answers with fewer and fewer resources), is demoralizing to the brink of despair.
I want to believe that you will read this letter, and, being the smart businessman you are, decide to help generate some of the real solutions we so urgently need. However, experience tells me the only thing a teacher’s entrance into the media fray will generate is accusations of “whining”, “obstructing”, and “being a paid union hack” (I most definitely am not!). So, I would like to invite you, and any fellow reform leaders, to actually come to my school and spend a few hours sitting around a table with some amazing teachers, counselors, and administrators to learn what the real issues are. I’d like you to meet some of my students and let them show you how pushing forward with reform in the face of declining resources is creating unintended consequences that hurt them in ways from which they may never recover.
Instead of trying to duke this out in the media, or the legislature, (places where complexity clearly doesn’t translate very well), I’d like to meet you face to face. Because real answers are never that simple, no matter how politically useful they are. RSVP requested.
National Board Certified Teacher – Science
Read more here: http://www.thenewstribune.com/2012/02/26/2043008/top-backers-of-democrats-voice.html#storylink=cpy