West Hartford Forums

“A candle is enough to light the world”

If You Don’t Like the Teachers …

Posted by whforums on September 14, 2008

The education news is flying fast and furious.

First, Barbara Carpenter resigned as head of the West Hartford Teacher’s Union.  Rick Green has an interesting article about the situation.  My concern with his take is that it implicitly maligns teachers as lazy and unwilling to compromise (it treats teachers as a monolith seemingly only because they bargain collectively), which is most certainly untrue.  In fact, I’d suspect that most West Hartford teachers would like to be greater stakeholders in the direction of their school system, and I think, given the right compensation, many teachers would be willing to work a wide variety of schedules.  But to imagine that teachers would work off hours without extra compensatoin  compensation is to be guilty of the kind of thinking that too often seeps into lay conversations about education:  “Teachers aren’t professionals — anybody could do it.”

Meanwhile, Talk of West Hartford has returned with a post that harshly challenges the quality of West Hartford schools at the curricular level, arguing that our shortcomings are rooted in “educational credentials” and that we should “be doing a full examination of what our kids are being taught and how.”  While the post is careful to explictly challenge only administrators and those in charge of curriculum, as in Rick Green’s article, it implicitly maligns (especially through that word “how”) the teachers delivering the instruction.  When the author asks the question “Are they being taught in the most efficient and effective manner?,” the implication is the same old same old — teachers don’t know what they’re doing, and “educational credentials” (like degrees in education and progressing certifications) don’t mean a thing.

I’m not saying all teachers are wonderful.  Like any other job, I’m sure there are some employees who are burnt out, uninterested or focused only on their paycheck. But most of the teachers I know (and I’m surrounded by teachers in my life, so I’m perhaps a bit over-sensitive here) care more about their students than their schedules — and most don’t complain that their compensation, generally speaking, lags behind other professionals with comparable educational backgrounds.  And this constant implicit disrespect doesn’t even touch on the day to day disrespect teachers receive from their students (and the parents of those students).

I fear that the forthcoming contract negotiatons could turn really ugly, and once again pit (at least) two very different West Hartfords against one another.  In this case — as with the referendum we’re staring down — we may be so blinded by our own sense of our town’s identity that we can’t see that, despite our various perspectives, we share our common ground …

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18 Responses to “If You Don’t Like the Teachers …”

  1. sujal said

    thanks for writing this.

    One other thing worth mentioning just as a matter of reference. Those “credentials” are mandated by laws like No Child Left Behind. “Highly Qualified” is how NCLB refers to those requirements.

    I don’t think this challenges what you or ToWH are saying, so I just mention it to make sure that when we start talking about solutions, we understand what laws need to be adjusted or apply.

  2. Greg said

    As the spouse of one of those lazy teachers (who happens to average a 60 hour work week), all I can say is you hit the nail on the head.

    I’m frustrated with the sentiment of people who don’t currently and have never worked as educators but who purport to know so much about what’s wrong with our schools…and blame it all on the teachers.

    I would simply love one of the self-righteously indignant, finger-pointing jerks to spend a week in the shoes of your average fourth grade teacher, and not at one of our so-called “good” schools, either. Class, today’s vocabulary word is “overwhelmed.”

    Also, is it even funny that in any talk about failing schools, there’s always mention of how much teachers get paid, how big a slice of the budget the schools demand, etc.? It all comes back to thinly-veiled budget flogging. It’s never “Gee, I’m really worried about our kids’ futures,” instead it’s always “I’m not gonna pay a lot for this muffler!”

    I’ve never understood the resentment of teachers getting paid what they get paid. Let me assure anyone who’s worried about their kid’s teacher buying herself a new SUV – that one teacher who you see driving a mercedes to work is probably married to a doctor.

  3. whforums said

    @sujal — good point re: NCBL. I haven’t forgotten your requests for the docs I pulled on CAPT and CMT — my Mac comes back from the “Mac doctor” (thank god) this week …

    @Greg — the “I’m not gonna pay a lot for this muffler!” sentiment is right on and has me laughing over my coffee. The public has every right to demand the most cost-efficient edcuation system (as if education is one size-fits all,) but combining most “cost-efficient” with “flexible” can only lead to a system where teachers are not compensated (and thus not treated) as the professionals they are. Show me irritated teachers, I’ll show you a non-functional school. Show me teachers who are working together and happy, and I’ll show you a school where a lot of good things are happening for kids …

  4. […] posts on West Hartford’s schools have prompted me to come out from under my rock:  here, and here.  West Hartford is on the NCLB hit list, yet again.  So who’s to blame?  Teachers?  […]

  5. Cynic said

    We have a system that never seems to reevaluate itself.
    Programs are put in place and never reevaluated to determine success or failure.

    The administration then just adds new programs.
    Teachers should know who the kids in jeopardy are, at the point it would be up to the administration to get them help.

    2 weeks ago when asked at the BOE meeting what was done to help those who performed poorly on the 2007 round of tests Dr. List had no idea. Her DIP will do nothing for another year, it needs to collect data first.

    Tomorrow night we’ll hear the Administration once again tell us that it is the minority, poor, and SPED dragging the Test scores down. But there will be no ideas on addressing the problem.

    BTW, wait until the audit of SPED is made public. It will not be pretty.

    Here’s an idea:
    How about we take a look at all of the State and Fed funds we get (vs what we are promised). Unfortunatly, once you take funds from them you become their whore. Reevaluate our system and look to find the real costs to eduacte our kids and see if we can tell the State and Fed to keep their money and go it alone, thereby getting rid of all of their testing requirements and other mandates that are killing the town.

  6. turtle said

    Reevaluate our system and look to find the real costs to eduacte our kids and see if we can tell the State and Fed to keep their money and go it alone, thereby getting rid of all of their testing requirements and other mandates that are killing the town.

    How will “we” “reevaluate” our system?

    What do you mean by “real costs”? What “unreal costs” do you imagine have been introduced into the system?

    What’s your idea for closing the achievement gap, Cynic? Let’s hear it.

  7. Cynic said

    Costs: it’s called a management audit. All depts and programs evaluated for waste and effectiveness. Are programs duplicating others, can they be streamlined or eliminated?

    Acheivment gap: Ask Tom Moore at Conard. Conard was supposed to be on the AYP list this year. He worked miracles keeping it off the list, and with negligible cost to the taxpayer.

  8. WH Alum said

    Sure, identify the few kids who fit the most subgroups (hispanic, free/reduced lunch, ESL) and focus solely on them. It’s simple math. If you can pull the few up that are causing the issue, you can avoid AYP. I’m not downplaying what Tom did. He should be proud of his staff and his students. Now if all the schools in WH would do that, we won’t get the complaints from the fools who don’t realize it is small groups of kids causing all this raucous. Not small enough, however, to not be counted by AYP. (If you have less than 40 kids in a sub-group, it is not reported.)

  9. whforums said

    “(If you have less than 40 kids in a sub-group, it is not reported.)”

    If this is so, then Bingo, IMHO.

    Bully for Conard for 2007-2008, whether they’re onto something pedagogically that they’re not sharing with the rest of the town (which seems to be the implication in celebrating their performance) or whether they’ve gamed the system or gotten lucky or whatever.

    None of this changes the fact that the progress of a school system can only be measured incrementally over long stretches of time.

    I may be going off-topic a bit, but I read so many things all over the web about the lack of a “relationship” between funding schools and actual school performance. The fact is you need to fund poor districts at higher rates than rich districts to achieve even marginally comparable results. To argue that a dollar spent on the disadvantaged is equivalent to a dollar spent on the advantaged is to mouth one’s privilege while pretending it doesn’t exist.

    Whether we like it or not, as West Hartford’s free and reduced rate rises, we’re going to need to spend more on education, not less.

    Which of course brings me back to the claim that we should be looking for regional solutions, which isn’t going to sell as an argument in WH because, in the context of the two other burgs with “Hartford” in the name, we are the rich ones, and the empowered need to have power taken from them (we all know power doesn’t surrender power freely).

    Some want to argue that property taxes, in the 21st century, are a dreadful way to fund municipalities. And they’re probably right. Some want to argue that our municipalities need to be more efficient, and they’re probably right, too. But you know what? None of this changes the fact that our arbitrary borders are defining our dropout and “at risk” rates and too many of us, rather than doing anything about it, are simply “marching alongside.”

    I’l get off my burnt-out high horse, now — but I guess I need to ask a question, first.

    Life in Hartford County, for a whole lot of people, isn’t going so great. So what are you doing about it? Say what you will about Barabara Carpenter, whether you’re ill-informed or well informed, whether you think she was doing a wonderful job or a terrible job — she was, at least, doing something. More than something — she provided years of service and solutions to the problems we as individuals (and as a town) have faced.

    Such that we might be better off remembering:

    “all men are responsible for one another, and ‘I more than anyone else.'”

  10. turtle said

    WH Alum,

    Those kids are identified, resources are devoted to them, and they do make progress. However, CT has high standards, the goalposts of NCLB keep shifting, and NCLB is underfunded. Kids start school with vastly different levels of “background”, especially in a place like the greater Hartford area where income inequality is dramatic, and you can’t expect the teachers, who in my experience are incredibly committed and hardworking, to compensate for the critical first 5 years of a child’s life and other factors that are simply beyond their control. The good thing about NCLB is that it forces school districts to confront their responsibilities toward these kids, but the solution requires extra teachers and other staff. Now that the federal government is devoting billions to bailing out our laissez-faire buccaneers on Wall Street, I do wonder what will become of it all.

    I agree with Whforums that regionalization should be considered, but it’s pretty much a political nonstarter, isn’t it?

    Meanwhile, nothing will disturb Cynic’s fondly held notion that the district doesn’t evaluate its budget for “waste and inefficiencies”. Same story year after year.

  11. Bluemaggy said

    Interesting comment about evaluating inefficiencies. Isn’t that what testing does, isn’t that what analysis should be doing? We do it for the students, how about the programs that we have? Take hard look at the several different reading programs in town, add in the grant we just got, yet 30% of our kids need remedial help in 1st and 2nd grade. It isn’t just race or economics there. I have yet to see any evaluation that shows the warts and all come out of this school administration or the town council for that matter. What Cynic and others are looking for is using resources effectively and there is a whole tax me more contingent who won’t even support an evaluation. Kind of scary isn’t it?

  12. turtle said

    It isn’t just race or economics here.

    You know this how? Are you an educator or a researcher? Have you worked with underperforming children in the public schools? Which “warts” are you referring to, specifically? Could you tell us all what a “forensic audit” actually is? Where did you get that 30% stat, by the way?

    Kind of scary isn’t it?

    Fearmongering: the default tactic of the right.

  13. Bluemaggy said

    Yes, I have been a researcher, I have worked with underperforming children in this school system. The warts, how many reading programs do we have? Too many . Research ( Pediatrics) has good research about effective reading programs and we aren’t doing it. Funny, I never said audit, let alone forensic audit. I said evaluation- what programs do we have, how many students, how many teachers, what works well, what can be improved, what doesn’t need to be done anymore? The 30% came from administration.

    Not scary, just good business practice that some people in this town are afraid to follow.

  14. turtle said

    How many reading programs do we have?

    I give up. How many?

    I said evaluation- what programs do we have, how many students, how many teachers, what works well, what can be improved, what doesn’t need to be done anymore?

    What do you think the administration does all day?

    Not scary, just good business practice that some people in this town are afraid to follow.

    Hey, you said “Kind of scary isn’t it?”. And oh no! It’s “some people”! Some people say…that some people…are afraid. Kind of scary, isn’t it?

    Government is not a business. It is this notion that has got taxpayers on the hook for $400 billion to bail out…business. But I digress.

    We can all agree the district should use effective reading programs. Could you be more specific about the programs that you think are inadequate? Which program would you prefer to see implemented and why?

    Thanks.

  15. turtle said

    Oops. That was wishful thinking.

    $700 billion.

    My friends.

  16. Cynic said

    Turtle, pull your head out of your shell.

    That $700 billion you referred to was caused by the same problem the Town is encountering. Elected officials and supervisory personel (on both sides) not doing their jobs.

    The reeval and reassment does not go on in the Town.
    The 30-40% reading problem in 1st and 2nd grade was mentioned to me by a BOE member, it’s not a secret.

    When Tom Moore described what he had done at Conard, Dr. List looked clueless as to what was going on. In case you forgot, Conard was predicted to be on the AYP list this year, Tom kept it off.

    In the end, the BOE and Administration are going to have no choice but to look at everything. The State has no money, so we’ll be getting less from them. The Taxpayers in the Town are hurting, in case you havn’t noticed. The sytem is starting to crumble and your beloved Council, BOE and School Administration want to keep their heads in the sand. They are going to have to relize that the days of 6.5% tax increases are at their end.

  17. turtle said

    That $700 billion you referred to was caused by the same problem the Town is encountering. Elected officials and supervisory personel (on both sides) not doing their jobs.

    That is priceless.

    Invasion of Iraq?

    …caused by the same problem the Town is encountering. Elected officials and supervisory personel (on both sides) not doing their jobs!

    Corruption and incompetence of federal agencies?

    …caused by the same problem the Town is encountering. Elected officials and supervisory personel (on both sides) not doing their jobs!

    Abuse of power by the executive?

    …caused by the same problem the Town is encountering. Elected officials and supervisory personel (on both sides) not doing their jobs!

    We could play this game all day.

  18. soccer mom said

    In response to Rick Greene’s article on Barbara Carpenter’s decision to resign as WHEA President. She is an extremely insightful person who intuitively understands when a group of individuals are not willing to maximize the negotiation process as a means to increase communication with administration, and have meaningful discourse which will begin to change the educational culture of our schools. Instead these issues are left off the table..it is reduced to salary and insurance ..just look at the mess..
    looks as if the town is headed towards another costly binding arbitration award. Who is to blame?

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