You are here

Supervisors Opinion

california money

When California voters passed Proposition 30 last November, known as the “Temporary Taxes to Fund Education” bill, the nation waited to see what would happen in a bellwether state that often signals coming trends in other states. Proposition 30 was passed through a broad coalition of teachers, labor, business, and law enforcement, and with support from the governor and major funding from the California Teachers Association.

Social media tools like Facebook, Myspace, Instagram, Google+ and Flickr are potentially exciting learning and teaching tools that can help teachers and students make connections to ideas, skills and concepts in a 21st-century learning environment. However, social media are getting a bad rap in education. Some students use the tools in ways that pit their First Amendment rights against their responsibilities as students in brick-and-mortar schools.

I’m not a Luddite, or even a technophobe. I just don’t have time to waste on technology that promises the world but fails to deliver. I’m the “show me” administrator, the doubting Thomas of school leaders. I write not about the latest and greatest technology for those administrators on the avant garde. Rather, this is a cautionary tale about letting the digital cognoscenti dash ahead to pastures new while we figure out how tried and tested technology can help us now.

In the debate over the use of value-added analysis of student data to evaluate teachers, there seems to have been an assumption that teacher evaluation alone is an effective way to improve teacher performance. Or at its crudest level, there is an acceptance that the use of value-added data analysis will lead school administrators to replace bad or mediocre teachers with effective teachers. One of the reasons that so many teachers are skeptical about this movement is that they realize teacher evaluation does not really make them better teachers, at least using traditional methods.

On April 6, 2010, Jack O'Connell held a press conference to announce that California faced a teacher shortage. The state's superintendent of public instruction cited anticipated retirements over the next ten years, teacher attrition through layoffs, and a break in the supply line from teacher preparation universities as major factors in creating a critical shortage of teachers in the state. After a lull in the past five years, student enrollment in California is predicted to grow, creating a mismatch between supply and demand for teachers.

Who would want to be a new teacher these days? Only the very hardy, that's for sure. Most of you can probably remember your first teaching assignment—the unruly student, the difficult parent, the office manager with the key to the office supplies just beyond your reach. New-teacher travails, mishaps and mistakes are a staple of lunchroom legend. It's much tougher now.

The education community has rightly identified teacher quality as the key factor in improving student achievement. Most people would now agree that students must have top quality teachers if students are to reach their potential. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) made teacher quality and accountability central in the debate on education.

It has been another tough spring for school districts across the nation. The economic crisis of the past two years is hitting school systems hard as districts plan for the 2010-2011 school year. State support to schools continues to decline, and the "soft landing" afforded by federal stimulus monies is a thing of the past. School districts must cut costs but find their options constrained by restrictive labor agreements in addition to the collective bargaining process itself. If ever there was a time for a new approach to bargaining, it is now.

While investigating a tip that a student had a picture of another, partially nude, female student on his cell phone, Ting-Yei Oei, assistant principal at Freedom High School in Loudoun County, Va., asked the student to e-mail the picture to his own cell phone. This seemingly tech-savvy way to preserve physical evidence had devastating consequences for Oei. The incident led to angry accusations from a parent, an investigation by police, and Oei's being charged with "failure to report child abuse" and felony possession of child pornography.

Teacher quality is the most crucial component in promoting student learning. For all the controversy about No Child Left Behind, one underlying emphasis of the federal law that is irrefutable is the importance placed on teacher quality. Therefore, a school organization committed to excellence must recruit and select outstanding teachers. The Obama administration also recognizes the importance of teacher quality. Teacher excellence is a foundation of the Race to the Top funds, competitive grants available to states as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).