Thinking about School Reform

This week Handsome Canadian Husband’s check contained an extra $240. The check stub said this money was for ‘lunchtime activities.’

“Lunchtime activities?” wondered HCH, “I don’t do any lunchtime activities. After we imagined what we might do with an extra $240 dollars this month, HCH, honest guy that he is, trudged to the superintendent’s office to return the dough. Imagine our delight and surprise when the superintendent’s secretary told HCH he had earned the money fair and square. How? By teaching an overage. At his school an overage is defined by any number of students over a maximum agreed to by the school district and the teachers union..  One extra student? you receiveextra pay, figured out on a mysterious formula. HCH laughed. “One more kid? How would I notice anyway.”

The timing of this conversation was remarkable, since just this very day, I had read in The Washington Post that the Gates Foundation has suggested this very plan as a school reform measure. Find the top 25% of teachers working in any school, ask them to teach four or five extra kids, and pay them extra to do it. Apparently, according to a Gates Foundation survey, 83% of teachers polled had said they would be willing to teach more kids for more pay.

So (imagining one more airplane ticket, a few extra nights out, a new couch) I asked HCH what he thoughtabout this plan. Suddenly, he grew serious. “Really, Tanya? 5 more kids? I already teach so many compared to what I taught in (that other state where we used to live). Don’t get me wrong,” he continued, “I like, really like, the students that I teach now. I just feel like I don’t do some of them justice. It’s always the kids in the middle that get hurt by plans like these. I do my best work when I can get to every kid in a class period. Talk to them, see their work, hear their voices. That’s really hard when there are more than 30 kids in the room.”

The Gates Foundation strives to improve education through many initiatives and is funding a number of research projects to help us understand what makes good teachers good and how to make schools better.  In the Washington Post  argue that we don’t yet know what makes good teachers good. But there is a lot of research that points to a single factor shared by many successful educators — responsiveness — defined by the number and quality of  interactions the teacher has with  individual students. One thing we do know about our best teachers is that they walk around the room, talk to students, check their work, offer ‘just in time’ help (good job HCH).

On the surface, there is nothing wrong with getting more kids in front of the best teachers.  But if, in putting them there, you actually make it harder for those teachers to do their best work, then that actually doesn’t solve our problems, does it?

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About Tanya B

A working mother, engaged in the good work of protecting public education for all mothers' children
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