Teacher turnover nationwide is 15% per year--and 20% in high-needs schools. Almost half of teachers leave within their first five years. With all the perks--free or subsidized health care, union representation, and all that vacation time--why are so many teachers "dropping out" of the profession?
I couldn't help but feel some sympathy for the teachers and principal who participated in this cheating scandal, despite its inherent dishonesty. The students in this middle school were learning, as one of the teachers interviewed in the article points out; however, they simply came in without requisite skills to meet certain scores on these tests. By changing the kids' answers to boost scores, the school was able receive extra funds and grants to provide students with a variety of clubs, trips, enrichment opportunities, and most importantly, avoid closure.
A study by the Annenberg Group showed that in fact, overwhelmingly, these late-enrollers are placed almost exclusively in failing schools, perpetuating the intractably low graduation rates, and thus giving Department of Education higher-ups seemingly air-tight reasons to close down the "Big Schools" for low performance and create new "Small Schools" to replace them.
Ultimately I think the work of fostering good social behavior is equally important to endowing kids with good academic skills, and that schools--for better of worse--are responsible for both.
When the test on which teachers will be evaluated simply offers no incentive for students to complete it, it's hard to imagine a worse indicator of teacher efficacy.
What struggling students most need is time one-on-one with teachers, or at the very least, time with a teacher in small groups. But when class size is capped at 34, as it is in high schools under the NYC Department of Education, it's nearly impossible for these students to get their needs met.
As an English teacher, what I appreciated most about the book "The Fault in Our Stars" was that it pushed the kids to contemplate "deep questions" in an enjoyable manner, without relying on the promise of a plot "payoff" in the form of sex, violence, or mythical beasts.
Discipline ends up being a sort of "zero to 60" system, wherein students' negative in-school behaviors are either not addressed at all, or dealt with in such a draconian manner as to have life-long repercussions. This needs to change.
Removing policies that place poor kids at a disadvantage when applying to elite colleges, and instituting ones that will afford them better chances to graduate, will certainly yield long-term dividends in the fight against systemic social inequality.
In inner-city schools such as ours, Advanced Placement courses and exams bring many challenges--but that makes our students' successes that much sweeter.