Hawaii Teachers Reject RTT: What Did Arne Expect?

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

Politically motivated program, “Race to the Top” (RTT), hits state politics head on. What did Arne Duncan expect? By putting political goals into an education program, the Department of Education has ensured problems would arise.

(Valerie Strauss, “Hawaii Teachers Reject Contract in ‘Blow’ to Race to the Top,” Washington Post, 1.21.12.)

The Hawaii state teachers have rejected the RTT contract that required performance-dependent teacher evaluation and compensation for the simple reason that no teacher evaluation system shows an accuracy that would guarantee rewarding better teachers.

We can have national curriculum guidelines without harming education. RTT put some of Secretary Duncan’s personal preferences ahead of good education practice. Eliminating tenure would have much more benefit than these uncertain teacher evaluation programs. However, dropping tenure opens up the potential for schools firing the most experienced teachers to save money in times of stress. Instead, we might have a system where the teacher firing process has standards that increased over time so that teachers who have proven themselves for fifteen years would be more difficult to fire than those with only a five-year record.

It’s unclear exactly how best to fix things in the existing system, and I’d like to see comments from others. Moving forward, I would like to see higher pay for teachers tied to better qualifications and a way to eliminate tenure as it now stands. Getting a lifetime job after just three years makes no sense to me. Universities require seven years. Our K-12 schools are more important to our country.

[Updated 1.23.12, 3:30pm.]

7 Responses

  1. It seems to me by equating K-12 tenure with University tenure, you seriously distort the reality. Public school teachers with tenure can still be removed for any number of well-documented causes. The tenure kerfuffle primarily results from administrators being unwilling to do the documentation that is required to remove an incompetent or inadequate teacher. They simply want the unfettered power of a private sector employer to fire without cause.

    • That documentation can require a year or more of time. University professors can be removed for cause as well.

  2. I have worked a lot in teaching. There are hidden variables that do not show when people talk about longevity in the teaching system. I personally opted out to go to Europe for a few years, out of the first teaching situation. I had worked three and one half years and I was depressed about the state of the art of teaching and the way in which
    whatever there was , was limited for minorities.

    I re-entered teaching with the mission of helping kids and communities in Washington DC, and was not able to achieve my mission. The people working with me , did not esteem the children we were teaching.
    In fact many of the teachers went to the waterfront for lunch, leaving the new teachers on the playground for an hour , to hold down the fort. So I moved back to a better school system.

    There was a time in education when there was team teaching, and there was creativity allowed within schools. I am lucky that I was able to participate in that kind of teaching. We used resources from NASA, National Geographic, and Earthwatch. We started the use of technology. Project based learning was beginning to start and
    then, Nation at Risk came out and my principal absolutely lost her mind in an effort to use the book as her mantra for teaching and learning.

    And this was before the testing , testing , testing stuff started.

    Being a teacher in one place means that you may not be qualified to move to another place. I don’t know about university, but teachers cannot take their programs for retirement with them. So you can see I really did not care about the certification First Arlington PS<. DODDS schools in Germany, Then DC Schools . My mother was from a rural area and she wanted one of her children to help our people. I am not sure how I became the one to do the job.

    So I returned to Arlington , and worked there for a long time.
    Salary is a joke in teaching. Politics is the enemy of a good teacher.
    The king of a school is the principal and you know that there are personalities that clash. So what I did was to move when I found that to be a problem. Teaching science was a problem. Teaching real math was a problem. using technology was a problem. Working for the President in creating the ideas for the use of technology was a problem. I am not sure that being a minority was a problem, but maybe that too. The best day of my teaching life was when a teacher who picked on me all the time , made a mistake. She stuck her head into my room and said… ( the President of the NEA was there to see my
    working space) " I am going home. It is four o'clock. You can be an idiot and stay and work, but it will not do you any good. Besides, I am best friends with the principal , your goose is cooked."

    I loved reading the article that he wrote to share this experience..

    Teaching can be torture. Being a teacher mid career has a lot of
    problems. In my mid career, business people came in with a retirement and they played the political game with the principals. So we some of us moved again. THe only wonderful thing about testing is that those people who were blowing smoke, were measured too, and found wanting. Loved it. Absolutely loved that.

    Teaching is basically a thankless job unless you love it and love children and want to make a difference. Nothing can be taken for granted. Nothing. I loved my teaching career and I was good at it, but Tom Carroll and Chris Dede talked about artisanal teachers and teaching. I was firm that I knew what I was doing because I was working with the George Lucas Educational Foundation and being
    involved with many experts, reading and taking notes on best practices and my students were successful. I love Facebook because I hear from them and I know that my work made a difference. My children tested so high that middle school teachers found me to be a problem.


    Bonnie Bracey Sutton


    • I had a great time teaching (at the university level) but a horrible time with very petty university politics. It’s bad enough that the politicians enjoy kicking education around as sport, but having to endure silly political posturing among colleagues is the pits.

      My son entered teaching at a highly-rated high schools and absolutely hated the politics of the place. It was even worse in high school than in my university. He did not plan on a teaching career but was interested in substitute teaching. He did not have credentials but did have a Sc.B. in physics from Brown University. So, they asked him to be a full-time teacher. How crazy is that? Then, he had to take ed school classes at night, which were trivial and worthless. He was assigned a mentor who never saw him after the first day. All but one of his fellow colleagues shunned him because of the politics of his hiring.

      They gave this Brown physics graduate general science and chemistry to teach, including the misfit 6th period of general science. Sixth period is the time for team sports. General science is the non-college-track science course. His inexperience led to problems. The politics led as far as character assassination. By the end of the school year, he had given up putting any real effort into his classes. Yet, he was liked by the students who scored higher on state tests than those of the other teachers. Needless to say, he dropped the idea of continuing that career.

      Here was a brilliant teacher who really connected with the students. Yet, without training or support, his experience was so bad that he left teaching.

      All of the above is just to say, Bonnie, that I sympathize with what you’re writing.

  3. Harry, here is a link to another solid discussion of what we are talking about.

    I am hghly qualified and overtrained in STEM and was pushed out of teaching because of it and now , people are asking what happened?
    Here is what happened to a lot of people.

    This is from the Answer Sheet/Washington Post.

    How the war on teachers is changing the profession
    A veteran education details just how the teaching profession is being changed as evaluation systems are being implemented that rely on test scores. You will find it quite Interesting.


    I always enjoy discussing ideas with you.

    • We’re stuck in a really bad place without many options. Teacher pay, relative to cost of living, and teacher esteem has declined. It’s no wonder that teacher quality, on average, has also declined and student learning has followed. Those results give encouragement to those who wish to savage teachers and their unions.

      I believe that teacher unions made a big mistake in not standing up to districts in salary discussions and instead settling for benefits such as tenure. Why should teachers have a different job security than other workers? BTW, I think that retirement plans deserve a separate discussion and, along with health plans, apply broadly to all workers.

      There’s no quick fix. Begin by raising teacher pay to match that of other college graduates. Follow up by raising hiring standards such as college GPA combined with college standing and recommendations. If you don’t get enough applications, raise the pay some more. If we cannot afford a good education for our children, we might as well just pack it in now and settle down to be a second-class nation. Screw the anti-tax nuts. They’re killing our country.

      The next step is changing teacher training. From what little I have seen with my own son taking ed school courses, there is little of value there. Drop some part of this requirement and replace it with an apprenticeship requirement. Make the ed school courses more practical. They’re not training future ed school professors, after all. Also, ensure real academic rigor in all of them, not just the big name schools.

      Finally, make teacher support real. I saw my son almost destroyed by a complete lack of support and by truly nasty intra-school and intra-department politics. His students did very well on their tests and even liked him, but he could not handle the stress of zero and even negative support. He left teaching and will not return unless he’s independently wealthy and can tell the other teachers and administrators to go to hell if he wishes.

      The professional development programs I’ve seen are a joke. Everyone knows it, and many teachers just grade papers during them.

      Some teachers just stop trying. They go through the motions until retirement rescues the students. I don’t blame them, given the situation, but our students shouldn’t have to suffer.

      Teaching can be really easy or enormously difficult depending on how you approach it. It’s hard work for those who care and would like to make a difference. If they have some teaching talent, then the satisfaction may match up to the effort, but so should the pay. It’s hard work for those whose personalities are not suited to the job. They should just be eased out quickly.

      Some are willing to play school politics and create lesson plans for three years and then wash, rinse, and repeat for the rest of their careers. How do we replace them? They do nothing wrong and nothing right.

      At the bottom of all of this is the simple fact that it’s too important to play games with. Race to the Top is a political game. Demonizing teachers and/or their unions is a nasty game. Pretending to want the best for students while really seeking to privatize our schools for the purpose of profit is another game. Vouchers are a game intended to leave the poorest of our childen in the shambles of public schools that remain after their impact is felt fully.

      The miracle of the good teachers who stick it out is the only reason that the children of our ordinary citizens can think at all, have any creativity left, and have pride in their ability to create anything. You shouldn’t have to depend on luck or your zip code to guarantee a good education. It should be the birthright of all, a constitutional right in this country of opportunity.

      Ask yourself why so many of our new entrepreneurial businesses are started by immigrants. Your willingness to take risks and your ability to think out the processes necessary to make a new business are rooted in your education, both formal and informal.

      Soon, would-be entrepreneurs will find other countries more hospitable. If we’re not creating our own, we’ll languish and decline. The American spirit should not have to be imported. It should flourish here within a schooling system that rewards thinking differently and encourages experimentation by not punishing mistakes.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: