Sunday, December 12, 2010

Your child, the draft pick 2

Another friend, a high school teacher, told a story about the influence of class rosters on teacher effectiveness.

Some (perhaps most) schools deal out students like cards, from the top of the deck to the bottom. It literally is a draft pick with the principal doling out the students. That way, the teachers all get roughly equal numbers of easy and difficult students.

One year, my friend's school was surprised by high enrollment figures and needed to hire an extra teacher. The district process took about 5 weeks and the students were told that 5-6 volunteers from each of the other classes would be transferred to the new teacher when he arrived. The students were also told that the volunteers would be given tabula rasa (a blank slate) on grades when they moved to the new class.

Not surprisingly, all of the kids that transferred to the new class were the kids that wanted to extend their summer vacation by 5 weeks. ;-) The volunteers in her class stopped doing work and she had no hold over them. She just taught the kids that chose to stay. A few weeks later, the volunteers left.

That was her best teaching year ever. Absent the 5-6 discipline problems in every classroom, she could focus more time on lessons. They covered more material and in greater depth than ever before. The kids in the class were more engaged and less inhibited in classroom discussions. It was great all around.

It wasn't until the next year, when she was chatting with the other teachers about the past year, that they realized that they had ALL had their best teaching year ever.

The rookie teacher hired at the last minute to teach all of the problem students/volunteers? He left the teaching profession after that one year.

As my friend told this story, I could tell she was clearly ambivalent about her role in the affair. Should she and the other teachers have noticed and spoke up about the nonrandomness of the assignment process? Should the principal have used a fairer system?

We have an expression, "eating our young". I think that the seniority-based system for teachers and the two-tiered wage/benefit structures in other industries are forms of eating our young. Some schools in LAUSD lost more than half their teachers, including many highly effective ones, during recent layoffs.

In part 3 of the draft pick series, I will explore why 'fast learners' are no longer grouped together in elementary schools.

(Your child, the draft pick 1 deals with uneven assignments of problem students. It isn't always favoritism. There are good reasons to assign challenging students to certain teachers, such as safety and common languages.)

1 comment:

  1. This is an interesting series of posts. I have a sick baby (again...) so I'm too brain-fried to form a coherent comment. But I wanted to tell you that I'm reading and enjoying!

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