How Low Can You Go?
Our state legislature recently passed three major educational reform bills. The first one significantly restricts collective bargaining by local unions. The second mandates a pay-for-performance model based on schoolwide achievement, and the third requires increased use of technology and online learning for high school students. Other than the pay-for-performance bill, introduction of these bills was done without input from educators or stakeholders. The State Superintendent released his plan at the beginning of the legislative season as his Students Come First plan proclaiming Idaho schools would achieve more with less.
Hundreds of people testified to the Senate Education and House Education Committees, mostly in opposition to the proposals. While some adjustments to the bills were made, the increased reduction in funding (for the third year in a row) is causing districts to increase class size, eliminate programs, and cut discretionary spending to the bone. Funding has further been reduced to pay for the technology and pay-for-performance bills.
Balancing budgets is nothing new. Implementing mandates is nothing new. The unexpected devastation has come in the form of a direct hit on morale. After reading an article in the Washington Post, written by Kathie Marshall, a veteran public school teacher in California who is a member of the Teacher Leaders Network and the Accomplished California Teachers group, one teacher sent this email to me:
I don’t have much that’s concrete to say, but I wanted to let you know that I FEEL the sentiments of the author of this article boiling beneath the surface among many teachers here at THS -- anger, disenfranchisement, discontent, general morose, a feeling of being unappreciated by society, district, supervisors...
Times are tough for everyone in education, obviously, and for a lot of different reasons. There’s no one simple explanation and neither will there be one simple answer. But I do hope that, at a time when society at large and the state’s politicians are choosing to condemn and scapegoat public school teachers in so many ways, Lakeland will deliberately choose to deny and refute these condemnatory attitudes. If the district administration truly believes in, supports, and appreciates its teaching faculties across its many programs, I hope that it will find deliberate ways of saying so during these times when the message from nearly every other direction speaks the opposite. I don’t know what this would look like exactly, but I do think that explicit efforts to publicly say to faculties and the community that teachers in general (and at Lakeland in particular) are NOT to blame for America’s education troubles, would be a powerful and helpful gesture.
Thanks for letting me vent, basically.
Chris Sabatke, Physics/Math teacher
The sentiment of this teacher is not unlike many in our district. As our Leadership Team is wrestling with all that is coming our way, facing the dilemma of an all time low in morale among staff begs the question, “How do we make certain our good people feel valued, appreciated, and protected?”
Our PLC journey has taught us to celebrate, stay focused on the three big ideas, and re-imagine.
We will continue to celebrate all that is amazing. Our eleven schools have met AYP targets for the past three years. We have a 98% graduation rate districtwide. The Secondary Principal of the Year, the Middle School Principal of the Year, the Assistant Principal of the Year and the Rookie Elementary Principal of the Year for the state are members of our team.
We will continue our steadfast focus on learning, collaboration, and results. As a professional learning community, this is our greatest strength.
As we face each new mandate, our first question will be, “How will this new requirement help us help our students?” We will turn each mandate into an opportunity to re-imagine our pedagogy of possibilities.
We will face these new challenges as professionals, not victims. We are that good, that strong, that determined. That is the Lakeland Way.
This is for you, Chris.