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Luck of the Draw

If you’re an elementary principal, what do you say to parents new to the district if they ask you which classroom placement would be best for their child?

Empty classroom  I dreaded that question from parents of new kindergartners in particular.  Out of the 10 sections of kindergarten in my school, I would have with confidence placed any child in 8 of them.  The ninth was iffy, and the 10th well, it was clear to me that kids in her room, despite our best efforts, would not have a good year.  And by the way, those “best efforts” included extra training, mentoring, and a plan for improvement.  Any change in her performance, however, was slight and short-lived.

She wasn’t terrible enough for dismissal, an arduous, expensive process that may or may not have yielded good results either for her or for the district.  But I knew in my heart that I would not place my own personal child in her classroom as the child’s initiation to 13 years of schooling.  She was simply not good enough.

Of course, parents who knew better (or had had an older child in her classroom) requested someone else – anyone else.  So allowing for parent requests, gender distribution, ability grouping, etc., this teacher’s class was usually under-enrolled.  Consequently, new parents invariably had their child assigned there.

Blogger Sara Mead says she pities the poor elementary principals in LA who may be besieged by parents who saw their child’s teacher’s poor scores in the paper and want their child moved.  I too can commiserate with the principal who has to explain to parents that value added means nothing.  And there is a limit to what you can do a few days before school begins.  You can’t have some teachers with 40 kids in a classroom and others with 15. 

So it will be a difficult start for some LA elementary schools.  But it may begin to resolve the ethical dilemma we all face as principals.  

Comments

I understand how tough a principal's job is!

That said, this post makes me further resolved that the system must be changed. It sounds like leadership team members, other teachers, parents, and even students know that this teacher is no good. Sure, she's not doing anything egregious enough to be dismissed, such as hitting a child, but she's doing a huge amount of harm to the precious minds in her classroom by not adequately preparing them for first grade!

How sad that anywhere between 16 and 24 children are "stuck" with here each year, receiving at best a mediocre education, while their peers are allowed the chance at a better teacher. What message does this send to families and children? "Sorry, adorable 5-year-olds. We're sending you to the teacher we know is terrible but can't fire. You'll struggle in the next few years, but we'll try to get you a good reading remediation program later on!"

For all the talk from our current president and his administration about teachers needing to be the best of the best and reforming education, we are still stuck with a system that makes it impossible to dismiss an ineffective teacher. This would not happen in the business world. Not doing her job to the best of her ability? Fired. Unfortunately, in the job where we truly need to have the best teachers doing their personal best every day, the system sticks us with teachers like this, whom principals just do their best to work around. Fair to kids? I think not.

I understand how tough a principal's job is!

That said, this post makes me further resolved that the system must be changed. It sounds like leadership team members, other teachers, parents, and even students know that this teacher is no good. Sure, she's not doing anything egregious enough to be dismissed, such as hitting a child, but she's doing a huge amount of harm to the precious minds in her classroom by not adequately preparing them for first grade!

How sad that anywhere between 16 and 24 children are "stuck" with here each year, receiving at best a mediocre education, while their peers are allowed the chance at a better teacher. What message does this send to families and children? "Sorry, adorable 5-year-olds. We're sending you to the teacher we know is terrible but can't fire. You'll struggle in the next few years, but we'll try to get you a good reading remediation program later on!"

For all the talk from our current president and his administration about teachers needing to be the best of the best and reforming education, we are still stuck with a system that makes it impossible to dismiss an ineffective teacher. This would not happen in the business world. Not doing her job to the best of her ability? Fired. Unfortunately, in the job where we truly need to have the best teachers doing their personal best every day, the system sticks us with teachers like this, whom principals just do their best to work around. Fair to kids? I think not.

Great comment. You might be interested in David Leonhardt's article in last Sunday's NY Times. It's called "When Does Holding Teachers Accountable Go Too Far" (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/05/magazine).

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