A few days ago, I posted a letter by Troy LaRaviere, a principal in a Chicago elementary school, protesting the administration’s indifference to the views of the system’s professionals. He wrote boldly about efforts to stifle criticism and enforce a compliant attitude.
Happily he is not alone. Another principal Adam Parrott-Scheffer, principal of Peterson Elementary School, has joined in protest in the pages of Catalyst.
Parrott-Scheffer says he was supportive of the “reform” agenda. But he became increasingly alienated as he encountered total disrespect for the voice of teachers and principals.
“Most policies enacted over the past two years demonstrate both a complete incompetence in the ability of this administration to implement anything effectively, and an intentional disregard and disrespect of those charged with improving the lives of our city’s children on a day-to-day basis.”
Implementation of the reforms has been so poor, it borders on malpractice. So, for example, when teachers were given a new evaluation system,
“…there was little district-wide thought given to training and developing teachers on what level of performance was expected of them on each criterion. The bulk of the decisions related to this tool were made during summer 2012, so teachers had, at most, one to two days to understand this major shift in expectations. It was only through that fall’s strike that teachers were able to negotiate a much-needed practice year with the rubric….
“As troubling as the introduction of the new teacher evaluation system was, the rollout of the revised principal evaluation system comparatively looked like operational excellence. The 18-page rubric evaluating 34 indicators of principal success was not finalized until the beginning of February of the year it would first be used. It was provided to principals for the first time in the middle of February, and principals were told they would be evaluated on it beginning three days later.
“This meant that school leaders were not even provided the expectations for their work until more than two-thirds of the school year had already passed. Common sense would suggest that CPS should have introduced the new tool the following school year to allow principals adequate time to understand it, but this was not the path it chose. CPS crammed two principal evaluations into the final three months of the school year and linked these ratings to job retention.”
The incompetence of the system frustrated educators, but hurt children.
While Mayor Rahm Emanuel boasts of his great victory—a longer school day–principal Parrott-Scheffer tells a different story. He writes:
“The longer school day added 30 minutes to my school’s day. Of that time, 15 minutes were allocated to “transition,” or moving through the hallway. Another 15 minutes extended teacher preparatory time and gave students additional time in art, music, physical education, technology, and library. The impact of this change was that it became more difficult to run after-school or before-school programs, and we lost 30 minutes of collaborative time each week. After two years of implementation, I would be hard-pressed to claim that our students have reaped any instructional benefit from this increased time, especially when I consider the strain on my school caused by the two-week strike.
“CPS now expects its schools to provide daily physical education classes and intervention blocks, as well as several hours each week of arts instruction and English Language Learning intervention. This instruction is obviously important, but CPS did nothing to enable principals to really enact these new initiatives. It has been incredibly difficult to find time in the instructional day on top of two-hour literacy blocks and other lengthened core subject times, much less the accounting around how to fund these positions when the resources are not provided to cover all the mandates.
“CPS has left principals with the choice of where to fail students, rather than the choice of how to ensure each student has an education that is holistic, community-based, collaborative, evidence-based, equitable, and student-centered.”
When more and more school leaders are willing to tell the truth, the politicians won’t be able to fool the public. The time has come for collaboration and respect. Politicians should not take responsibility for pedagogy. Those who work in the schools must be treated as professionals and encouraged to share their best work. The adults responsible for educating children should operate in an atmosphere of trust, not fear and blaming.
Such a change will happen as veteran educators speak out, fearlessly, to defend their students and their profession.