Our Views: Stress test for teachers

By the numbers, according to state and local officials, there are not that many more teachers leaving the classroom than in past years. Nor, they say, do the reasons teachers give for quitting or taking retirement change that much.

All of that may be true, although in some parishes — such as Lafayette, where schools have been reorganized — the overall numbers of teachers leaving might be higher.

Even if all of the above is true, a common-sense observation is in order: The job of teacher is getting harder.

Not just because of any particular state law or potential change in retirement benefits, nor even the challenges of teaching to higher academic standards. It’s not just that change is difficult, and even the positive changes pushed in Lafayette and Jefferson parishes, for example, require shaking up schools.

All those may feed into a teacher deciding to hang it up, even if, as in Jefferson and in Lafayette, there is a trend of rising performance scores in schools. In New Orleans, the market for teachers is one of the more complex stories in the nation, with charter schools recruiting against each other -— and the state’s Recovery School District recently announced it is going to charter its remaining schools in the city.

If change is sometimes necessary, and sometimes difficult, it is also sometimes a process that looks better once one has been through it.

That is why we see both reasons for concern but not necessarily an alarm signal in teacher retirements and resignations lately.

The concern is that some teachers really, really don’t like the first iterations of what is now a national trend, accountability assessments for individual teachers, which rely heavily on test scores.

“There are instances of students scoring better on pretest than the post-test,” one award-winning former Lafayette teacher, now in the Catholic system, told The Advocate.

“I don’t care how bad of a teacher you are, you’re not going to make a student less intelligent. Come see my classroom. Walk in any time. Evaluate me seven days out of the week. Just make it fair.”

For superintendents at the state and local levels, these kinds of defections hurt. However much one can point out that teachers have been involved at every step in developing the new assessments, it’s going to be a bumpy process to the new normal.

But the new normal is what it is going to be: “Since 2009 the vast majority of states have made significant changes to how teachers are evaluated for the main purpose of improving instruction,” reports a study by the Center for Public Education, part of the National School Boards Association.

“Louisiana’s been last in the country for the last decade,” Lafayette Parish Superintendent Pat Cooper notes. “We can’t expect to do the same things and expect to get better. I do think there is some value to COMPASS (teacher assessments) and the Core Standards that we need to recognize.”

Public or private, charter or traditional, each school will need as many effective teachers as it can find in the next few years, but all will probably see significant change in the same time frame in the way the jobs are structured and evaluated.

That is part of the landscape of public education for the foreseeable future.