As a teacher at an alternative high school designed for overage students, I am constantly reminded of the deep inequity in our educational system. The majority of my students enter into high school several years behind grade level academically. For them to become prepared for college and career, I must be the strongest teacher possible. But it’s not only my effectiveness that matters. My students need every teacher in the school to be strong.
That’s why I think that school leaders — those closest to the action — should be empowered to use performance measures to decide which teachers should be in front of our children. That is, personnel decisions should not be based solely on seniority, and they should not be subject to the political forces of a school board. I strongly believe that these components of Louisiana’s Act 1 — which were recently ruled unconstitutional by a state district judge — should be reinstated this upcoming legislative session.
I’d like to tell the story of one my students, “Joseph.” Joseph failed the eighth grade LEAP test twice. He entered into high school at the age of 17. At that point, many people had written him off. But as a result of his determination, coupled with the collective work of his teachers, Joseph is now one year away from graduation, and is on track to be eligible for the TOPS college scholarship.
Not every student is like Joseph. Too many students struggle with the curriculum and fail to meet the demands of standardized tests. Too many students drop out. It doesn’t have to be that way, though. I truly believe that if every classroom is filled with a high-performing teacher, we can solve educational inequity. In order to do that, principals must be able to make the decisions that are right for our children.
I understand veteran teachers’ concern over using student performance data for serious personnel decisions. But what is the alternative? In 2010, 98 percent of public school teachers in Louisiana earned “satisfactory” evaluations, yet 30 percent of Louisiana’s students scored below grade level. To me that’s unacceptable, and policymakers must come together again to address this issue.
Our focus should be to ensure that every child has access to excellent teachers. And we need principals who have the ability to identify and reward highly effective teachers, and — while it’s uncomfortable to discuss — fire those who are not providing the high-quality instruction our children deserve. Joseph must not be the exception, and that’s why it’s important to reinstate the performance and principal autonomy components of Act 1 — let’s stand together and do the right thing for the children of Louisiana.
Orleans Parish teacher