WBUR

Despite Bad Grades, Many Boston Teachers Stay In Class

BOSTON — Ask any student if they’ve had a bad teacher and they’ll tell you stories. I sat down with a few Boston high school students after school where they work together on a magazine for teens.

“I’ve had this teacher, she’ll like cry in class for the whole entire period,” says DeShannah Temple, a sophomore at Hyde Park High School, “crying about her life, how much they don’t do nothing for her at the school. Like, if you feel that way, why not just quit?”

Her friend Ehis Osifo, a sophomore at Boston Latin School, cuts in: “OK, so this was my math teacher, so he would make us do the homework and then somewhat teach us the next day what the homework was on.

This phenomena in Boston schools is called The Dance of the Lemons. Essentially it’s moving bad teachers around to different schools instead of firing them.

“What he would teach us would be like the bare minimum and then on the tests he’ll give us extremely hard questions that he never went over in class because he spent the entire class talking about his life and how he played soccer as a child.”

You see there’s this phenomena that’s happening in Boston Public Schools and it’s called The Dance of the Lemons. Essentially it’s moving bad teachers around to different schools instead of firing them.

The dance goes like this: I’m the principal and I have a teacher who isn’t making the grade but I think it would be too hard to help them improve. So instead of giving them a bad performance review, I give them a satisfactory evaluation and strongly suggest they volunteer to go into what’s called the excess pool — a pool of excess teachers. Schools must select from the excess pool when hiring new teachers. And that is the dance of the lemons.

“I have heard that terminology,” Boston Superintendent Carol Johnson says. “What we’re trying to do is stop the dance, not move people from place to place, but expect principals and headmasters to do a high-quality review and make the tough decision.”

Although Boston’s not the only district that shifts around bad teachers, it’s been a known problem here for a while. Johnson’s predecessor, Thomas Payzant, who led BPS for 11 years and is now at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, says he knows it went on under his tenure. But he’s sympathetic to principals who don’t have the time it takes to document and fire bad teachers.

“The amount of work that a principal has to do with data and other evidence of lack of performance and meeting standards can take hours and hours of time,” Payzant says.

Five years ago, under Payzant, Boston Public Schools only fired 12 teachers one year. The rate has steadily improved under Johnson as she works to conduct more evaluations, the cornerstone to removing a teacher.  Last year 57 teachers were fired or resigned due to bad evaluations. That’s still only around 1 percent of teachers fired each year; the statewide average is 8 percent.

Johnson pulls out a bright orange book the size of a small paperback. It’s the 255-page union contract. She turns to the pages that spell out how to fire a bad teacher.

Johnson explains that the procedures to get a tenured teacher fired are really complicated. A principal must rate them as unsatisfactory and document why a teacher is considered failing. This can be subjective because the state has never used student tests scores in teacher evaluations. New regulations will require principals to use them in the future. And this proposed new system will also speed up the firing process — but only if administrators take that first step. And Johnson knows many don’t, and thus bad teachers are tolerated in the classroom.

Hyde Park High sophomore DeShannah Temple, left, and Boston Latin sophomore Ehis Osifo vividly recall their bad teachers. (Monica Brady-Myerov/WBUR)

Hyde Park High sophomore DeShannah Temple, left, and Boston Latin sophomore Ehis Osifo vividly recall their bad teachers. (Monica Brady-Myerov/WBUR)

“And right now, our process is somewhat cumbersome,” she says. “We have to go through so many steps, meet so many deadlines, that it makes it really hard to get to the process and so that’s very frustrating.”

“It’s only cumbersome if you’re lazy,” Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union, counters. “It takes, I think reasonably, a sophisticated administrator who is somewhat diligent two or three hours to do a full evaluation of an unsatisfactory or a needs-improvement teacher. I don’t really think that’s an onerous responsibility.”

Stutman says for bad teachers to be called “lemons” because they are in the excess pool is insulting because they haven’t done anything wrong.

“It is impossible to get into the excess pool if you have an unsatisfactory [evaluation],” Stutman says. ”The school department can’t have it both ways. They employ the principals, the principals have all sorts of authority under the state ed reform law, and if they give the person a satisfactory, then shame on them for calling that person a lemon. They should look in the mirror.”

There’s a lot of blame to go around. Only 41 out of nearly 5,000 teachers were rated as unsatisfactory by their principals in the 2008-09 school year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Also one-quarter of schools didn’t turn in a single evaluation for a two-year period. Johnson says she is beefing up the evaluation system with a team of people dedicated to help principals.

Studies show outstanding teachers produce higher-performing students. Boston students Brittney Edwards and Osifo agree.

“Good teachers, I feel like they take an extra mile that they’re not required to take, but that just makes them so much better,” Edwards says. “Ones that push you and make learning fun.”

Osifo adds: “I feel like the best teacher, like when you graduate from high school, they are the ones you remember.”

And the bad teachers unfortunately can be hard to forget.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on wbur.org.
  • Bdecker

    I just listened to your story on how “hard” it is to fire
    bad teachers, and I’m extremely confused. 
    You start by interviewing kids who readily know which of their teachers
    are bad.  So, the problem isn’t
    identification.  You then interview Boston
    Superintendent Carol Johnson who says that it can take principal hours to
    properly evaluate a bad teacher, since the unionized teachers have a right to
    due process prior to losing their jobs.  This
    story follows up on your story about how important it is to use evaluations to
    rate teacher success.  So, I’ve got many
    more questions than answers?

    ·        
    Isn’t it the principal’s job to know her
    teachers?

    ·        
    Shouldn’t we expect every principal to spend “hours
    and hours” supervising their staff?

    ·        
    How are evaluations (based on whatever) going to
    get us to the promised land when some school administrations don’t even bother
    to do them?

    ·        
    When are you going to do a story on how to fire
    a bad principal?

    • Judy

      I live in Brookline and my school department spent years and thousands of dollars in legal fees documenting a teacher that was so bad the kids talked and threw spitballs all day. Apparently they didn’t cross one “T” correctly because the school was turned down. The man worked until retirement, turning many, many students off to science.

    • Judy

      I live in Brookline and my school department spent years and thousands of dollars in legal fees documenting a teacher that was so bad the kids talked and threw spitballs all day. Apparently they didn’t cross one “T” correctly because the school was turned down. The man worked until retirement, turning many, many students off to science.

      • Anonymous

        The teacher you’re talking about may have poor classroom management skills (we’ll have to take your word on this), but what about the role of the students in their own learning?

  • awasse04

    While the first teacher described sounds like a terrible teacher, obviously, the second teacher sounds like a case of either a bad teacher, or a student who doesn’t understand/like her teacher’s efforts to teach students critical thinking, by not spoonfeeding them all of the information until after they try to do the homework. The critical thinking and learning skills necessary for college are just those skills that are encouraged by testing students on applying what they have learned to new kinds of problems. I don’t know the answer, but when there are clearly some awful teachers out there, this seems like a poor example to illustrate your point.

    • http://twitter.com/_hillary hillary

      I agree – thought the same thing when I heard the student being interviewed. You’re always going to find kids with an axe to grind about a particular teacher, whether or not it’s justified.

  • solvetheproblem

    Thank you for your report.  I wonder if you would be interested in investigating how BPS
    evaluates and retains principals.  At a recent
    meeting with teachers, Dr. Carol Johnson stated that the metric used by
    the district is HR data: if a school shows a lot of teacher turnaround over a number of years, that indicates a
    red flag. 

     

    To understand how insufficient this indicator is, one would
    have to be versed in the intricacies of the hiring, transfer, excess, and
    posting policies in the district and the amount of power a principal has.  Even beginning to explore finding a new
    school represents a great risk for a teacher, because s/he would have to expose
    the fact that s/he is exploring options, which may not be favorably received by
    the current principal.  Often principals
    speak with one another to learn about candidates.   In addition, effective teachers are dedicated to the
    children and families of their school communities; it is a very painful choice
    to have to abandon them.  So, for a
    large number of teachers to uproot themselves from their school, there would
    likely be an exceptionally bad principal at the helm.  It has been said that a child in a class
    with a bad teacher for two years will need years to catch up.  How long will it take a whole school
    community to recover from years of a bad principal?

     

    Currently, there is no transparent system in place for
    either principal performance or quality to be evaluated.  While the BPS conducts climate surveys
    each year (which have a general leadership  assessment component), the collection of data is flawed and
    the dissemination of analysis is delayed. 
    Last year, schools received scantron sheets that families, staff, and
    students were to fill out.  The
    completed surveys were to be submitted back to the principal, which means that
    the person whose leadership is being assessed takes possession of the unsealed surveys and then delivers them
    back to the district.  The results
    from the climate surveys of school year 2009-2010 were only released last week
    (May 2011), and only general district-wide data is available to all staff.   The release of school specific
    data to the staff is at the discretion of the principal. 

     

    One might wonder what the teaching staff can do in the face
    of an inept and unqualified principal. 
    The short answer is: very little. 
    Unless a principal breaks the BTU contract, there are no procedures
    currently in place for the teaching staff to hold a principal accountable for
    doing his/her job.  Even with the
    establishment of a faculty senate and a School Site Council, a principal can
    choose to ignore whatever suggestions, pleas, or recommendations staff might
    make.  The next step might be to go
    a principal’s supervisor, but that also entails great risk.  Veteran teachers will tell their more
    zealous counterparts that speaking up will get you “blackballed,” and you won’t
    be able to find another job in the city. 

     

    What this all means is that the district takes notice of a
    potentially bad principal after much damage might have already been done to a
    school, including the loss of its best teachers, the disappearance of programming,
    the demoralization of the staff, the hiring of ineffective staff, and damaged
    community relations.  Worst yet, a
    poor principal can rob children of years of better quality education and cause
    parents to lose faith in the system that they’re supposed to be encouraged to
    trust.

     

    There are many wonderful principals out there, just as there
    are many wonderful teachers.  Yet
    too many bad principals and teachers have been allowed to cause harm.  The district needs to do a better job
    of ensuring that only high quality principals AND teachers are entrusted with
    the care of the city’s children. 
    This begins with rigorous, transparent, meaningful, and timely
    evaluations of both principals and teachers.

  • solvetheproblem

    Thank you for your report.  I wonder if you would be interested in investigating how BPS
    evaluates and retains principals.  At a recent
    meeting with teachers, Dr. Carol Johnson stated that the metric used by
    the district is HR data: if a school shows a lot of teacher turnaround over a number of years, that indicates a
    red flag. 

     

    To understand how insufficient this indicator is, one would
    have to be versed in the intricacies of the hiring, transfer, excess, and
    posting policies in the district and the amount of power a principal has.  Even beginning to explore finding a new
    school represents a great risk for a teacher, because s/he would have to expose
    the fact that s/he is exploring options, which may not be favorably received by
    the current principal.  Often principals
    speak with one another to learn about candidates.   In addition, effective teachers are dedicated to the
    children and families of their school communities; it is a very painful choice
    to have to abandon them.  So, for a
    large number of teachers to uproot themselves from their school, there would
    likely be an exceptionally bad principal at the helm.  It has been said that a child in a class
    with a bad teacher for two years will need years to catch up.  How long will it take a whole school
    community to recover from years of a bad principal?

     

    Currently, there is no transparent system in place for
    either principal performance or quality to be evaluated.  While the BPS conducts climate surveys
    each year (which have a general leadership  assessment component), the collection of data is flawed and
    the dissemination of analysis is delayed. 
    Last year, schools received scantron sheets that families, staff, and
    students were to fill out.  The
    completed surveys were to be submitted back to the principal, which means that
    the person whose leadership is being assessed takes possession of the unsealed surveys and then delivers them
    back to the district.  The results
    from the climate surveys of school year 2009-2010 were only released last week
    (May 2011), and only general district-wide data is available to all staff.   The release of school specific
    data to the staff is at the discretion of the principal. 

     

    One might wonder what the teaching staff can do in the face
    of an inept and unqualified principal. 
    The short answer is: very little. 
    Unless a principal breaks the BTU contract, there are no procedures
    currently in place for the teaching staff to hold a principal accountable for
    doing his/her job.  Even with the
    establishment of a faculty senate and a School Site Council, a principal can
    choose to ignore whatever suggestions, pleas, or recommendations staff might
    make.  The next step might be to go
    a principal’s supervisor, but that also entails great risk.  Veteran teachers will tell their more
    zealous counterparts that speaking up will get you “blackballed,” and you won’t
    be able to find another job in the city. 

     

    What this all means is that the district takes notice of a
    potentially bad principal after much damage might have already been done to a
    school, including the loss of its best teachers, the disappearance of programming,
    the demoralization of the staff, the hiring of ineffective staff, and damaged
    community relations.  Worst yet, a
    poor principal can rob children of years of better quality education and cause
    parents to lose faith in the system that they’re supposed to be encouraged to
    trust.

     

    There are many wonderful principals out there, just as there
    are many wonderful teachers.  Yet
    too many bad principals and teachers have been allowed to cause harm.  The district needs to do a better job
    of ensuring that only high quality principals AND teachers are entrusted with
    the care of the city’s children. 
    This begins with rigorous, transparent, meaningful, and timely
    evaluations of both principals and teachers.

    • Q3772

      Dead on! 

  • solvetheproblem

    Thank you for your report.  I wonder if you would be interested in investigating how BPS
    evaluates and retains principals.  At a recent
    meeting with teachers, Dr. Carol Johnson stated that the metric used by
    the district is HR data: if a school shows a lot of teacher turnaround over a number of years, that indicates a
    red flag. 

     

    To understand how insufficient this indicator is, one would
    have to be versed in the intricacies of the hiring, transfer, excess, and
    posting policies in the district and the amount of power a principal has.  Even beginning to explore finding a new
    school represents a great risk for a teacher, because s/he would have to expose
    the fact that s/he is exploring options, which may not be favorably received by
    the current principal.  Often principals
    speak with one another to learn about candidates.   In addition, effective teachers are dedicated to the
    children and families of their school communities; it is a very painful choice
    to have to abandon them.  So, for a
    large number of teachers to uproot themselves from their school, there would
    likely be an exceptionally bad principal at the helm.  It has been said that a child in a class
    with a bad teacher for two years will need years to catch up.  How long will it take a whole school
    community to recover from years of a bad principal?

     

    Currently, there is no transparent system in place for
    either principal performance or quality to be evaluated.  While the BPS conducts climate surveys
    each year (which have a general leadership  assessment component), the collection of data is flawed and
    the dissemination of analysis is delayed. 
    Last year, schools received scantron sheets that families, staff, and
    students were to fill out.  The
    completed surveys were to be submitted back to the principal, which means that
    the person whose leadership is being assessed takes possession of the unsealed surveys and then delivers them
    back to the district.  The results
    from the climate surveys of school year 2009-2010 were only released last week
    (May 2011), and only general district-wide data is available to all staff.   The release of school specific
    data to the staff is at the discretion of the principal. 

     

    One might wonder what the teaching staff can do in the face
    of an inept and unqualified principal. 
    The short answer is: very little. 
    Unless a principal breaks the BTU contract, there are no procedures
    currently in place for the teaching staff to hold a principal accountable for
    doing his/her job.  Even with the
    establishment of a faculty senate and a School Site Council, a principal can
    choose to ignore whatever suggestions, pleas, or recommendations staff might
    make.  The next step might be to go
    a principal’s supervisor, but that also entails great risk.  Veteran teachers will tell their more
    zealous counterparts that speaking up will get you “blackballed,” and you won’t
    be able to find another job in the city. 

     

    What this all means is that the district takes notice of a
    potentially bad principal after much damage might have already been done to a
    school, including the loss of its best teachers, the disappearance of programming,
    the demoralization of the staff, the hiring of ineffective staff, and damaged
    community relations.  Worst yet, a
    poor principal can rob children of years of better quality education and cause
    parents to lose faith in the system that they’re supposed to be encouraged to
    trust.

     

    There are many wonderful principals out there, just as there
    are many wonderful teachers.  Yet
    too many bad principals and teachers have been allowed to cause harm.  The district needs to do a better job
    of ensuring that only high quality principals AND teachers are entrusted with
    the care of the city’s children. 
    This begins with rigorous, transparent, meaningful, and timely
    evaluations of both principals and teachers.

  • Chinaeyes0917

    My Daughter was held back by one of those called lemon teachers. My daughter then 7 years old said all she did was scream, I confirmed that there was a lot of screaming at students from my son who had once attended the same school. I received a letter in the mail saying that due to the no child left behind law my child could be placed in another school, that was an ordeal in it’s self. I bought a Leap Frog Tag Pen and taught her how to read in weeks, in less then a month her reading comprehension was amazing. I transfered her to a new school, The Windship School; her teacher there Rita Sparrow is amazing! I have watched my daughter flourish, grow and enjoy school. What a difference a good teacher makes. My only question is who is in that seat in that class room, in that school The Patrick  Kennedy School in East Boston that my daughter left behind. I moved my child from that underachieving school only to have another child fill that slot. 

  • boston57

    The Dance of the Lemons is moving bad teachers around to
    different schools instead of firing them according to Monica Brady.  Really? 
    Sounds to me like Monica Brady can not tell the difference between  lemonade and Kool-Aid

     

    1.  Brady
    fails to mention  that the public
    record for Dr. Johnson is that for the last two years the administrative
    staff responsible for evaluating teachers in Boston are on record of
    having done no evaluations at all!2.  Common
    sense tells us that Dr. Johnson, unless she legally blind,  can not see or tell  the difference between a good teacher
    that has received  a satisfactory
    evaluation and a bad teacher that has received an unsatisfactory
    evaluation because her administrative staff has no evaluations on record for the last two years.   Is Monica Brady the
    only person ignorant of this fact?

    So let go back to the making of lemonade.  Should Dr. Johnson and the BPS
    administrators  that have failed to
    evaluate teacher be called lemons because they are lazy?  If those folks are fired and we hired
    administrators that do their work, we could then do lemonade.  As is,  Monica Brady wants us to just
    drink the Court St Kool-Aid.

    I will stick to lemonade.

  • Christine

    I heard both of these students on air this morning.  Neither sounded particularly astute.  Their grammar was not the best nor were their remarks particularly cogent.  I was more surprised at the Latin student. Don’t they have to take exams to enroll for Latin?

    Not impressive – esp if this is the best the reporter could come up wih 

  • Timykel

    What turns a good teacher bad?

  • Webb Nichols

    Low performing teachers should go to an Improvement Boot Camp in the Summer on their time. See it as continuing Education.

  • Q3772

    In all my years of listening to WBUR, I can’t say that I have ever been more disappointed with coverage of a topic.  I am so sick to death of people talking about the glass half full, half empty.  Let’s ask the realistic question:  What’s the purpose of the water in the glass – to empty or fill it.  If emptying it is the goal than having a glass half empty is POSITIVE not a negative – and your show lacked any realism whatsoever.  For example – the term “good teacher” kept getting thrown around, but what is the definition of a “good teacher.”  No one answered that – I just kept hearing about data.  I assure you, data does not constitute good learning.  Data is meant to be cooked to get the numbers needed to fulfill whatever outcome is needed, and anyone who thinks differently is a FOOL.  Term “bad teacher” kept being thrown out – but what was the definition of a bad teacher?  I couldn’t find one in your broadcast.  And evaluations – and what does this evaluation look like – and how does it differentiate between so-called good and bad teachers?  The question was neither asked nor answered.  The whole program was pathetic to begin with and hardly what one could constitute as “reporting.”  So let’s for a moment take a look at real issues regarding education – realistically.
    1) What is the role of the school committee members and what is his/her background in education (yet they appoint a superintendent who is going to be responsible for the school district – hummm flawed from the beginning one thinks!
    2) What constitutes as good principal? 
    3)  What does a good school look like?  Is it completely data driven?
    4) What does data mean?
    5) What other institution in the U.S. – I’ll even expand it to the world – puts everyone onto a big yellow bus 5 mornings a week to attend to business regardless of socio-economic factors, emotional factors, special education factors, home life factors, abuse factors, etc… the list goes on and on.  How would this look in the real world.  Okay, starting Monday, everyone who needs a doctor will go to an assigned bus stop and all those people will be dropped off at one institution.  The doctors in that institution will take care of all the problems from a brain tumor to a stubbed toe.  Let’s do this for lawyers.  Everyone who needs a lawyer gets on a bus and goes to one institution and is put into a room and that lawyer solves all the problems of all the people.  Why then do we think we can send kids to one institution and put them in one room and the person in the room is going to be fully responsible for the outcome of each and every student in that room.  The premise is crazy from the get go. 
    Why is it the people who know the least about the job are the ones who get the opportunity to design how it’s done? 
    I suggest, if you really want to listen to someone who actually GETS it, you listen to George Bush’s Secretary of Education Martha Spellings – she actually gets it – after the fact mind you – but she gets it! 

  • Regi57

    I was so disappointed in this story.  As a diehard WBUR monthly sustainer and volunteer, and a public school principal myself, I kept waiting to hear the voice of a fellow principal among the voices speaking about evaluating teachers.  I heard students, two superintendents, a union president – but no principal.  Many of the comments here put blame, rightly or wrongly, on principals.

    BTU president Richard Stutman is right that laziness is sometimes to blame for teachers not being properly evaluated.  But he is very wrong that it takes a few hours to properly evaluate a teacher.  It takes many, many hours over many months.  Rating a teacher as unsatisfactory can only be fairly done after multiple observations, each of which includes pre- and post-conferences with the teacher and a formal write up (which alone can take several hours to carefully prepare).  Additionally, the teacher needs to be given clear and specific expectations for improvement followed by support to meet the expectations.  More observations, with conferences and write-ups, follow.  It can take one to two years of careful documentation and support to determine a teacher unfit for the position.

    By following this process I have broken teachers’ hearts, been insulted and yelled at, and been sued.  (By the way, the teacher’s union did not obstruct me at any point because it found that I upheld the terms of the contract.)  More than once I have cried in sadness before the impending painful conversation I knew I had to have, and lost sleep while second guessing my decision.  There is nothing easy about telling someone who is doing the best they can that it isn’t good enough.  Evaluating teachers is a complicated and emotional process with significant implications for the teacher and the students.  There was no sense of this reality in this story.

    • Q3772

      I agree there was no reality in the report, however, I must, confront you with regard to your discussion of evaluation.  I see you talk about how long an evaluation takes, there must be conversations after evaluations, and clear expectations must be given – so again, I ask, where in all of this rhetoric do you address what constitutes a good teacher vs. a bad?  Is it based on test scores?  If so, why whould you require a teacher to be responsible for the outcome of every student in his/her class.  As a principal, clearly you know the politics at play – so crying sadness is not a viable argument.  I ask again for an answer to the questions:  What is the definition of a good teacher?  What is the definition of a bad teacher?  How do you differentiate between the two?  (I don’t want procudures, I want bona fide answers to those questions)  I await your answer :)

      • Regi57

        I am not “crying sadness as a viable argument”.  What I was expressing was how difficult good evaluation is in practice.  If you read my comment carefully you will see that I take the process seriously.  I am not sure what you mean about the “politics at play”.  Neither I nor my colleagues – in a local urban district – pass “bad” teachers on to other schools.  As for the measures used, I have never used standardized test scores as part of a teacher’s evaluation. I do, however, use formative assessments which are often created by the teacher.  As a matter of fact, not using formal and informal formative assessment regularly would be a strike against the teacher’s practice.  Other qualities my colleagues and I look for are specific objectives for each lesson that are clear to the students; questions and answers that require students to think carefully and deeply and defend or explain their reasons; regular feedback to students that helps them become better learners, readers and writers; and certainly not least, students who are engaged in their learning.  Perhaps most important, I evaluate teachers on how they adapt their practice to help the most struggling students access the curriculum they are expected to master.

  • Sixthstreet

    Monica, are bad teachers only in Boston?  Is it coincidental that the lowest test scores correspond with the highest levels of poverty–not to mention the social and emotional issues, second language learners, etc.–that BPS teachers deal with on a daily basis.  Do you really think that you could move all those great teachers from, Say Newton, Brookline, or Weston, and they would duplicate their high test scores in Boston?  I’d actually like to try it and move some Boston teachers to their town—some of the so-called “bad teachers”–and see the impact.  I think once we actually acknowledge the variability and gap between students in these areas, we might actually be on to something with education reform.  

  • JCN 44

    I am a former teacher,administrator, and currently work for an educational non-profit.  I have never been more disappointed in a WBUR series.  You have bought the “Corporate Reform” of education represented by “Waiting for Superman,” Teach For America, Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, the Broad Foundation, etc. etc.  Where is the balance I expect from WBUT?  To give the corporate reform view a platform is fine.  Professionalism and honesty requires you to balance those voices with those of Diane Ravitch, Deborah Meier, Linda Darling Hamilton, Mike Rose, and many more true (in my personal opinion) educational reformers, people who truly put children first. 

    You buy the notion that having effective teachers is the single most important factor in a successful education (see your headlining graphic on this page for an example), while ignoring the impact that poverty and inequality have.  The false political correctness that dictates any mention of this truth equals racism is Orwellian at best.

    You look to Teach for America (TFA) for research that “proves”  what a good teacher is.  TFA founder Wendy Kopp, an obviously brilliant networker, had literally never set foot in a “urban” public school when she started the organization.  There is an important place for TFA, as a public service option, TFA as a leader in educational reform is a bad joke.

    You look for magic solutions to making effective teachers, such “The Taxonomy Of Effective Teaching Practices (Uncommon Schools).”  This work could have an important place as one tool to use, it will not magically make any teacher effective.  See the work of Linda Darling-Hammond and others,who have studied Finland and demonstrate the national long term commitment need for effective educational reform.

    By believing in one perspective and broadcasting it, you are effectively serving as a free PR firm for the corporate reform leaders.  Education is not a business and can not be run as one.  We do not make widgets.  Because some one is amazing at making widgets (like Cathy Black was amazing as a publishing CEO) does not mean they will be an effective teacher or educational leader. 

    You have done a great disservice to the educators and children in Boston, while handing more validity to the likes of Davis Guggenheim, Wendy Kopp and Michelle Rhee.

  • Wendell

    I was horrified, to hear that Boston Public School teachers in the excess pool called “lemons.”  I was insulted that Dr. Johnson gave credibility to this term.  She failed to explain that many great teachers, including “Golden Apple” Teachers, end up in the excess pool, because their school closed, their program was changed to reflect some BPS demographic, or they teach in a BPS turnaround/pilot school, where a principal can “excess” any staff member because “they are not the right fit!”  Two BPS turnaround schools excessed the whole staff this year!    BPS has hired, even “home grown,” many young administrators whose, “creative and innovative” ideas (often redundant failures of the past), when put into practice again, have serious and long lasting repercussions to the children of the City of Boston.  These “ideas” always cost a lot of money, which is often paid to outside educational vendors, and not in direct service to BPS students. Many of these administrators, have excessed veteran teachers with a long track record of success, not because they are “bad teachers,” but because they feel threatened by the experience, historical knowledge, and accountability that veteran teachers bring to the table.  You only have to look at the “age data” of these “excessing” administrators and the teachers, they “excessed,” to recognize that.   Many “excessed teachers” are the ones who had made a commitment to the students in their schools, they stepped-up and advocated, year after year, principal after principal.  They are the teachers who participate on site councils, Instructional Leadership committee’s, accreditation teams, and “save our school” initiatives.  They are the teachers who keep the bleachers from appearing empty when the school team has a game.  They are the people who buy, out of their own pocket, hundreds of dollars in classroom supplies.  They are the teachers who advocate for students whose parents are invisible, and who hold principals accountable to parents who are not being informed. This is a contract year; the Boston Public Schools is promoting a move toward a “West Coast” model of teacher and administrator placement.  In some school systems there a teacher is notified in August, as to where they will teach in September, and administrators never stay in a school more then three years; everyone serves at the “Will of the Superintendent.”  Superintendent Johnson has stated on several occasions, that she “wants to be able to move teachers to where they are needed.”  This “march of educators” is in direct contradiction of research on what makes a “school successful.”  It prevents schools from developing a strong, professional, committed community where students can succeed.

  • Janet Casey

    I am one of the “dancing lemons” .  I am in the excess pool.  Why? The  school that  I have worked tirelessly at for the last 13 years is becoming an “innovation”  school.  I did not reapply for my position.  My choice, so I go into the excess pool.  I am a professional.  Why in the world would I work an extra 210 hours, and not get paid a penny for it?  That is what is happening at the “innovation” school next year. 
    I work very hard, try new and creative things, do extras for all of my students, follow pacing guides, add enrichment, and  tailor instruction so that all of my students can learn to optimum levels. I feel that I was put on this earth to be a teacher.  I resent this term.  
    If principals did their jobs, there would be no such a term as “dancing lemons”.

  • Q3772

    Thank you for your answer.  But here’s the problem.  It’s all subjective.  Now, I want to make it clear here that I am not slamming you, I am slamming the system to begin with.  So let’s be honest.  Are you one of those principals who go into the classroom and no matter what question was asked, you could/would have found a “better” question to ask?  If a student had their head down on their desk, would you think the teacher is not keeping a student engaged?  If a Think  Pair Share didn’t go as smoothly as the text books said it would, is that a strike against a teacher?  What if a student was doodling?  Or a student wasn’t sitting at their desk…?  And who creates the curriculum the teacher is required to teach?  And what instruments/supplies/and cross curricular involvement is provided?  What about discipline?  Is your school one in which cell phones are allowed to be used during class, during lunch, in the halls?  Do you have detentions at your school?  Are those detentions during class time, i.e., students are pulled out of their academic classes to serve an in-house detention?  Can students use their i-pods in school?  What about dress codes?  Are teachers allowed to hold students accountable for not coming to class prepared i.e., pen/pencil, notebook, and materials needed to actively participate during the class?  Can a student loose points for not having their homework in on time?  For that matter, does your school even believe in giving students homework?  And, most importantly, are your students reading at grade level – now be honest – are all of your 9th grade students reading at 9th grade level, or do some/many of them really read below level?  Now, that begs me to ask again – how does one evaluate a good teacher vs. a bad teacher?  Because, quite frankly, to say that all of what I mentioned, and much, much, much, more is not part and parcel to all that affects learning in a room is just nonsense from the get-go.  Now, I won’t even get into the problems that come with the students  – from home-life to socio-economic factors…and somehow a teacher is fully responsible to make sure everyone learns.  You see, here’s my problem with this discussion – WHEN HAS ANYONE MENTIONED STUDENT RESPONSIBILITY? 
    If this whole nonsense about educating the youth of our country were really about educating the youth of our country, the conversation would not be about the teacher in front of the room but, rather, on making students responsible for their learning.  And the solution is SIMPLE.  Every student takes an entry exam – so you know from the start this is where the students is.  If the student is not at a 9th grade level – guess what, you don’t put the student in the 9th grade.  The students who do pass the 9th grade entry level test get a year of 9th grade.  By the end of the year they are expected to know XYZ…and they test out.  Guess what, if they fail they get one more chance at doing the 9th grade over again.  If they don’t want to do the 9th over again, why I am happy to have them become a viable working person – shelves need stocked at Stop-n-Shop – and one doesn’t need to be educated to do it.  And thus one progresses through a FREE educational system.  You see, the only thing wrong with public education is it is PUBLIC – and all that comes along with it.  To hold one person responsible for that is nonsense.  But let me make myself clear – for the record – I do believe there are bad teachers just as I believe there are bad principals, and bad lawyers, and bad doctors…what I don’t agree with is the design which is being proposed to determine the difference between the two when so many variables are at a play at any given moment, let alone second of the day.  And, as I said, nowhere is anyone raising the issue of STUDENT RESPONSIBILITY!  Look I’m a tax payer, and I believe that for the amount of money spent per seat – the person in the seat should see it as more than a place to stick gum under the seat and socialize with their pals – Hell, if someone would pay me that amount of money per year toward my education I assure all of you I would and could show you what responsible learning looks like – and all of this good/bad teacher discussion would take an entirely different avenue! And I’m sorry, I don’t belive your school is any different than the rest of them – so to say that you don’t understand the “politics”, well, I don’t buy it. Data is direct route to funds…and it all comes back to the beginning in the end – circular reasoning at its best!

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