"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Saturday, March 06, 2010

LA Teacher Discovers Secret to Higher Test Scores!

Letter below to LAUSD superintendent posted at Anthony Cody's website:

Dear Dr. Cortines,

You have decided to make Fremont teachers reapply for their own jobs as part of a "reconstitution," implicitly blaming them for the shortcomings of their school. You have also opened the hiring at Fremont to other aspirants.


I am a teacher at Marshall High. I helped our Academic Decathlon team gain top scores in Art for several years, including a second place finish. Several dozen of my English students have succeeded at the challenging AP Literature test. Virtually all of my students pass the English CAHSEE, including many special education students. I have helped my school meet its AYP/API targets with some consistency.

If you are looking for teachers to spearhead success at Fremont, perhaps my record would recommend me as a promising candidate.

If so, you may be curious to learn why I am not still teaching at Fremont. You see, I taught at Fremont for five years before choosing to leave for Marshall.

I left some time after Fremont was assigned a principal unequal to the task of governing it. When we teachers requested an effective leader, our demands ignited an ugly fight that lead to many months of chaos. I wound up a victim of stress and disillusionment. I left the school over ten years ago when I became convinced that LAUSD either couldn't or wouldn't govern it effectively, and when the anxiety of the fight began to damage my home life.

My experience might be instructive for your efforts.

In the first place, it would seem to show that the shortcomings at Fremont cannot be laid at the door of its teachers. If you judge Fremont's current teachers a failure on the basis of their students' test scores, then by the same criteria I was a failing teacher when I left Fremont. Yet when I transferred to Marshall, my new students attained much better test scores. If you imagine this was due to some personal transformation of my teaching, I invite you to transfer me to a high school whose students have a higher average socio-economic status than Marshall, where I suspect yet another personal renaissance awaits me.

Secondly, my experience might lead you to wonder how Fremont loses so many excellent teachers and potentially excellent new teachers each year, and whether administrative efforts to retain these teachers might be more productive than your current attempt to drive teachers away.

If you are inclined to pursue this possibility, my experience suggests that you are uniquely placed to get results. One thing alone would have sufficed to keep me at Fremont: effective leadership. Consistently excellent leadership would retain many more fine teachers at Fremont. The high turnover of principals at Fremont over the last two decades indicates that LAUSD has failed to lead Fremont effectively in the time since I left. It is your responsibility, not that of teachers, to make sure that Fremont never again lacks for sustained excellent leadership.

Finally, if you follow through with your plan to interview current teachers for their own jobs, you might ask yourself what kind of teacher would both volunteer to teach at Fremont in the first place and also remain there for years. I am a creative, intelligent and capable teacher. I was deeply dedicated to Fremont, and especially to its students. I have deep and fond memories of these students to this day. These traits were not enough for long-term success in the environment LAUSD created at Fremont.

It humbles me to consider what personal qualities I would have needed to have remained. I hope you can summon that same sense of humility as you interview veteran Fremont teachers. Perhaps some of these teachers just feel stuck at Fremont. But you need to know that many more of these veteran teachers have special qualities that keep them at Fremont, and that most new teachers will inevitably turn out to lack such qualities. I wonder if you truly have any idea of what a Fremont teacher needs to succeed in the long term.

I understand that over half of the Fremont teachers have decided to leave rather than interview for their jobs. They are clearly upset at being blamed. If you do not reverse course and regain the trust of these teachers, you will do grievous harm to the institution you are trying to help.

You need the best teachers at Fremont. Who else has demonstrated that they can do the job they do?

Best regards,
Scott Banks

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