Do we value our teachers or are they expendable?
In what some claim to be a backlash from a large teacher march on the capital in March, Arizona Legislature has made some controversial changes to the way Arizona teachers are going to be treated. Some of these changes included removing seniority, salary and contract guarantees. One of the more surprising facts of this bill being passed is that state lawmakers did so without committee hearings or public comment, using an emergency 51-day special session to create a budget to push these changes through.
These changes, falling under House Bill 2011, prevent districts from considering tenure when making decisions about which teachers will be laid off. This also applies to rehires. Here are a few more changes taking effect with this bill…Districts are no longer required to give teachers notification of contract status for the following school year. Prior to Bill 2011, Districts were required to notify teachers by April 15th whether they were going to return the next year.
- Districts can also now lower salaries mid year for select teachers without being required to take into account tenure.
- If a teacher is placed on an improvement plan for inadequate instruction, they are only required to have 60 days of instruction now rather then the previously required 85 days.
- If teachers wish to participate in union business during contracted time, they are no longer required to be compensated.
Looking at the pros and cons, it is easy to understand why these changes have become so controversial. First, it is important to understand that Arizona is now vying for a very lucrative $4.3 billion “Race to the Top” federal education grant sponsored by the US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan which has very specific requirements and guidelines that states must follow in order to be eligible. Once such requirement is linking teacher salaries with student achievement. Good? Bad? Well, it may spur teachers to put more effort into their classroom teaching. However, it may also cause teachers to encourage cheating, more lenient grade awarding, etc. in an effort to keep their jobs. It may also unfairly alienate teachers that are working in severely underprivileged areas where parent and community support are in short supply and children naturally suffer to no specific fault of the teacher.
Here are some interesting statistics on Arizona’s educational priorities (information obtained through the Arizona Education Association)…
- Arizona is currently ranked 49th out of the 50 states in the amount spent per student
- It has the second highest student-teacher ratio
- It has the second fastest growing student population
- It ranks 35th in the nation for average teacher salaries. That’s $6,536 BELOW the national average!
- To equal the national average spending per student, Arizona would need to increase their per student spending by 44%!
- In order to be equal to the national average, Arizona would need to spend in excess of $2.7 billion!
If we are not paying our teachers, not putting money into our educational facilities and materials, failing to offer our teachers any kind of job security and consistently watching our student population explode, then someone please tell me what person in their right mind would ever want to study and invest over $18,000 in education to become a teacher!!! With less qualified and fewer teacher applicants entering the field, how can this be good for our children?
I recently spoke with a local 1st grade teacher in her second year that is already expressing her regrets and frustrations with the system. “I spend so much time administering required aptitude tests to my students, that I don’t have time to even teach them the concepts I’m testing on!” she lamented. She refuses to allow her parent helpers to assist her with these tests because she feels it puts the students at a disadvantage. “I had to go through special training to administer these tests” she confided, “and I don’t feel that the students benefit when different, unqualified people are randomly administering these tests.” With some teachers relying on untrained parent helpers to administer tests to their students, there is no consistency and great room for error. Not to mention the huge amount of time wasted.
But then again, if Arizona were to win this “Race to the Top” grant money, perhaps great changes could be wrought to the benefit of both teacher and student. It certainly stands to encourage a great deal of innovative and forward thinking ideas about educational development as states fall all over themselves vying for the grant money. What do you think about the changes? Join the forum discussion on this topic and give us your thoughts. Please let us know if you are a teacher, parent or both in your comments.