As a teacher and Omaha Education Association president, I am astounded and offended by Gov. Dave Heineman’s assertion that OPS is not focused on academic achievement (Oct. 9, 2011, Omaha World Herald question and answer article).
To imply that OPS isn’t already focused on student achievement is a clear indication that the Governor isn’t paying attention what teachers are doing to help our students learn and grow. It also ignores what is currently being implemented at OPS in an effort to improve academic achievement for our students.
Most people understand that teaching is one of the most difficult jobs one can undertake. Politically-motivated rhetoric serves only to demoralize the very teachers who work on a daily basis to educate young people.
The governor asserts that “For the first time, we’ve got statewide assessments where you can’t run and hide.” I want to assure the governor – as well as the public – that no one is trying to “run and hide” from the truth, least of all those who are assigned the task of educating children. Yes, I am talking about our teachers.
First, we must recognize that comparing different students each year is an unreliable measure of teacher effectiveness. Using a single test to measure student knowledge and teacher effectiveness is even less valid and reliable. As anyone who has been a student will tell you, quality teaching cannot be measured by test scores alone.
Secondly, this year’s testing results are meant to serve as a benchmark for the future. The goal is to be able to validly measure a school’s growth. Our teachers look forward to the opportunity to demonstrate student growth and improvement across school years. As has been the case with the statewide writing assessment, our students have shown significant growth in writing achievement over the years the assessment has been administered. We believe this same progress will be seen on the state’s reading test.
Thirdly, we believe that judgments about the success of schools should not be based haphazardly on one academic indicator’s absolute score, but rather on a well thought out, comprehensive system of evaluation that includes multiple indicators focusing on annual growth and progress.
Teachers are committed to doing all they can to motivate their students; however, assuming that teachers can make all the change alone is absurd and naive.
The reality is that politicians are ordering schools to fix all manner of non-school social problems that other social institutions have already failed to fix. Imagine, for example, the challenge of teaching the abused and neglected children who have now fallen into the clutches of Nebraska’s privatized system of child “care.”
We know that poverty is deeply intertwined with out-of-school factors that affect the educational accomplishments of students, but we do not view poverty as an “excuse” for student performance. It is, rather, a challenge that can only be met through involvement by our entire community and our elected representatives.
We believe all children can learn. And as teachers, we also know that we need support and the tools necessary to get the job done. The fact is that state aid to schools is $130 million less than last year – and the governor’s budget plan would have cut it even further. Fewer dollars from the state means either higher property taxes or budget cuts, so we now have fewer teachers and larger class sizes – not a conducive enhancement to student learning. There is no doubt in my mind that the governor understands this.
Yet the governor cites research showing the positive effect quality teachers have on student learning, and asks what ‘we’ are doing to get good teachers in the classroom. I suggest that if the governor is truly committed to this, then he needs to make an investment in training, recruiting and retaining teachers. He needs to invest in teacher prep programs in our colleges and university. I suggest he look at states that require a fifth year of college (Master of Arts in Teaching) in order to get a teaching certificate; or consider implementing residency-style programs similar to the medical profession to ensure our teachers are prepared to be excellent from their first year in the profession onward.
While the continued political rhetoric and attacks on our school district is demoralizing, I know that our teachers will continue to do all that they can to help every child succeed and prosper. We would welcome the governor’s support in that endeavor.
by Chris Proulx, president of the Omaha Education Association