Friday, July 1, 2011

Thoughtful stance on school reforms gets a little less lonely

"Lesson Plan," Dan Moulthrop's essay in June's Cleveland Magazine, tries to find a middle ground in the polarized debate about Senate Bill 5. Moulthrop, a journalist and former teacher, asks how we can reform education to reward good teaching without waging an all-out war on unions.

It was a lonely place to be, but it's less lonely now. Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, who opposes SB5, recently asked state legislators to include merit pay for teachers and new layoff rules in the state's budget. This week, they gave him most of what he asked for. (See below for update.)

The conversation Moulthrop wants to have about teaching is becoming more important. It's starting to look like Republicans overreached with SB5. Ohioans will probably reject the law on the ballot in November. The question is, what happens after that?

Nothing, most teachers seem to hope. WCPN's Ida Lieszkovszky got an earful from some of them about Jackson's stance. So did I, on WCPN's Reporters' Roundtable last week, when our talk about Jackson's move brought a string of anxious calls from teachers. One union official quickly dismissed judging teachers by test scores, then said supervisors' evaluations are too subjective. So is there really no fair way to evaluate teachers?

The question is becoming more urgent. Layoffs by seniority are dismantling the staffs of Cleveland's innovation schools, dismissing teachers carefully chosen for their expertise. Reforms of teacher tenure and layoff rules just passed in Michigan. Ohio voters like the merit pay portion of SB5. Change is coming.

That's Moulthrop's message in his essay for us:

Teachers, administrators, school boards and anyone who cares about their community's schools ... should start conversations about what great teaching really looks like, about classrooms where every student is engaged and focused, seeking the next challenge because they know how satisfying it is to learn something new.

Blogging at the Civic Commons this week, Moulthrop amplifies his point. As carefully and patiently as he did in his essay, he nudges teachers to get ready for reform rather than fight it:

Even if SB5 is repealed, it's unlikely that ten years from now teachers will still be paid and retained based on longevity. If teachers don't involve themselves in crafting a compensation system they can get behind, they may wind up having to deal with something imposed on them. That wouldn't be good for the profession and probably wouldn't be good for students.
Update, 7/8: Actually, Jackson was disappointed with what the General Assembly gave him. He's talking about converting some innovation schools to charter schools in order to preserve their staffs against future layoffs by seniority. The staffs would be de-unionized too. See the Plain Dealer story here.

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