Mark Naison is a Professor of African-American Studies and History at Fordham University and Director of Fordham's Urban Studies Program. He recently posted a letter from a teacher in a New York City high school that illustrates what is happening in schools across the country. We introduce it here:
Letter from a Teacher in a School Designated for Closing by the DOE in order to receive "Race To The Top Money"
I am a teacher at ...... one of the PLA schools. .... has been a "Transformation School" since September 2010. I have been a Social Studies teacher at this school since September 1990.
Yesterday, we were summoned to the auditorium for a special faculty meeting. Our very well-liked principal, . . . conveyed the information he'd received from his superiors: the City intended to change our school to a Turnaround Model. The implications were not completely clear, but it almost certainly meant that we teachers and our supervisors would have to re-apply for our positions to come back in September 2012, and around half of us would not be re-employed.
This news was shocking and deeply distressing to us. We have done everything we were asked to do by State and City. We have learned and implemented new technology for the classroom, spent hours in Professional Development, devoted an hour a week to working in Inquiry Teams, decorated our classrooms with student work, differentiated instruction, and redesigned all our lesson plans to introduce the Common Core Curriculum. We have done this conscientiously despite the doubts many of us had as to the efficacy of these innovations.
The State has been extremely impressed by our progress, writing strongly positive reports, available on the PLA pages of the NYSED website. Our Quality Review last spring was favorable, and we raised our 4-year graduation rate last year by about 7 percentage points.
Despite this, the City had decided to subject us to this awful and humiliating process, in which perhaps an arbitrary figure of half of us would be dismissed from the school.
Our students were given letters to explain this to their parents, describing the school as "Persistently Lowest Achieving" and conveying the message that it is the teachers' to blame, and that the City will "measure and screen existing staff using rigorous standards for student success. . ." and rehire only a portion. One teacher commented in our meeting that distributing these letters to our students was "like cutting our own throats."
I'm certain similar events played out in the other two dozen plus schools hit by this news. Regardless of his intentions, Bloomberg is seriously demoralizing hundreds of hard-working and gifted teachers, making it harder for us to enthusiastically adopt any future changes. He is creating a negative image of their schools and their children's teachers in the eyes of parents and community. The damage will persist long after this spat between DOE and UFT has been resolved.