SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

May 16, 2014

Letter: Educators are more than cogs in a machine

To the editor:

On May 5, the Salem School Committee, led by Mayor Kim Driscoll, voted 5-2 to hire Blueprint Schools Network to take over governance of grades 3-5 at Bentley Elementary School, which was determined Level 4 due to low MCAS scores in 2012.

The agreement includes a plan to apply for a Horace Mann charter to convert the school into a charter school starting in 2015-2016, when Blueprint hopes to takeover leadership of all grades K-5.

The School Committee has defined the problem at Bentley School as if the school were a complex machine, where children are production units of test scores and administrators and teachers are “the motherboard,” if you will — sending signals to direct the production units. From this perspective, if the production units do not produce the expected output, then either the units are faulty or the motherboard is faulty. The Salem School Committee members have determined that the motherboard is not functioning at a satisfactory level, and so, they have decided to replace it with Blueprint Schools Network, which will replace the existing interim co-principals and requires interested staff to reapply for their jobs. The School Committee is acting from an attitude that is pervasive in our culture of disposability. If something is not operating smoothly, we just buy a new one. We upgrade. Problem solved!

However, Bentley has already experienced two changes in administrative staff and 22 teacher turnovers in the past two years, since it was determined Level 4 by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. According to the Center for Education Policy Analysis at Stanford University, results from a recent longitudinal study that examined eight years of test scores of 850,000 fourth- and fifth-graders in New York City, the students taught by teachers in the same grade-level team in the same school did worse in years where turnover rates were higher, compared with years in which there was less teacher turnover. The study also found that the negative effect of turnover on student achievement was larger in schools with more low-achieving and minority students. The authors concluded, “Turnover must have an impact beyond simply whether incoming teachers are better than those they replaced — even the teachers outside of this redistribution are somehow harmed by it.”

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