Sunday, April 17, 2011

Teacher Lottery--Ed Reform: Who Will Cast the First Stone?

The children assembled first, of course. School was recently over for the summer, and the feeling of liberty sat uneasily on most of them; they tended to gather together quietly for a while before they broke into boisterous play. And their talk was still of the classroom and the teacher, of books and reprimands. "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson

Half an hour north of where I live and teach, on the fringe of the Ft. Hall Indian Reservation, the small town school board in Blackfoot has taken a dystopian approach to implementing State Superintendent Tom Luna's recently- passed education laws---a lottery may determine who stays in the classroom and who goes. 

The recently-passed legislation abolishing tenure and continuous contracts will force school boards into creative RIF plans. The Blackfoot school board recently adopted a new RIF policy, explains the Blackfoot Morning News of April 15, 2011: 

First, natural attrition will be used. Then, if necessary, those on probation due to unsatisfactory performance will be terminated. In phase three, those on a plan of improvement due to unsatisfactory performance will be terminated. Finally, a formula will be used to calculate education, training and competency based on certification, endorsements, additional degrees and evaluations.

If additional layoffs are necessary, those in each category with the lowest formula scores will be placed in a lot to be selected for termination.

Teachers in Blackfoot surely must  feel as though they live in Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery" as their employment may now be based on the time-honored, democratic process---drawing straws. 

Hey, it worked in "The General Prologue" of  Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales to determine which of the pilgrims would tell their story first. 

School boards in other districts might prefer a game of rock-paper-scissors to a lottery. Whatever method they use, they will need to decide how to implement Luna's laws. 

The Blackfoot school board really shouldn't be vilified for their action. Some worry that the new legislation will open the district to lawsuits based on age discrimination. They just sense the constraints of Idaho's version of education reform. 

That the Blackfoot board elected to abolish its policies governing teacher employment demonstrates just how far Luna's "Students Come First" legislation goes to circumvent  local control of education

As an allegory for Idaho education policy, Jackson's short story works all too well.  In the education reform version of a lottery, the legislature, governor, and state superintendent have cast their stones. Now they use a weird form of conscription to enlist local boards into the game. 

In Jackson's story, the town's citizens call upon the children to throw stones at the losing child, Tessie: "The children had stones already."

Ignoring Tessie's cries, "It isn't fair, it isn't right!," Jackson writes, "and then they were upon her."

Having shoved his wrong-headed legislation through the system, Luna's laws leave many school boards asking: "Who will throw the first stone?"