The Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the number closer to 567,000 fewer educators in America’s public schools today than there were before the pandemic. That’s 0.57 new hires for every open position – completely unsustainable.
If approved by the legislature, newly certified members of those three professions would be eligible to receive up to $2,500 off their state income taxes.
However, the credit would be nonrefundable — recipients would save only the amount of tax they would have paid rather than also receiving the unused portion of the credit as a refund.
According to an Associated Press analysis in March, to receive the full $2,500 annual benefit with the state’s 3.07 flat income tax rate, a teacher (nurse or police officer) would have to make almost $82,000 — far above the normal starting wage for those professions.
The proposal, which seems unpopular on both sides of the aisle, doesn’t even do much to increase recruitment. It should have been used to raise the base salary of teachers instead of focusing on just newbies.
But its intent was clear – get more teachers in the door.
PDE is putting forward a new program starting in July called Culturally Relevant and Sustaining Education (CRSE) which includes 49 cultural competence standards to encourage teachers to be more aware of racial issues in our schools.
The impetus behind enacting these standards is to help recruit more new teachers of color. It’s a worthy goal considering how few teachers are non-white in the Commonwealth. However, increased salary, prestige and autonomy would go a lot farther than this kind of whitewashing.
After all, if the state, the New America Foundation or the billionaire philanthropists backing them actually wanted to decrease racism, they’d be much more successful attacking racist structures than random interactions – reversing the neoliberal policies (charter schools, high stakes testing, etc.) that they, themselves, promote.
The excuse constantly given for such an emphasis on recruiting new teachers is that so few graduates are entering the profession. A decade ago, roughly 20,000 new teachers entered the workforce each year in the Commonwealth, while last year only 6,000 did so, according to the state Department of Education (PDE).
According to the NEA, educators quitting is driving a significant part of the current educator shortage. More teachers quit the job than those who retire, are laid off, are transferred to other locations, go on disability or die. And this has remained true almost every year for the last decade with few exceptions.
If our government really wanted to solve the problem, it would spend at least as much time keeping the experienced teachers we have as trying to get new ones to join their ranks.
1) Experienced teachers on average are more effective in raising student achievement (both test scores and classroom grades) than less experienced ones.
2) Teachers do better as they gain experience. Researchers have long documented that teachers improve dramatically during their first few years on the job. However, teachers make even further gains in subsequent years.
3) Experienced teachers also reduce student absences, encourage students to read for recreational purposes outside of the classroom, serve as mentors for young teachers and help to create and maintain a strong school community.
First, there must be an increase in salary. Teacher pay must at least be adequate including the expectation that as educators gain experience, their salaries will rise in line with what college graduates earn in comparable professions. This is not happening now.
In addition, something must be done to improve teachers working conditions. Lack of proper support and supportive administrators is one of the main reasons experienced teachers leave a building or the profession.
And perhaps most obviously, politicians have to stop scapegoating educators for all of society’s problems and even for all of the problems of the school system. Teachers don’t get to make policy. They are rarely even allowed a voice, but they are blamed for everything that happens in and around education.
If we want teachers to work with socially disadvantaged students, they must be provided with the institutional supports needed to be effective and steadily advance their skills.
But this requires making education a priority and not a political football.
As it is now, the same disaster capitalist shenanigans echo over-and-over again in the halls of our country’s education history with disastrous consequences for students.
Republicans, Democrats – it doesn’t matter. They both champion nearly the same education policies of standardized testing and school privatization.
Thus it should come as no surprise that our contemporary policy makers are using the current crisis – an ongoing teacher exodus – as an excuse to remodel the education workforce into a more ignorant and malleable one.
When will they ever learn?
When will we ever learn not to trust them?
Like this post? You might want to consider becoming a Patreon subscriber. This helps me continue to keep the blog going and get on with this difficult and challenging work.
Plaintiffs complain that the program is vague, requires teachers to think a certain way, encroaches on districts’ autonomy to pick their own curriculum and threatens to take away owed subsidies if districts don’t comply.
Let’s examine each in turn.
Is the policy vague? No way. It has nine core competencies, each with between 4 and 7 standards. These are guidelines and certainly don’t outline every possible use, but you could argue they’re detailed to a fault. One regulation requires educators to disrupt harmful institutional practices. Another asks educators to acknowledge microaggressions – when someone unintentionally expresses prejudice towards a person or group.
Do they encroach on district’s autonomy? That’s debatable – but should districts really resist taking steps to make themselves less racist?
Do they threaten districts with loss of funding if schools don’t comply? I don’t see anything explicit in the program that says this, but that could be implicit in the program or have been expressed by PDE employees. In any case, I don’t see why it’s a problem to offer tools to do something you really should want to do anyway.
In short, there’s nothing wrong with the guidelines, per se, if you agree that racism is something schools and teachers should strive against. Now I can’t read people’s minds, and I don’t know explicitly what their motivations are, but the real issue seems to be that certain people don’t believe in the cause.
They don’t believe racism is much of a problem today or that schools should be engaged in antiracist work.
But no. They do none of these things. Instead they throw it all on teachers.
Once again the powerful do nothing to actually fix our problems but put the burden of our crumbling societies on our crumbling public schools and traumatized teachers.
THAT’S my problem with this program.
It’s not that they want to teach teachers to be antiracist and to take steps to create more fair and equitable classrooms. It’s that this is all a smokescreen to allow the people who are really behind many of the racist systems in our society to keep getting away with it and perpetuating more and more inequality.
I can just imagine how well the state would greet educators “disrupt[ing] harmful institutional practices” by refusing to give standardized tests!
The report was written by Dan Goldhaber and Michael DeArmond of the Center for the Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER) at the American Institutes for Research with a qualitative analysis by Brightbeam CEO Chris Stewart and his staff.
CALDER is a federally-funded nonprofit organization with several testing industry-funded and conservative think-tank members in management, on the advisory board, and working as independent researchers – in case, you thought anything they produced might be fair and balanced.
Brightbeam is a corporate education reform think tank financed by the usual billionaires such as Michael Bloomberg, Alice Walton, Jim Walton, Laurene Jobs Powell and Mark Zuckerberg. And Stewart is a long-time standardized testing and school privatization cheerleader – not exactly the kind of people who can afford to find much fault in NCLB because doing so would put them out of work.
The report highlights eight key findings – four positive and four negative.
First, the authors of the report pat each other on the back because NCLB collected so much yummy data that had been unavailable previously. In particular, the law extracted data from the nation’s schools based on race, socioeconomics and special needs. “No longer were school districts able to hide the performance of some students behind an average,” the report states.
Moreover, it’s strange to celebrate NCLB for disallowing hiding student performance behind an average when that’s exactly what it does. Everything is an average now! Average test scores, aggregate passing scores, whether your school made adequate yearly progress… it’s all averages! Oh to go back to the times when you could look at a single student’s academic record without having to compare it to anyone else!
Second, the authors claim student test scores increased because of NCLB especially among Black, Hispanic, and low-income students. However, this depends on how you massage the data.
However, it is true that test scores are more easily comparable because they come from the same assessments. Why this is so important is unclear. Learning is not the same as sports statistics. It is not a competition. Students learn when they’re ready to learn – not based on anyone’s schedule. What matters is if they learn at all.
Fourth, the authors admit “Reforms in teacher evaluation and school turnaround initiatives did not consistently improve student outcomes at scale, in part due to significant variation in quality of implementation.”
It is interesting that even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce can’t spin NCLB into an unquestionable success. But it is almost a cliche among the standardized testing industry that any failures of the big tests are always excused as failures solely of “implementation.” If teachers and districts just tried harder to put the testing industry’s plans into effect, everything would be working perfectly. It’s these darn teachers and schools! Whine! Cry! Sob!
For the negative findings, the report concluded there were unknowns about the impact of NCLB that should be further studied.
First, they were unsure if schools serving minorities and the poor ended up getting more money to improve than they otherwise would have done. SPOILER ALERT: they did not.
Did this help? Just the opposite. Now you have two schools vying for an even smaller pot of funding but one of these schools (the charter) doesn’t have to follow the regulations the others school must. So anyone with no background in education can open a school, hire uncertified teachers, make decisions on how to spend tax dollars without an elected school board, etc. Not helpful.
Third, the authors of the report were unsure how many struggling schools became successful under NCLB. SPOILER ALERT: Not many.
Take New Orleans, a district often held up by the testing and privatization industry as a success. This is the only all-charter school district in the country. After 2005 and Hurricane Katrina, a predominantly white Republican legislature forced the district’s public schools to become charters – outright experimenting on a majority African American city. The result? School enrollment declined from 65,000 before the hurricane to 48,000 a dozen years later. The most recent state scores rated 49% of the city’s charter schools as D or F, based on their academic performance. The New Orleans district scores are below the state average, and that’s saying something since Louisiana is one of the lowest performing states in the nation.
Not exactly an overwhelming success.
Fourth, the authors wondered if NCLB might have resulted in non-academic improvements – things like a reduction in chronic absences, school climate, etc. SPOILER ALERT: Nope.
Let’s get real. Poverty and wealth are the most important factors determining test scores. This shows up on every standardized test. In fact, that’s what the name means – STANDARDIZED test – these assessments are normed on a bell curve reflecting family income and education. Kids from families from higher socioeconomic brackets are at the top of the curve and poor kids are on the bottom.
And consider this: nearly half the students in the U.S. now qualify for free or reduced lunches – the federal measure of poverty. So if we really want to help kids achieve academically, we need to first reduce the impact of poverty on children and families by making sure that they have access to nutrition, medical care, and good housing. Ensure pregnant women get medical care so their children are born healthy.
In short, don’t give students corporate canned tests. Give them well-maintained schools with nurses, counselors, and libraries with flesh-and-blood librarians. These are just some of the ways we could actually make things better.
It’s been two decades already. People know high stakes testing has failed despite whatever public relations reports are issued by lobbyist organizations. It’s time we had the courage to admit NCLB was a mistake and acted to finally put things right.
It may hurt some businesses that rely on testing to make a buck. It may require big corporations to pay their fair share of taxes. But that is the only way to improve education.
We must put our money where our mouths are – or else be quiet.
Like this post? You might want to consider becoming a Patreon subscriber. This helps me continue to keep the blog going and get on with this difficult and challenging work.
In particular, Asian-Americans – taken as a whole – score better than white Americans.
So the tests are totally fair, right? Case closed?
Asian-Americans, who make up roughly 5 percent of public school enrollment nationally, are just as much victimized by standardized testing as any other minority. The only difference is their success is held up as an excuse for upholding this deeply inequitable practice.
It’s kind of like if two people were pitted against each other in a race, and one had to run a mile, and the other had to run 1.5 miles – and the second person actually won. Would that make the race fair?
No. Not at all. But the organizers point to the result as proof that running that extra distance in the same amount of time was nondiscriminatory. So stop complaining!
Take the SAT. Asian-American students typically score higher than other students on America’s most popular college gatekeeper as they do on other standardized tests. For instance, among high school students who graduated in 2020, Asian students scored an average of 632 on the SAT math section, compared with 547 for white students. The average math score overall was 523 (out of 800).
What does this really mean?
ASIAN AMERICANS ARE NOT A MONOLITH
First of all, when we talk about Asian-American students doing well on standardized tests, we’re generalizing. We don’t mean all Asians – only a certain percentage of certain kinds of these people. After all, Asia is a pretty big continent.
According to the US Census Bureau, there are roughly 23 million Americans of Asian descent, and the largest subgroups are people of Chinese and Indian ancestry with populations of approximately 5 million each. Next comes people of Filipino (4.2 million), Vietnamese (2.2 million), Korean (1.9 million) and Japanese descent (1.5 million).
But those are just the biggest subgroups. When you add in all Asian-Americans including Pacific Islanders, you get more than 50 different ethnic groups with varying languages, immigration histories and educational experiences.
Any generalization about such a diverse group will leave out important details, including test scores.
ALL ASIANS DON’T GET HIGH TEST SCORES
For example, high test achievement is not something attained universally by all people who can trace their parentage through that part of the world. It’s actually much more common for East Asians than others. In particular, we’re talking about people of Chinese, Korean and similar heritages.
This goes far in explaining why Chinese- and Korean-Americans have the highest rate of participation in SAT/ACT test prep – even more than people from other Asian ethnicities.
In one study, more than half of Korean-Americans and 42 percent of Chinese-Americans took an SAT prep course before college compared to 35.6 percent of white students, 32.4 percent of Hispanic students and 40.4 percent of black students. This is true regardless of household income. Affluent Asian Americans were more likely to take test prep, but 46.7 percent of low-income Korean-Americans still took a prep course.
East Asian-Americans show statistically significant gains from test prep much more often than others. This is partially due to having better access to adequately funded K-12 schools than other minority groups. They are less likely to attend racially segregated, poorly resourced schools, unlike their Black and Hispanic peers. Even Asians from lower socio-economic backgrounds tend to get more out of test prep than others because they are more likely to attend well-resourced schools than their counterparts in the same socio-economic bracket.
And let’s not forget that test prep companies target Asian-American communities. You’ll find them in urban centers like Koreatown in Los Angeles or heavily Asian suburbs such as the San Gabriel Valley. Advertising material for these services are often in multiple languages or displayed in Asian-language newspapers and ethnic media.
Most of New York City’s 411 prep centers are based in Queens and Brooklyn, “with over a quarter of them… most notably in the boroughs’ Asian enclaves of Flushing and Sunset Park in Brooklyn,” The New York Times reported.
“On the opposite coast, 861 such tutoring centers exist in California’s Orange, Santa Clara and Los Angeles counties, all heavy with Asian-American families,” the article states.
So it’s no wonder why certain Asian-American communities – especially East Asian communities – tend to favor test prep and achieve high standardized test scores.
ASIANS ARE HELD TO UNFAIR STANDARDS
But let us not forget that East Asians are not ALL ASIANS. If you’re unlucky enough to be from other parts of that massive continent or the island chains of the Pacific, the US will still paint you with the same broad brush.
All Asian-Americans – whether of East Asian descent or not – are held to a higher standard in things like college admissions where overachievement is considered the norm and little else is tolerated.
This is unfair to East Asians because it expects them to jump through more hoops than white people or other ethnic groups just to be accepted, but it is even worse for other Asian subgroups.
A 2022 study of the nine-campus University of California – the state with the country’s largest Asian-American population – concluded that Filipino, Thai, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander and Laotian students were admitted at below-average rates and that many ethnicities including Samoans and Chamorros, were underrepresented in the system.
Why? They had lower test scores than admissions officials expected.
Such an emphasis on standardized testing is not healthy for students of any nationality. The College Board makes millions of dollars every year with assessments like the SAT and ACT holding the scores up as proof that certain students have what it takes to excel in college or universities.
This is a rarely mentioned side effect of Asian-American’s standardized testing overachievement. And it may help to explain why – despite scoring well on standardized tests – Asians don’t complete college as often as students from other ethnicities.
According to an analysis of the 23-campus California State University System, all Asian subgroups were less likely than whites to complete their degrees in four years. There were roughly 78,000 Asians attending the university system in 2016, yet their four-year completion rate was 3% below that of all students. Only a few subgroups – Japanese and Asian Indians – had four-year completion rates that exceeded the average.
If test scores and admissions were all it took to achieve post secondary success, you’d expect college completion to be shared by Asian-Americans across the board.
In reality, college attainment varies significantly within the Asian community. While more than half of Japanese and Korean Americans (and nearly 3/4 of Asian Indian Americans) age 24 or older had a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2019, the same was true for less than 1/5 of their Laotian, Hmong and Cambodian counterparts.
Therefore, it is highly suspect when standardized testing apologists point to Asian-American test scores as proof the system is fair and balanced.
First of all, it conflates the achievements of mostly East Asians with all Americans of eastern heritage. Second, it demands more of one minority group to be accepted as equal to a white majority.
That’s all – just knowing that these things exist and trying to recognize them when present.
I’m not sure what’s so controversial about that. If we all agree racism is bad, why is it undesirable to acknowledge it exists when it’s demonstrably there?
More specifically, being woke means focusing on intersectionality – how issues of race, class and gender overlap and interrelate with each other. It means practicing critical race theory – not the made up dog whistle conservatives use to describe anything they don’t like being taught in school, but the study of how racial bias is inherent in many Western social and legal systems. It means using the lens of Black feminism, queer theory and others to address structural inequality.
Again, why is that a bad thing? If we agree that prejudice is bad, we should want to avoid it in every way possible, and these are the primary tools that enable us to do so.
Shouldn’t we protect hard-fought advances in human rights? Shouldn’t we continue to strive for social justice and the ability of every citizen to freely participate in our democracy – especially in our public schools?
They have targeted and demonized antiracist work. They have tried to discredit the concepts that Black women and LGBTQ people have created to explain and improve the inequitable conditions of their lives.
And the reason is crystal clear – they oppose that work.
They oppose anti-racism. They oppose the rights of Black women and LGBTQ people to better treatment.
They are against everyone but a perceived white, male, heteronormative majority that doesn’t even really exist.
For we are the keepers of history, science and culture.
Who will teach the true history that for more than 400 years in excess of 15 million men, women and children were the victims of the transatlantic slave trade? Who will teach the true history of the fight against human bondage and the struggle for equal rights? Who will teach about women’s fight for suffrage, equal pay, and reproductive freedom? Who will teach about the struggle of the individual to affirm their own gender identity and sexual expression?
This just goes to show that the free market will never stand up to political power if it is perceived as adversely affecting the bottom line. True education comes not from corporate academic standards or standardized test gatekeepers. It comes from teachers.
Intersectional frames such as those under attack by billionaires posing as populists have been incredibly important in supporting overlooked social problems and addressing today’s human rights failures.
Those of us who know history understand that suppression of knowledge and intellectuals (especially those from marginalized peoples) are a tool used to increase racism and oppression – to overturn the progress of the last century.
Refusing students access to books, criminalizing “divisive concepts,” and discrediting those with whom they disagree have all been tools of domination. Just as denying the persistence of any inequality has been a tool to discredit its victims.
If we give in to these partisan “anti-woke” imperatives, we enable the return of racist and cultural inequalities that had been at least partially rectified years ago. We clear the way for these extremists to bring back a mythical past in which women are meant to be merely subservient to men and where race, gender and sexuality are rigidly defined and limited according to the ruling class.
Teachers, we cannot allow this to happen.
We stand at the gates, the first (and perhaps last) line of defense, because we stand at the schoolhouse doors.
They don’t stop crime. Typically they arrive AFTER a crime has already been committed. If anything, they are an instrument of justice – of ensuring the guilty are punished, but let’s not keep up this fantasy that they routinely prevent crime from taking place.
At best, this is a deterrent to crime. But that only works if the justice system works – and, frankly, our courts are in shambles.
How many times have we seen criminals escape consequences – especially if they’re rich and powerful?
We have people like George Santos in Congress caught in multiple lies and frauds. And nothing seems to be happening to them.
We have people like Matt Gaetz in Congress accused of sex trafficking and assault, and they aren’t even being actively investigated.
You think police deter crime? Not in a country without justice.
If you’re poor and you’re accused of a crime, you often have to spend weeks or months in jail awaiting trial because you can’t make bail. And when you’re incarcerated, you could lose your job, your reputation and who knows what violence may befall you behind bars?
And this is just if you’re accused. There’s no “innocent until proven guilty.” You’re treated like you’re guilty UNLESS you can pay to be treated innocent.
“But this is the justice system,” you say. “The police aren’t responsible for the justice system.”
Maybe not, but they support it. They prop it up. The system couldn’t exist without them.
The police knew all about the incident, according to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, but the details don’t seem to have been accurately conveyed to the officers responding to the scene. And the result was gun play and death.
And speaking of supporting the police, what about this mentally ill veteran? If you really want to support our men and women in blue, don’t send so many of our children across the sea to unnecessary wars that enrich the wealthy and waste our resources here at home.
That’s what I’d call supporting the police. Not putting up a stupid sign.
You want to support the police? How about common sense gun regulations so that there aren’t so many firearms out there with which to shoot them? The US literally has more guns than people and you think a yard sign is doing anything for law enforcement!?
It won’t help the police. All it will do is make any criticism of the police or the system they serve seem outrageous.
How dare you criticize our officers or our system!? Don’t you appreciate how this man died!? Don’t you appreciate the bullets he and his partner took for you!?
And that’s the BEST case scenario.
Now let’s look at the other possibility.
You think there’s no harm that can come from signs like this all across our community? Ask a black person.
Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Michael Brown…. Poor little Antwon Rose! He was a 17-year-old boy shot and killed five years ago as he was running away from police in East Pittsburgh – not far at all from McKeesport and where last week’s incident took place.
I know his mother. He has family and friends in the school where I’m a teacher.
Michael Rosfeld, the officer who killed Antwon, was fired and he was sued civilly in court. But that doesn’t make up for the murder of a child.
Where are Antwon’s signs? Where are his novelty lightbulbs?
Police across the country killed an average of more than three people a day, or nearly 100 people every month last year according to Mapping Police Violence.
In 2021, police killed 1,145 people; 1,152 in 2020; 1,097 in 2019; 1,140 in 2018; and 1,089 in 2017.
And you want me to put up a sign saying “We Support Our Police?”
I know all police officers are not bad. But the system is. It is broken, and putting up a sign like that helps draw attention away from that fact and ensures nothing will get done to fix it.
After all, why should we bother? Everyone here supports our police.
There are real solutions we could enact that might bring us some peace.
Clinicians and medics could responded to mental health calls like the one last week instead of the police. In fact, this has been tried successfully in Denver. If they need backup, THEN call police. But you shouldn’t start the interaction with armed law enforcement officers who do not have sufficient training or expertise for these types of situations.
You could restrict traffic stops for minor violations. Decriminalize things like jaywalking and other minor infractions. We don’t need broken windows policing when it leads to more citizens in body bags and more police getting killed.
And can we get some gun control? Please?
We need broad systematic change to reduce lethal force from police. We need to get rid of qualified immunity for officers so that if they make a mistake, they can be held accountable for it. We need incentives to make them think twice before taking a life.
These are the kinds of things that would START to bring about positive change. These are the kinds of things that I DO support.
But, no, I don’t support police without qualification.
I don’t support anyone that far.
It is ridiculous to oversimplify our world down to such a slogan.
That’s why I will mourn with my community over this senseless act of violence.
And I will appreciate all that law enforcement does right.
But I will also demand better for our boys and girls in blue, our community and my black and brown brothers and sisters who bear the brunt of our societal dysfunction.
Like this post? You might want to consider becoming a Patreon subscriber. This helps me continue to keep the blog going and get on with this difficult and challenging work.
The non-profit chain of 13 schools based in Pittsburgh, Pa, boasts high academics, safe campuses and certified teachers.
At least, that’s what its advertising blitz proclaims from every grocery store cart, newspaper page, radio announcement and billboard. Which just goes to show that anyone will tout your virtues if you pay them enough money – taxpayer money, that is.
Take Propel McKeesport – the franchise located in my own neighborhood.
The percentage of students achieving proficiency in math was 7% (which is lower than the Pennsylvania state average of 38%) for the 2020-21 school year. The percentage of students achieving proficiency in reading was 34% (which is lower than the Pennsylvania state average of 55%) for the 2020-21 school year.
Moreover, test scores in both subjects were higher at the McKeesport Area School District, the local authentic public school – 17% higher in math and 3.5% higher in reading at the elementary level and 6% higher in math and 2% higher in reading at the middle school level. Propel McKeesport does not teach beyond 8th grade.
So what exactly is Propel celebrating?
Maybe it’s the fact that its McKeesport location achieved these standardized test scores while teaching an intensely racially segregated student body – 86% minority (mostly Black). By comparison, the authentic public schools range from 52-71% minority students (mostly Black).
I’m not sure that’s much of a victory. Wasn’t one of the major tenants of the civil rights movement having racially integrated schools – that doing so would help students of color achieve academically because resources couldn’t be horded away from them?
In 2015, two teenagers at Propel Braddock Hills High School were arrested after one allegedly tried to sell guns to another in a bathroom during the school day. Two guns were recovered by police and the students were taken into custody on campus. The rest of the students were placed on lockdown until police cleared the area.
For Propel it is unclear exactly how members are chosen for its corporate board, but it is difficult for parents and community members to be appointed.
According to an article in Public Source, individuals can only become board members if they are already members of the “Friends of Propel,” but the charter chain did not provide information on this group or how its members are selected.
When it comes to class size, most Propel schools report having student-to-teacher ratios slightly smaller or the same as at neighborhood authentic public schools. But who knows? There’s no way to tell whether classes may actually be larger.
However, individual attention is even harder to verify.
Most schools focus on more individual attention these days.
Unfortunately, the network provides very little detailed information about its curriculum.
So this claim by Propel is a way of bragging that the network doesn’t have to have certified and qualified teachers, but it does so anyway.
Unfortunately, it is definitively false.
According to those US News and World Report spotlights that the charter school network likes to highlight, several Propel schools do not have all certified teachers. For instance, Propel McKeesport only has 92% full-time certified teachers, Propel Homestead only has 94%, Propel Pitcairn only has 96%, etc.
So does Propel have 100% Certified and Qualified Teachers? Absolutely not.
Award Winning Arts Programs
Kudos to Propel for recognizing that arts are an important part of the curriculum. Or at least using it as a selling point on its advertisements. However, without details of its curriculum submitted to the state and verifiable by audit, there is nothing to back this claim up factually.
In fact, on Propel’s own Website, the only reference I see to awards for art is a brief mention in its after-school program which they label as “award-winning.”
What award did it win? The ‘Propel Presents Itself with an Award’ Award? Is there anything more substantial to this claim?
Certainly every school should have a dress code, but can’t students express themselves freely anymore? I just don’t see why emulating the worst qualities of private schools is a great thing – especially when it adds an unnecessary cost for parents.
Charter schools are funded with public tax dollars. So, yes, you don’t have to pay a tuition to attend. However, you do have to pay for extras like school uniforms.
In fact, overcoming the unpopularity of charter schools because of the increased expense for taxpayers is cited by Droz Marketing – the company that made all those glossy Propel advertisements – on its Website portfolio as an obstacle the company had to overcome to sell Propel to the masses.
Which brings us back to the beginning.
Does Propel go beyond the facts in its claims for itself?
Many businesses do that these days. And make no mistake – Propel IS a business. If it can cut a corner or find a loophole to put more money in operators’ pockets, it will.
However, let me end with what may be the most telling indicator of what it is like at Propel’s charter schools.
indeed.com is a Website workers use to decide if they should apply at a given job site. Employees anonymously review their current place of employment to let prospective job applicants know what it is like there and if they should consider seeking a job there.
First Grade Teacher (Former Employee) – McKeesport, PA – April 15, 2022 I worked at Propel McKeesport for 9 days before I realized it would negatively affect my mental health greatly if I stayed. Everything about the school was chaotic and unorganized. There is so much asked of the teachers, and they are given little to no support in the process. The people that are put in place to act as supports are spread so thin, that you aren’t able to receive the support necessary. I would have to get to work early and stay late in order to get all of my tasks done. I had no time for my personal life, and I was constantly overwhelmed. Leaving was the best decision I could’ve made for myself and my well being. Pros Higher than average starting pay for new teachers, healthcare benefits Cons Unorganized, consuming, little support/structure
Elementary School Teacher (Former Employee) – Hazelwood, PA – February 3, 2022 My time at Propel Hazelwood was the worst experience I have ever had in a professional setting. The principal, at the time, had all sorts of big ideas, and no clue how to make them actionable. Behavior was managed through a failed token economy… so I’m sure you can imagine what behavior looked like. But good news, they’ll just fire you before you qualify for benefits, and trick the next poor sap. For reference, I was the 3rd of 5 teachers to go through that position in 2 years.
In summary, I hope you line up a therapist before you sign your soul away to Propel. I know I needed one. Pros There were no pros. I can’t even make one up. Cons Pitiful everything. People, leadership, attitudes, slogans, curriculum (or lack there of). Run away… fast.
Teacher (Former Employee) – McKeesport, PA – September 3, 2021 Propel McKeesport cannot keep their staff members. They have so many open positions because their lesson plan template is 6 pages long, and the work pile-up is more than loving your scholars. The wonderful scholars don’t get a chance to love who you are because you (if you are not a favorite) are swamped with work. The job is a nightmare. Pros There is not one pro I can think of. Cons Flooded with work. Lies and says it is “Propel-Wide”
Janitor (Current Employee) – Pittsburgh, PA – January 3, 2022
Hr treats you bad Teachers treat you bad You are less then nothing to everyone even your bosses Never work for Braddock propel worst school I’ve seen Pros Nothing Cons You will be treated like you are worthless
Teacher (Former Employee) – Braddock Hills, PA – September 27, 2021 Wow. It sounds good from the outside but is terrible in the inside. High school students were out of control. Administration offered little help. The parents were just as aggressive as their children. The teachers will throw anyone under the bus as soon as possible. Pros Great pay. Amazing benefits. Stellar retirement and health insurance. Cons Terribly behaved students, aggressive parents, woke and offended staff
Educator (Current Employee) – Pittsburgh, PA – May 21, 2021 Even though I went in knowing the hours would be long and the school year would be longer, I was not prepared for the lack of work life balance. I have worked with Propel for 3 years and I will say that it is all consuming. I have been expected to not only do my job during building hours, but outside of work as well. This would be fine if it was occasional, but especially during COVID, it has become constant. Not only is the work never ending, but in my buildng we are not given adequate time to eat (25 minutes) or plan (50 minutes, but this time is often taken up by meetings almost daily). On top of limited planning time and expectations that never seem to stop coming, many of us have been forced into taking on additional, unpaid roles that we did not ask or agree to, and “no thank you” is not accepted as an answer. The district struggles to employee substitutes, so teachers are often expected to split classes when other grade level members are out. This has resulted in 30+ students in classrooms during non-COVID times, with one educator. Pros Good benefits, reasonable pay for the area, great curriculum Cons Short breaks, underqualified building administration, limited support
Teacher (Current Employee) – Pittsburgh, PA – January 13, 2021 Propel staff does care a lot about the students, but it doesn’t feel like those who are higher up care as much about them. Having a CEO/Superintendent may be the reason for this. Pros Dedicated cohorts Cons Work-life balance off
teacher (Former Employee) – Montour, PA – July 24, 2020 There was always a feeling of being watched in a critical way throughout the day. Administration was constantly evaluating teacher performance in the classroom which created a negative work environment. When a student became disruptive in the classroom administrators were difficult to locate. If an administrator did come to the classroom he/she would coddle the student with candy or a fun activity before returning him/her to the classroom. Needless to say the disruptive behavior would continue within an hour. Positive effective leadership was nonexistent.
Accounting Manager (Former Employee) – Pittsburgh, PA – March 4, 2020 Did not get the job I was hired to do. Turnover was high. Cannot speak to majority of the the issues that I had due to a clause in my severance package.
Educator (Former Employee) – Pitcairn, PA – February 3, 2020 Challenging work environment, burn out is high, little support from administration. Propel varies from building to building, but overall its sounds great in theory and in their “plans”, but they’re not able to carry out what they promise to students or staff.
Pros: Let me start by saying, the students are amazing! The parents can be challenging but they truly want what’s best for their children. Cons: If you aren’t LIKED by the superintendent and assistant superintendent your days with Propel are numbered. From the onset, I was deceived by this organization. I spent 4-months interviewing for a High School principal position. I was offered the position of high school principal only to find out I would be a K-8 principal. This was the first red flag of many. Unfortunately, I wasn’t well liked therefore I received very little of what I needed to effectively lead the school. Instead, I got the unhelpful support they thought I needed and none of which I requested. By Feb. I had lost both my APs – one by choice and the other by force. In March I was given a replacement AP that wasn’t a good fit. Work-life balance does NOT exist at Propel Charter Schools. On average, I worked 12 -14-hour days. Sadly, this is the norm for principals in this network. If you are considering Propel for a position as a school administrator, I would not recommend it.
Teacher (Former Employee) – Hazelwood, PA – September 18, 2019
The staff is wonderful and very supportive. However, the students there are very disrespectful, rude, and have major problems with authority. As a teacher walking into the classroom, they refuse to listen, talk over you, cuss you, and not a lot is done about it.
Propel is not ran like a school, it is ran like a business. They do not give the students a fighting chance for a bright future. They are more worried about the name ‘propel’ than anything. The work-life balance is awful. They expect way too much of your own time and when they don’t get it, you are looked down on for it. They create cliques and if you are not in the clique, consider yourself gone. They place you wherever they want, certified or not, and will watch you fail. There is lack of help and support from the administration. The only decent people around are your co-workers. I would never recommend this as a work environment nor for parents to send their kids there. No learning takes place. You constantly deal with behavior problems while the children who want to learn are put on the back burner. They change rules half way into the school year and fudge their data. At the rate they are going, they will never compare to peers across the state for PSSAs due to behavior issues and poor management. Not to mention, your lunch is 20 minutes so I hope you can eat fast and 9X out of 10, your planning time to taken away from you for meetings! Be prepared for meetings!!!
There was little time to be able to practice individualized teaching practices and spend time working with students. Leaders were only focused on enrollment and test scores, and did not focus on the important needs of the child. Work/Home life balance did not exist, as emails and texts were sent at 9:00 PM at night. Money is the number one focus, and for a school system, it was not what was expected.
Teaching children, benefits and compensation
Bad work/home life balance
Like this post? You might want to consider becoming a Patreon subscriber. This helps me continue to keep the blog going and get on with this difficult and challenging work.
Right-wingers would much rather make it all a business where the more you pay, the better the education your kids get. There’d be poor quality charter schools for those who can’t afford the entry fee, but the best of everything would be reserved for the kids of the rich and powerful whose parents would use school vouchers to offset some of their tuition at private institutions.
Lawmakers might have to create real policies, a platform, solutions – to actually govern!
So GOP operatives spread hysterical lies about public schools. They call them “government schools” as if that meant some imposed bureaucracy of outsiders and not what it actually does – schools governed by elected members of the community.
And it’s true, according to a 2018 Gallup poll, Americans aged 18 to 29 are almost as positive about socialism (51%) as they are about capitalism (45%).
So on behalf of the right-wing think tank behind the critical race theory brouhaha, transphobic legislation, climate change denial and a host of other regressive causes, Bluey asked DeVos why young people aren’t as firmly championing capitalism as previous generations.
“I recall visiting a classroom not too long ago where one of the teachers was wearing a shirt that said “Find Your Truth,” suggesting that, of course, truth is a very fungible and mutable thing instead of focusing on the fact that there is objective truth and part of learning is actually pursuing that truth.”
This is a rather strange answer. It may be the case that there are absolute truths in the world, but economic theories certainly don’t qualify. In matters of opinion, isn’t it better to tell students the facts and let them think for themselves about their relative virtues?
Tell them capitalism is great. Tell them socialism is terrible. Screw critical thinking.
The Heritage Foundation, at least, liked her answer, using it as a template to fund a plethora of stories about public schools – not just leaving the matter up to students to decide – but actually bullying kids into championing communism.
In the text of article, Blair admits he was only “in education” for 4 years, but it seems he was not a full-time classroom teacher for most of that time. According to his Linked-In account, he was a French teacher for 9 months in a school in Portland, Oregon. Before that he was an Extracurricular Aide, an English Language Assistant and Language Immersion Counselor at various schools in the US and France.
His evidence of indoctrination reads like “Kids Say the Darndest Things – Republican Edition.”
For example, he says he asked an elementary school girl if she liked Winston Churchill, and she frowned calling Churchill racist.
That’s right. Whether teachers need to or not, they have to spend at least 45 minutes on it every November.
“We want to make sure that every year folks in Florida, but particularly our students, will learn about the evils of communism. The dictators that have led communist regimes and the hundreds of millions of individuals who suffered and continue to suffer under the weight of this discredited ideology,” DeSantis said, adding that “a lot of young people don’t really know that much” about the political ideology.
At first blush, this may sound like a good idea. More historical knowledge is a good thing, but it’s the context that makes this troubling.
Florida Republicans already have passed a battalion of laws telling educators what they CANNOT teach.
In each case, I encourage my students to think about the problems from the stories, the solutions offered in the narratives and to discuss the matter with classmates. We hold Socratic Seminars and write critical essays. For “The Giver,” students work in groups to create their own utopias – you’d be surprised how many are socialist, though there are also a number of capitalist republics, dictatorships and anarchies. Kids love anarchy.
And I admit it – I encourage my students to think for themselves. I try not to give them my answers – my truths.
So this year, my blog had the fewest hits since I started – 124,984 in 2022. By comparison, last year I had 222,414.
I’d write an article, post it on social media and see it reposted again and again. You’d think that would mean it was popular, but no. The people who saw it liked it enough to suggest it to others, but it went little further. With each share, fewer people saw it. Like someone put up a wall in front of it.
In truth, I’m lucky as many people had the opportunity to read my work as did.
Description: My school’s football team is mostly black. They played a mostly white football team and were greeted by racial slurs and an allegedly intentional injury to one of our players. However, the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League (WPIAL) blamed both sides for the incident.
Fun Fact: It’s one of those decidedly local stories that community newspapers used to cover before almost all went bankrupt or were sold to the media giants. Having this platform allowed me to call out an injustice when most voices were silenced. The injured player’s mother thanked me for doing so. Stories like this keep me going.
Description: At the beginning of the summer, governments were so shaken by the exodus of teachers from the classroom that they were discussing raising our salaries or giving us bonuses. Parents were so adamantly against distance learning they demanding in-person classes with real, live human teachers. What a shock to the super elite education “experts” who had been pushing ways to eliminate teachers for decades and ignoring our consistent march out of the field under these conditions.
Description: Charter schools are inequitable because they have charters. These are special agreements that they don’t have to follow all the rules other authentic public schools funded by tax dollars must follow. That’s unfair and it applies to EVERY charter school because every one has a charter. Hence, the name.
Fun Fact: Criticism of charter schools in general usually degrades to defense of individual charter schools avoiding whatever general criticism is leveled against the industry. The argument in this article has the benefit of avoiding any such evasion. All charter schools are guilty of this (and many are guilty of much more). All of them.
Description: Just a list of many things classroom teachers know about schools and education but that the general public often ignores. These are the kinds of things missing from the education debate because we rarely include teachers in the discussion about the field where they are the experts.
Fun Fact: For a few hours people were talking about this article far and wide. And then – boom – it got shut down with a bang. This one was so universal it should have been popular for weeks. But it just disappeared.
Description: Charter schools are colonial enterprises. They loot and pillage the local tax base but without having to be governed by school boards made up of community members – otherwise known as local taxpayers. They can be run by appointed boards often made up of people who do not come from the community in question. They are outsiders come merely for personal profit. These invaders are quite literally taking local, community resources and liquidating them for their own use – the maximization of personal profit. The public is removed from the decision-making process about how its own resources are utilized and/or spent.
Fun Fact: It’s an argument from consistency. If we’re against the colonial enterprise, we must be against charter schools, too. I’m particularly proud of the graphic (above) I created to go with this article.
Description: Dr. Mark Holtzman, the Superintendent from the district where I live, left under strange circumstances. He resigned and took a new contract in a matter of hours so he could get a raise from a lame duck school board without having to wait for the people the community elected to decide the matter to take office first. Then when it all came to light, he left the district for greener pastures.
Fun Fact: More than any other news source, I documented what happened in detail. Without a series of articles I wrote on this, most people would have had very little idea what happened. It would have just been rumors. This is why we need local journalism. It shouldn’t be left to bloggers like me.
Description: This was social media’s latest crackdown on edu-bloggers and other truth tellers. I used to get 1,000 readers a week. Now I’m lucky to get a few hundred. There’s a strict algorithm that determines what people get to see on their Facebook pages. And if it says you’re invisible, then POOF! You’re gone and the people who would most enjoy your writing and want to pass it on don’t get the chance. It’s undemocratic in the extreme but totally legal because Facebook is a for-profit company, not a public service. Money wins over free exchange of ideas.
Fun Fact: There used to be so many other education bloggers like me out there. Now there are just a handful. This is why.
Description: Standardized tests were supposed to improve our public schools. They were supposed to ensure all students were getting the proper resources. They were supposed to ensure all teachers were doing their best for their students. But after more than four decades, these assessments have not fulfilled a single one of these promises. In fact, all they’ve done is make things worse at public schools while creating a lucrative market for testing companies and school privatization concerns.
Fun Fact: Pundits still talk about standardized testing as if it were innovative. It’s not. It’s the status quo. Time to end this failed experiment.
Description: Let’s examine some charter school propaganda – one piece at a time – and see if there’s any truth to these marketing claims. Charter schools are actually not public schools in the same way as other taxpayer funded schools. They do not save money – they waste it. Their students do not outperform authentic public school students. They are not innovative – they are regressive. They do not protect children’s civil rights – they violate them.
Fun Fact: I designed the title and picture to trick readers into thinking this was a pro-charter school article. So many people were butt hurt when they read it! I just hope it helped clarify the matter to those who were undecided.
Description: The Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test is an assessment made by Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), a so-called non-profit organization out of Portland, Oregon. Some states require the MAP as part of their standardized testing machinery. However, in my home state of Pennsylvania, the MAP is used as a pre-test or practice assessment by districts that elect to pay for it. What a waste! Why do we need a test BEFORE the test? The assessment’s job is to show how our students are doing in Reading, Math and Science compared with an average test taker. How does that help? I don’t teach average test takers. I teach human beings. Students learn at their own rates – sometimes faster, sometimes slower. We don’t quicken the timescale with needless comparisons.
Fun Fact: I think this article was as popular as it was because people could relate. So many teachers told me how relieved they were to hear someone else expressing all the frustrations they were experiencing in their own districts with the MAP and other tests like it. If administrators and school boards would just listen to teachers! If they’d even bother asking them!
Description: When it comes to dumb ideas that just won’t go away, there is a special place in the underworld for the demand that teachers post their learning objectives prominently in the classroom. It presupposes that teachers control everything their students learn in the classroom and can offer it to them on a silver platter. It’s not just a useless waste of time but a dangerous misunderstanding of what actually happens in the learning process.
Fun Fact: This isn’t exactly news, but teachers were relieved to hear their truth finally given voice. So many of us still have to abide by this nonsense when we could be doing something that actually makes a difference. It’s nice to have your sanity and frustration confirmed. If only administrators could admit they were wrong and stop demanding this crap!
Gadfly’s Other Year End Round Ups
This wasn’t the first year I’ve done a countdown of the year’s greatest hits. I usually write one counting down my most popular articles and one listing articles that I thought deserved a second look. Here are all my end of the year articles since I began my blog in 2014:
Anyone who has used Siri or Alexa knows that – sometimes they reply to your questions with non sequiturs or a bunch of random words that don’t even make sense.
ChatGPT is no different.
As more people used it, ChatGPT’s answers became so erratic that Stack Overflow – a Q&A platform for coders and programmers – temporarily banned users from sharing information from ChatGPT, noting that it’s “substantially harmful to the site and to users who are asking or looking for correct answers.”
The answers it provides are not thought out responses. They are approximations – good approximations – of what it calculates would be a correct answer if asked of a human being.
The chatbot is operating “without a contextual understanding of the language,” said Lian Jye Su, a research director at market research firm ABI Research.
“It is very easy for the model to give plausible-sounding but incorrect or nonsensical answers,” she said. “It guessed when it was supposed to clarify and sometimes responded to harmful instructions or exhibited biased behavior. It also lacks regional and country-specific understanding.”
Eager for any headline that didn’t center on his disastrous takeover of Twitter, Musk endorsed the new AI even though he left the company in 2018 after disagreements over its direction.
However, AI and even chatbots have been used in some classrooms successfully.
Professor Ashok Goel secretly used a chatbot called Jill Watson as an assistant teacher of online courses at the Georgia Institute of Technology. The AI answered routine questions from students, while professors concentrated on more complicated issues. At the end of the course, when Goel revealed that Jill Watson was a chatbot, many students expressed surprise and said they had thought she was a real person.
This appears to be the primary use of a chatbot in education.
“Students have a lot of the same questions over and over again. They’re looking for the answers to easy administrative questions, and they have similar questions regarding their subjects each year. Chatbots help to get rid of some of the noise. Students are able to get to answers as quickly as possible and move on,” said Erik Bøylestad Nilsen from BI Norwegian Business School.