Rural Retaining

I just posted about recruiting teachers in rural districts.

Here is just another article about the same topic- this time focused on the difficulty of keeping math teachers in high-poverty areas.
Some school districts have resorted to recruiting math teachers from overseas, while others have offered perks such as signing bonuses, housing assistance and student loan forgiveness.
Hmmm...never had an offer like that as an English teacher...

A Framework for Understanding Poverty

Just a few words today on a great book.  Ruby Payne's A Framework for Understanding Poverty is a really worthy read whether you are a teacher or not.  It is certainly worth the read if you are in any form of human services.

About five years ago, my district focused on poverty for the entire year's professional development.  Teachers who were around for The Poverty Conference still talk about it.  It still influences how they go about their day here in a district with more than 40% free and reduced lunches.

Dr. Payne's chapters are Definitions and Resources, The Role of Language and Story, Hidden Rules Among Classes, Characteristics of Generational Poverty, Role Models and Emotional Resources, Support Systems, Discipline, Instruction and Improving Achievement, and Creating Relationships.

The best section was the chapter on hidden rules.  She breaks down simply (chart form simple) the differences between poverty, middle class and upper class when it comes to things like possessions, money, education, family structure and more.  It's a really nice comparison; things this white kid from the suburbs hadn't really considered before.

We also talk a lot about generational poverty here (as compared to temporary situational poverty).  In many cases, that's exactly what we are dealing with: matriarchal family structure, fate, polarized thinking, living in the moment.

And like the proper handbook it is, each chapter wraps up with implications for schools.

Love this book. It informs what I do and how I think about things around here.


Busy day today with catching up on grading and heading off to a track meet. Thought I'd share a few covers from the past week or so.

It started with the Newsweek story and cover.

Then two other publications shot back. New York Teacher with this...

And, normally above the fray, Educational Leadership dropped this one...

Primary Class Size

I've been thinking about the cuts that are going on everywhere.  Wall Street didn't generate the tax receipts New York is accustomed to, The Gov has decided his last act is going to be a slash-and-burn fix of the State budget.  And, icing on the cake, the area is seeing declining enrollment.  So...cuts. Cuts to programs, cuts to staffing. The cuts have to be so deep that districts have even asked teachers to open their contracts up. The teachers blame the district and the State for fiscal mismanagement. The district and the newspapers blame 'those damn teachers.'  Everyone claims they have the students' best interests in mind.

Long rant to make my point I suppose.  But at the least class size is going to increase. Let's say districts find away to get coverage for all existing classes. Let's say the budget passes with sports included.  Class size is still going to increase.  So how much will that affect students?  Will the changes negatively impact them? 

Here, here, here and here are summary reports on the research that has been done.  Most of the research is actually more that a decade old. Some goes back as far as the 1970s.  I didn't see much recent research. I figure 1) the research already done was very thorough, especially Tennessee's STAR and 2) class sizes steadily declined during the Roaring 2000s- class size wasn't much of an issue.

This is what I learned...
  • Class size reduction (CSR) at the earliest grades (K-3) raises student achievement.
  • The results for CSR are most clear at the K-1 levels, less so at the 2-3 levels.
  • Class sizes should fall as low as 13-17 students per class, certainly below 20.
  • CSR for 2 or more consecutive years will have the most lasting effects.
  • Minorities and low-income students benefit the most.
  • Adding aides has no positive effect.
  • CSR may be expensive upfront. Really important right now.
I still wonder...
  • What effect will early CSR have on secondary education?
  • What would CSR do if implemented at the secondary level?
  • How much the researchers took teacher quality into account?  Would better teachers influence the results?
I'm not sure how much I've answered my own questions that started this post.  What my limited research has done is reinforce my belief that the earliest interventions are the best.  The sooner you address potential issues, the easier things are going to be for all parties involved. 

Recruiting in Rural Schools

One year, a new Technology teacher taught for a week in September. Over the first weekend, he called the school to say that his grade book was on his desk, he was not returning.

More than a few times, a teacher who was supposed to start in September decided to teach somewhere late August.

One year I was asked to teach Spanish (I'm an ELA teacher by the way).

At one point, my sophomores had had five Spanish teachers in three years. Five.

Foreign Language teachers are among the hardest to staff and keep. There are just so few around and are in such demand, they can have their pick of assignments.  Why should or would a teacher "fresh out of grad school" settle on any backwater district?

Here's a story from the other end of the country about staffing advanced science teachers.  Up here, about an hour away is a major university and the State capital- there is no shortage of well-paying civil service jobs, especially for scientists and lab rats.  Why deal with the high school classroom and public education salary schedule when there is that option?

The New York State School Board Association conducts an annual survey of teacher contracts. The average starting salary for teacher with a Master's is $45,876. The low (read upstate, rural) is $30,676. The high (read downstate, suburban) this year was $64, 319. That's an amazing starting salary to me. I have 11 years in; I would have to work another three or four to come close to $64,000. I might be going on 40 years old and making what some 24-year-old is making!

So what's the answer to recruiting in rural schools? Sell the benefits.  I have smaller classes making it easier to innovate and root out individual issues.  I have less administration looking over my shoulder giving me true academic freedom.  I teach in a community where the school is the center piece.  The town really puts great energy into all things school.  And the view can be incredible- my drive to school passes three lakes in the state forest preserve; I can literally swim, fish or kayak from the front parking lot or be at a trail head in minutes to bike or hike.