January 5, 2024

Peter Greene: School Letter Grades And Staffing

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Peter Greene is a retired teacher and education writer. In this post, he looks at what a story from Tuscon reminds us about one consequence of school letter grades. Reposted with permission. 

A story dropped in Tuscon last week that is among the least surprising education stories of the year.

Arzona has school letter grades. The argument for this dumb idea is that it allows parents to get a quick yet clear idea of how the schools are doing. This is supposed to help with the problem of asymmetric information, a condition you get in a market where the people who are trying to sell something have way more information than the people trying to buy it. So in a school choice system, where education has been turned into a commodity, school grades are supposed to create pressure on the school to Do Better, and they are supposed to help families make choices.
You know who else makes choices? Teachers looking for jobs.
The story out of Tuscon is that five schools with a grade of D are having trouble filling staff positions.
Well, duh.
What does a D grade tell a teacher who is considering a job at that school?
It tells her that the school is under-resourced, that it likely serves a poor community but does so without the extra support needed to succeed against the obstacles that come with such a school. It tells her that the school leaders have their backs against the wall, that they are focused on raising their grade which means raising test scores which means the Big Standardized Test and prepping for it are central to the school’s mission. And, since in this case she’s considering a job in classes directly related to testing, it tells her that she will be under the gun for test prep and test focus from day one. “I wanted to get into teaching so that I could get students ready to take one big standardized test,” said no teacher ever.
It tells her that morale may well be rather low. It tells her she’ll be associated with a school that’s being held up as an example of how public schools are failing.
Does any of this add up to an attractive job?
Certainly there can still be some takers for a variety of reasons, from roots in that community to loving a good challenge to not being offered anything else.
Nor do Big Standardized Test scores and the grades that they generate reveal previously hidden secrets. But slapping that grade on the school, making it a defining piece of the school’s identity just adds a whole other layer.
It’s not the only reason to ditch the letter grades for schools, but making “Come work at our failing school” as a recruiting pitch is certainly a lousy way to strengthen that school’s future.
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