Eagle county school teachers: dare they speak up?
Recently I wrote a commentary for The Vail Trail called, “How the ‘No Child Left Behind Act’ can result in no teacher left standing” (see vailtrail.com, Jan. 20 edition). I am still receiving confidential emails from teachers in response to the column.Some teachers are, as one writer and I discussed, “scared stiff.”Eagle County teachers have been subjected to a leading performance-based pay system, a teacher advancement pilot program developed by the Milken Family Foundation. But it is plain to see that some of our teachers have clinical, proven, and calculable reasons why TAP is not good for our kids.From what I am hearing, these teachers cannot speak their minds for fear of losing their jobs.Despite these quiet grumblings, Eagle County’s RE50J has implemented the TAP program in all of its schools, making it the first in the nation to do so.Are we being risky and bold, or just plain stupid?I have a sense that the status that comes with being the first school district in the United States to wholeheartedly embrace TAP is driving some decisions about educating our kids. Who are we to think that TAP is sooooo good that all of our schools should embark on it virtually at once? Yes, we are cutting-edge up here in the mountains, and we have plenty of talented teachers and local minds able to step out of traditional metropolitan roles – but let us step out wisely.In my Google search to prepare facts for this piece, I was not surprised to find many feature pieces on performance-based pay for teachers to be somewhat reserved, hailing teacher “buy-in” as a main component.One story, from the Casper Star Tribune, shared that 75 percent of the district’s staff would have to vote for such a TAP plan such as ours in order for it to go in effect.I wondered. Did such a vote happen among our teachers in Eagle County?Superintendent John Brendza explained it to me as follows. Amendment 3D was approved by taxpayers a few years ago for a cost-of-living raise for district employees. A caveat of 3D was to implement some type of performance-based pay structure. The school board assigned the task of choosing such a compensation package to a committee, weighted with teachers, and the result is our TAP program.No, this is not 75 percent buy-in! Having then talked to a member of that very committee, I believe our present scenario is precisely what the committee wanted to avoid. The Milken Plan is not working. So how did all of this happen?A section from district literature explaining TAP touts, “communicate up front that change is difficult, but that the TAP program is driven by the desire for increased student achievement.” Yes, change is difficult. Especially if you don’t have a significant percentage of workers on board as the boat leaves the dock.Shame on all of us for not asking more hard-nosed questions about where those extra teachers called “masters” come from in a staff’s allocated budget for teachers. It’s just a hunch, but for all of the contact time spent on teacher collaboration and training, our kids seem to be suffering. Class sizes seem to be big (kindergartens with 24 kids) yet staff members are assigned jobs of Master. Essentially, the Masters sit in on classes being taught by the rest of the staff.Give me a break. Why can’t all teachers just be assigned to TEACH! Isn’t that their calling? It seems insulting for some teachers to judge the teaching of their peersand it seems puzzling to a parent of a kid in an overcrowded classroom.I say we assign all teachers the duty to teach and put the focus back on our kids. I am perplexed. With our limited resources, why are we trying to embark on this journey when the rest of the nation seems more hesitant?Most pointedly, why do some of our public school teachers in Eagle County feel afraid to say how they feel about the effects of TAP in the classroom? Sounds a bit Orwellian to me. VTElizabeth Chicoine writes about matters of the family for the Vail Trail. She can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.