by Dr. Terry Stoops
Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
A report published by Johns Hopkins University researchers has revealed a mess in Providence public schools, and it has been the talk of the education reform community since its release.
A Providence Journal article calls it “heartbreaking,” but a better word is “appalling.” “Heartbreaking” suggests that the district was a victim of circumstance. Evidence suggests that the Providence Teachers Union, school board members, and district officials created this mess. According to the article,
In one school, the [Johns Hopkins] team agreed that the majority of teachers and students appeared to have given up on education.
“We saw students sitting at their desks, with their headphones in their ears, scrolling on their phones. They did not respond to teachers and teachers rarely attempted to engage them beyond yelling at them periodically.”
In this school, some rooms were “utterly chaotic and unsafe,” with students “laughing, screaming, moving around the room, physically harassing one another, climbing up bookshelves.”
The teachers’ contract was seen as a big impediment to change. Administrators said it is next to impossible to remove bad teachers. The contract provides for only one day of professional development a year; by contrast, Achievement First charter school has 25 days.
Jeremy Senser, vice-president of the Providence Teachers Union, pushed back, saying that “those who work with students are rarely heard or valued.”
“It’s like we are being punished for following directions from above … ” he wrote. “On the labor side, PTU has consistently come to the table collaboratively and with innovative ideas… The bottom line is we need to do better for our children and our families. I’m sure this is going to be the challenge of a lifetime but we have the people to do it.”
The hiring process is byzantine.
Teacher morale is terrible.
In an interview with 15 teachers, some were in tears as they described what they had to deal with: no backup for discipline issues, a constant churning in curriculum, tests and standards, frequent principal turnover and little time to collaborate.
In one school, teachers said they have third-graders who have already checked out.
State testing revealed that 90 percent of Providence students were not proficient in math, and 80 percent were not proficient in English.