It takes a special person to teach in Detroit, Michigan. Although this has been the case for many, many years, it’s never been so true as it is right now. Not only are teachers dealing with a kids who are largely coming from families in deep poverty and working in schools that are falling down around them, for the past six years, they’ve been under nearly constant assault from Republican legislators that have reduced their wages and benefits and attempted to hold them personally responsible for the predictable results of decades of disinvestment in the public school system there.
When Detroit teachers finally had enough last year and began protesting by staging sickouts to draw attention to the deplorable conditions they are being forced to teach in and that kids are being forced to learn in – who can forget the images that shocked the nation last year – the response from Republicans was to introduce legislation to punish them.
Teachers across the state are beaten down and demoralized. A recent survey taken by the Michigan Education Association and the American Federal of Teachers tells the tale:
A first-time combined survey by the state’s two teachers unions reveals widespread disappointment, demoralization and discontent among their members. […]
“Nothing surprised us, but I wish I had been surprised,” AFT Michigan president David Hecker said Monday during a conference call with reporters. “This just shows how pervasive the issues are, or how longstanding because they are consistent throughout the state of Michigan.”
Hecker said some of those issues include dissatisfaction with standardized testing and with the new statewide teacher evaluations.
Those evaluations are required under a state law passed by the Michigan Legislature in 2011 that makes it easier to remove ineffective teachers from the classroom.
“The teacher evaluations are their version of the Hunger Games,” said Hecker. “They are inconsistent at the very best and it’s more about punishing teachers than improving their teaching abilities.” […]
“Fifty-seven percent of respondents said they worked in buildings with unstable heating and cooling,” Hecker said. “Thirty-nine percent said they’re dealing with damaged walls, 35 percent said poor air quality, 32 percent complained of rodents and insects, while 34 percent said poor water quality is an issue.”
But nowhere is teacher morale lower than in the city of Detroit where public school teachers are on the front lines of some of the worst teaching environments in America.
So it’s no surprise to learn the heartbreaking news that a 20+ year literacy program in Detroit is being cancelled due to a teacher shortage:
The Detroit school system has cut a literacy program two months after Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation requiring districts to invest more in intervention for struggling young readers.
The Detroit Public Schools Community District abruptly ended Reading Recovery last week, leaving about 100 first-graders who are having trouble learning how to read and write without daily one-on-one help from reading specialists.
The program has been in the district for more than 20 years. An additional 100 kids would have entered it in the second half of this school year. Many other children participated in small reading groups.
District officials said they needed the program’s 23 teachers to take on full classrooms because of a teacher shortage.
The fact there is a teacher shortage in Detroit is not only not surprising, it’s the predictable outcome of a concerted effort to beat down public school teachers to the point where they no longer are willing to teach there. Mitchell Robinson explains:
Public education will only be “fixed” by admitting that whatever problems do exist in the schools have only been worsened by the damages done by the corporate reformers. Is there a “teacher shortage” in certain areas and in specific subject areas? Of course. But this shortage has been a “manufactured” one, and won’t be solved simply by increasing the numbers of new entrants to the profession. We must first address the root causes of the shortage–poor working conditions, inadequate compensation structures, a lack of administrative and community support for teachers and schools, and invalid and unreliable teacher evaluation systems that are driving the most talented and experienced teachers out of the classroom.
The cancelling of this essential literacy program isn’t just heartbreaking, it’s a tragedy, a Republican-created tragedy that’s part and parcel of the agenda of people like President-elect Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. These people want to starve public education until it finally dies a slow, lingering death. They are then poised to swoop in and replace it with their for-profit charter school model. And, with “leadership” from people like Betsy DeVos, even religious schools may start tapping into the flow of tax dollars and funneling them into their own bank accounts.
The obvious victims here are, of course, the kids in Detroit. But our Governor, Rick Snyder, is convinced that literacy is not a constitutional right and is willing to fight in court to prove it.