The Achievement Gap and Middle School Math

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Sep 24 2011

For you poli. sci. people…..

Here is a situation where two pieces of public policy that were both well-intentioned and well-thought-out create a toxic situation when combined.

According to federal No Child Left Behind policy, when a school doesn’t make Adequate Yearly Progress for a couple of years in a row, students at that school are given the option of transferring to a “better” nearby school. While my school has been consistently improving across the board for several years now, the improvements for a few subcategories of students have not been sufficiently large to meet the requirements of AYP for the past couple of years. Thus, students at my school were given the option to transfer to another school. Students found out about this option a few weeks before school started.

In my school district (which is huge and covers the entire county), the very reasonable policy is that the number of staff members a school is allocated depends on the number of students that are enrolled there. Schools make enrollment projections and staff the schools accordingly. However, this year, those projections were made before a bunch of students transferred out of our school due to AYP, so were were overstaffed this year.

A few staff members offered to be transferred to other district schools that needed additional people. However, our school is set up in “teams” of four teachers each of whom teaches one core subject. The same 4 classes of students rotate between those four teachers during the day. So if there is suddenly 1 fewer teacher in 7th grade (as was the case here), one team has be set up so that each teacher teaches 3 periods of their main subject AND 1 period of the subject that used to be taught by the missing teacher.

This requires that all teachers are certified to teach two subjects (and that all 3 teachers in the team are certified in the same particular subject–the subject that used to be taught by the teacher that left). For example, if a science teacher left, the other 3 teachers must all be certified in science so that they can each teach one section of science.

However, most of the time when a teacher leaves, the other 3 teachers in the team aren’t all certified in that teacher’s subject, so other teachers in the building have to be rearranged in such a way that the team that ends up with a missing teacher has all of the other teachers certified in that subject.

In this case, in order to get this set up properly, this required moving 3 different teachers to other teams and 3 additional teachers to start teaching at least one section of  a second subject (a few of whom teaching subjects they really don’t like).  A total of 12 classes of students will all have at least one different teacher (and for one homeroom of students–an entirely new set of 4 teachers on a different team)….and this is only the effects due to one of the switches happening in the building, there were a few additional switches all happening on Friday.

Teachers and students are understandably unhappy about all of the switching. A few very good teachers who were affected by this are particularly upset. People have even mentioned trying to switch to another school next year. Parents are going to be pissed off that their kids unexpectedly got new teachers–7 weeks into the school year.

Overall, this greatly decreases people’s perception of the school, and with lots of good teachers talking about leaving, this will probably have negative effects for a long time.

As a sidenote, I am one of the teachers who is switching classrooms and students. While it is a pain to redo my entire classroom and meet 100 brand new students and parents, I am actually thrilled that I get to essentially start over and this time not make all of the newbie mistakes I made at the beginning of the school year that dug me into some holes. We’ll see how it goes….

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    Closing the achievement gap with middle school math

    Metro Atlanta
    Middle School

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