Why Teaching Jobs Should be Preserved during School Reform
By Matthew Lynch
School reform is never easy. When sweeping changes are decided upon and implemented, everyone must fully participate in order for students to benefit from the changes and certainly not to suffer during the transition. Part of providing that stability for students is through a strong front of teachers that remain at the school during the sometimes turbulent reform process.
Reform is truly not possible without a united front of educators and administrators. A shared vision is challenging to create and maintain without stable leadership, and a supportive culture from the staff. It is a simple fact of life that high staff turnover can create instability and have a negative impact on efforts to establish a consistent learning environment for students. High staff turnover is also quite costly, particularly when the recruitment of teachers, and then the training of new teachers in the intricacies of the reform effort are considered.
More effort and support needs to be given to the recruitment process for teachers at the outset as schools and districts initiate reform efforts. Hiring teachers who “fit” reform goals will likely reduce teacher attrition. Still, more support needs to be available for new teachers. Even teachers who ostensibly have the skills and attitudes that align with reform goals will need mentoring and other supports as they begin their jobs. Every attempt must be made to reduce the debilitating rate of turnover.
Doesn’t reform result in loss of teaching jobs though?
Inevitably, a major factor for sustaining reform is having the money to do so. Most efforts now are centered on how to make the most of current funding and utilizing money effectively in order to maximize the positive impact of reforms, rather than how to access untapped resources. Despite the dearth of new money, it is possible to free up cash through alternative means of spending.
An extreme proposal to accomplish this is to reduce staffing to the absolute minimum. For example, a school with 500 students would have 20 teachers and 1 principal. Approximately $1 million could become available, depending on how many education specialists (regular and categorical) and instructional aides worked within the school. This is radical option, and there are other, less extreme ways to change the way money is spent, to include increasing class sizes, spending less on upgrading technology, and eliminating some programs.
The key however is to look in detail at all financial outlays, measure them according to the extent to which they contribute to the goals of the school reform, and rank them according to how well they do this. This will enable schools to break down spending into its core components and work out what is necessary and what can be cut during the process of change in order to better implement their improvement strategy. This is particularly important in times of austerity, when elements that are not essential may have to be reduced or cut in order to help drive reform, no matter how popular or long-standing they may be.
Spending money on non-essential areas does support school reform efforts. Prioritizing what money is spent on does not automatically mean cutting all non-academic projects. What gets cut will depend on the goals of individual schools. This should be a workable situation, as long as the school is still accountable to the state and the district for shifts in expenditures. An understanding that cutting teaching jobs can actually be detrimental to reform is important though, instead of just looking at the numbers on a piece of paper.