Monthly Archives: July 2013

As Teacher Satisfaction Plummets, Educator Finds Way to Teach from the Trunk

Studies show that teacher job satisfaction is at an all time low. The reasons for dissatisfaction include but are not limited to: negative public perception of the profession; increasing bureaucratic requirements that teachers feel sabotage the development of native, intellectual curiosity; lack of time to devote to content area instruction; and job responsibilities that significantly impact family time.

Study shows that national teacher job satisfaction has plummeted 20% in the three years between 2009 and 2012. The likelihood of teachers self-reporting that they want to leave teaching within the next five years has nearly doubled between 2009 and 2011 from 17% to 29%.

The 2011 movie “American Teachers” that documents the lives of five teachers for a year states that 46% of new teachers quit within the first five years of teaching.

A 2007 policy briefing by the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future estimates that we lose $7.34 billion annually to teacher attrition. Of the 332,700 teachers who left the profession in the 2003-2004 school year, for example, only roughly 26 per cent of them retired. The abstract reads:

“Until we recognize that we have a retention problem, we will continue to engage in a costly annual recruitment and hiring cycle, pouring more and more teachers into our nation’s classrooms only to lose them at a faster and faster rate. This will continue to drain our public tax dollars, it will undermine teaching quality, and it will most certainly hinder our ability to close student achievement gaps.”

Danielle Robbins, Education & Public Programs Director of the Cowlitz County Historical Museum, and volunteer, Lindsay Belton pause preparations for this year’s Cowlitz County Fair “Dancing with the Steers” exhibit so that Robbins can explain her “Traveling Trunk” educational program.

Danielle Robbins, Education and Public Programs Director at the Cowlitz County Historical Museum, is passionate history first and teaching second. She attended Central Washington University intending to become a teacher. “I took my history classes, and I loved them. But when I took my first education class, I knew I had to change my major. I wanted nothing to do with the politics,” Robbins said. She changed majors to museology.

Robbins creates self-contained history units, or “Traveling Trunks,” that she presents to Cowlitz County elementary classrooms. By coordinating her activities with the state’s curriculum-based assessments, she leaves teachers with evidence of student learning in line with state history curricula, while she gets to focus on what she loves most: her content and teaching it.

To find out more about her program, Robbins can be reached at

Longview Education Leaders Advise Teachers to “Relax, but Get Familiar” with New Evaluation System

Mark Morris is one of two high schools in Longview, Wash. (Photo by Kaley Perkins)

When Washington’s K-12 public teachers and administrators return to school this September, new students aren’t the only things they will need to get to know. This fall, teachers will come face to face with Washington’s new evaluation system known as the Teacher Principal Evaluation Pilot, or “TPEP.”

In 2011, President Obama passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (“ESEA”) which provides a flexible option for state education boards to satisfy No Child Left Behind Act (“NCLB” or “Nickle B”). ESEA’a goal is to increase student learning through high quality instruction. The evaluation tool TPEP measures how classroom teachers, school principals, and assistant principals provide that high quality.

TPEP’s legislative pedigree is in orange. Structure of local Longview School District’s educational governance is in blue. Who is performing evaluations on whom is in green. (Infographic created by Kaley Perkins. Use of this graphic is permissible with attribution.)

If you have fallen asleep by now, you aren’t a teacher in Washington state.

“This is a ridiculous amount of change to expect teachers to make,” said Jo Perkins, President of the Longview Education Association (“LEA”) in a recent interview. Perkins referred to another significant initiatives that significantly impacts teachers’ responsibilities: adoption of the state’s curriculum overhaul also known as Core Curriculum Competencies.

Additionally, Longview has suffered through a year of contentious discussion as its school board and community conduct feasibility on a massive facility reorganization.

Perkins, who was a 22- year veteran, special education teacher before becoming the president of Longview’s teacher union, is the author’s sister.

“Teachers don’t know what to think about TPEP. I am hearing a lot of anxiety but also some cautious excitement,” Perkins said, sitting under the emergent mid-morning sunshine on her back deck with a Robert K. Tanenbaum novel, one of  summer’s last pleasure reads, perched on her knee.

The anxiety comes, according to Perkins, because teachers are really concerned about losing their livelihoods. “We are living in a climate where teachers are blamed for societies ills. They are not feeling job security, and they feel like this new evaluation mechanism may be a ruse to justify firing them.”

“I think that falls more inside the lines of paranoia,” said Tracey Schroeder, assistant principal of Longview’s Mark Morris High school. Schroeder, an alumni of R. A. Long, Mark Morris’s rival high school, spent years teaching math in Las Vegas, Nevada before sitting for her administrative papers and returning to Longview to serve as a school administrator. Her Nevada district used an  evaluation system similar to TPEP.

Schroeder and Perkins discussed how to best relieve teachers’ anxiety. Perkins suggested developing a common vocabulary. She hopes educational leaders will clearly explain what successful evidence of student progress looks like to educators. As the conversation broadened, Perkins expressed that local teachers sincerely want to be the best they can and are frustrated by what they perceive to be receiving edicts from leadership without explanation.
Schroeder gave a specific example of how she prepared for her evaluations when she was a Nevada teacher. She added that it is critical for teachers to become familiar with the CEL 5D rubric, the framework that the district has adopted. (Photo by Kaley Perkins)

Sipping ice water at local restaurant, Schroeder explained the benefit of the TPEP. “The old (evaluation) system was ‘Satisfactory v. Unsatisfactory.’ From an evaluator’s (administrator’s) point of view, it didn’t allow me to recognize the things teachers were doing that were really effective or to identify the areas that were ripe for improvement. It was ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’”

Schroeder feels the TPEP provides an effective framework for staff development.

Participants in pilot districts were overwhelmingly favorable about the program, feeling it has great potential for creating increased professional collaboration around a common goal. They expressed that the primary challenge of the pilot program’s implementation was the time required on top of already hectic schedules.

Tracey Schroeder is Assistant Principal at Mark Morris High School in Longview, Washington. Schroeder experienced a 4 point evaluation system when she worked as a math teacher in Nevada. She enjoyed the feedback.

“What is going to come off of your plate to make room for the evaluations you are going to be required to do?” Perkins asked Schroeder.

Schroeder just laughed. “My personal life exploded last year, so I’m feeling kind of glad that I don’t have a partner or kids to worry about.”

Perkins, whose pet peeve is the notion that teachers are more noble if they sacrifice their personal lives for the sake of their work, growled.

“The best thing teachers can do,” Schroeder advised, “is to become familiar with the rubric. Longview has adopted the University of Washington’sCEL 5D” model for its evaluation framework.

It’s Still Debt: Oregon’s “Pay It Forward” Program May Be More Feel-good Than Do-good

Future college student, Matt Baker, introduces the Portland State University campus, home to more than 29,000 students and the offices of the Oregon University System. (Source accessed July 14, 2013; photo by Kaley Perkins)

In the first week of July, the Oregon state legislature unanimously approved a measure to allow a feasibility study to be conducted on a program called “Pay It Forward,” a creative post-secondary funding solution that hopes to address Oregon’s (and the nation’s) skyrocketing student debt. The program has been lauded as the potential savior of a generation of indebted graduates, and it has the support of legislators, policymakers, and alternative political parties in the region.

“We have issues with students borrowing to finance higher education. They are borrowing high and earning low and finding themselves having trouble paying off debt,” reported Diane “Di” Saunders, Director of Communication of Oregon University System (“OUS”) in a July 11 phone conversation. Housed at Portland State University, the Oregon University System currently provides governance for all seven of Oregon’s state universities and ensures that legislative mandates are carried out at the state’s college and university campuses.

Historically, higher education has been considered the path to socio-economic mobility. People with four-year college degrees typically earn $54,756 to their high school graduate friends’ $23.504, making post-secondary education an attractive asset for both individuals and communities who benefit from the resulting economic flow.

Map of American educational system’s classifications, degrees, and 2011 median income for adults working full-time over the age of 25. Statistics from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics as displayed in this post. Years in post-secondary education per level represent approximations. (Created by Kaley Perkins)

The “Pay It Forward” program, if implemented, would allow a student to attend community and state colleges without paying up front in exchange for a fixed percentage of the student’s income once he or she enters the workforce. As written, the payback rate would equal .75 percent per year of school completed, or three percent for a 4-yr degree, and the repayment terms would span 24 years. Current students’ loan repayment schedules run for 10 years.

Inspired in part by Australia’s HECS-HELP program, the “Pay It Forward” program was brought to the Oregon legislature by a group of PSU students working with local policymakers. In place for a quarter of a century, the Australian program sees AUD $6.2 billion  (USD $5.62 billion) currently in default. Issues contributing to default include a portion of that nation’s higher-dollar earners leaving for jobs overseas and escaping repayment, the governments “demand driven” policy which puts no limits on seats (demand drives cost), and lower wage earners being exempt from repayment requirements.

“It’s a creative idea, and we are really proud of our students for bringing it forward,” said Saunders who pointed out though, that, far from adopting the program, the legislature’s “Pay It Forward” vote simply approved a study bill to determine if proposing a pilot program is worthy of pursuit. The feasibility, and not an actual pilot program, will be presented to the Oregon legislature in the session beginning in Feb 2015.

Time isn’t all that might hold up implementation of the bill. “We don’t want to call this debt, but that is what it is,” Saunders noted. Prior to her position at OUS, Saunders worked with a Boston-area non-profit company which, to protect its loan portfolio, absorbed the loan servicing functionality of a failing lender. She has seen first hand the challenges of becoming a loan servicer and pointed out that higher education is not in the business of banking.

Saunders cited four primary concerns she has about the program:

  1. Inordinate amount of administrative oversight. The program will require some contractual obligation for students to make sure they enter into repayments. Further bureaucracies will need to be created to administer the financing functions that the current student loan system has built in. Saunders envisions a “department within an agency.” Further, a dual registrar system would also be required if students were able to opt out of the program.
  2. Seed funding. Saunders estimated an eight to ten year period for the repayment population to be solidly employed and regularly contributing. Media estimates suggest a $9 billion price tag that the state would need to fund until the program is financially sustainable.
  3. Legislative changes. If the funds were available for such aggressive educational funding, legislative limitations have no provision for committing future funds. Each two-year budget stands alone, so that even if that $9 billion were approved, it would have to be re-approved every two years in the midst of legistlative turnover and changes in political will. State laws would have to be rewritten to enable the ability to commit to future funding.
  4. Repayment. The door is open to perceived inequity in repayment as higher income students would essentially subsidize students entering majors with paltry income projections. Like the current student loan climate, students with low income earning potential may have difficulty paying into the system.

More than a new program, Saunders would like to see more creative repayment systems within existing loan servicers and more forgiving terms as graduates struggle to become financially independent.

But state funding of higher education through additional grants is where Saunder’s real focus lies. She compared budget statistics between 1999-2000 and 2011-2013 biennium budgets. In 2011, the state of Oregon allocated $100 million fewer dollars than in 1999. Further, this $100 million dollar was spread among 34,000 more students.

Also, Saunders reported that in 1999, 70 percent of higher education costs were funded by the state with students and their families making up the difference. In 2011, the ratios were inverted with students shouldering more than 70 percent of the cost of higher education.

Comparison of Oregon state’s higher educational funding percentages between 1999 and 2011. Based on information provided by “Di” Saunders. (Created by Kaley Perkins)

“Sometimes we go forward with things just because they have momentum,” Saunders said. “I’d hate to see us start something we can’t fund for the long haul.”