Board Member #1: We are still unable to fill several openings in the surgical department. What shall we do?
Board Member #2: We'll just have to offer a more competitive package, with better pay and better perks. I mean, that's how the free market works, right?
Board Member #3: I have a better idea. Let's just promote Sven.
Board Member #2: Sven Svenberger? From the kitchen at the GIH cafeteria?
Board Member #3: Sure. He uses knives. Surgeon use knives.
Board Member #2: But we're talking about surgery on actual humans. He's a cook, Jim. Not a doctor.
Board Member #3: Fine. We'll give him a week of training.
Many starts have been having versions of this conversation as they pass their own version of warm body legislation, legislation that puts pretty much any warm body in the classroom.
But New York is considering a particularly special warm body rule that's especially for charter schools. The State University of New York (SUNY) is one of the main authorizers of charters in New York, and they've proposed that their charter schools be allowed to hire unqualified warm bodies for their schools. These warm bodies might have just thirty hours of classroom experience and training. That's almost a week.
Why do this? Because charters are too damn cheap to pay teachers a decent wage or offer them attractive working conditions. Or as Times-Union coverage of the story puts it:
Charter school advocates say the proposal would help schools that are struggling to find quality teachers who are certified in New York.
|Okay, I could go up to $10.95|
Sigh. Why do we have to keep explaining to free market fans how the free market works. If I can't buy a Lexus for $1.95, that doesn't suggest either an automobile shortage or that I "struggling to find quality automobiles." It suggests that I am offering an inadequate "bid" for the goods and services that I want.
Is that impossible to accomplish? Well, Success Academy (one of SUNY's chains) reportedly employed 1,000 staffers in 2014, and their boss, Eva Moscowitz makes almost $5 million a year, which means taking a cut of $1 million would yield a $1K without having to cut anything but Moscowitz's personal fortune. SA has about 2700 seats, yet Moscowitz makes about twice the salary of NYC school chancellor Carmen Farina, who is responsible for many, many more students. In other words, charters could up the ante if they really wanted to.
But as writers and former charter teachers like Rann Miller suggest, charter staff turnover is significantly higher for a reason. Charter operators actually prefer to burn and churn their teachers, keeping their personnel costs low and their actual personnel more compliant and agreeable.
In other words, this warm body rule is being pursued as a solution to problems that charters created for themselves. On purpose.
Beyond the fact that there's no good reason for this charter warm body rule, it's a bad idea.
As Daniel Katz points out, these warm bodies will arrive in classrooms with significantly less training than real New York teachers. This is doubly problematic because 1) it's hugely insulting to professional teachers who actually get actual professional training and 2) it sets these warm bodies up for failure.
But Jersey Jazzman points out even more troubling implications. This sort of training is not so much about helping people switch careers as it is giving charters carte blanch to do their own training in house. In fact, the proposal seems to suggest that these warm body certificates will only be good in SUNY charters, making these warm body jobs the very definition of dead-end employment. There will be no getting a warm body charter teacher certificate and then moving on to other schools. And since these warm bodies will not have widely marketable skills, they will have even less bargaining power with their bosses. And if everything we've heard so far doesn't make us worry about the quality of these warm bodies, let's ask the other question-- what kind of dope would sign up for this in the first place?
As is often the case, we are looking at the kind of 'reform" that rich families will never tolerate. Proponents may say, "Look, some of the most prestigious private schools use teachers who aren't properly certified." I'm going to reply, "Yes, and those people at the top of their field are recruited by schools that offer great packages to make the job attractive, so that they always have their pick of top people. That is different from paying bottom dollar for a lousy job in order to recruit disposable warm bodies."
But then, these places aren't looking for top talent, because many of these charters don't believe in great teaching so much as they believe in content delivery units who follow the script and work through the approved materials in the charter-approved manner. That's one more reason this will look like a good idea to these charter operators-- instead of trained professional teachers whose heads are filled with ideas about good pedagogy and a variety of instructional techniques, you get to work with people who don't know anything about teaching except what they've been taught. Tired of hiring teachers who have been filled with nonsense about the importance of student voices in the classroom? Just hire people who have never heard about that, and don't tell them about it. You can talk about folded hands and speak when spoken to and eye contact and subservient obedience and instead of having staff make doubting faces or actually questioning you, in this happy magic world of warm body meat widgets, they'll just smile and nod and accept that what you say must be the truth about education.
You can see why many people have pushed back on this, and if you want to push, too, the Network for Public Education has a letter you can send, saying that the least that all students in New York deserve is an actual trained professional teacher in their classroom. Warm body rules do not serve students, and New York would do well not to had down this road.