This weekend, my husband was at a bar watching an ACC basketball game. He struck up a conversation with a fellow watcher and found out that this guy was a doctoral candidate in education. He further found out that this man supported his graduate studies by being a “coach” to teachers in schools that were facing NCLB-related sanctions. Under NCLB, as many of you know, if enough students in a given school do not make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), then that school undergoes increasing sanctions (see this chart for the levels of sanctions).
One of the sanctions that kicks in very early on is that a school must develop an improvement plan in consultation with parents, school staff, district, and outside experts. The man my husband met is considered to be one such “outside expert” and in addition to helping craft the improvement plan, he goes into schools during the school year to make sure that the teachers are carrying out the plan properly. He observes teachers’ lessons and provides them with feedback and coaching on where to improve further.
From my work with graduate students who are in-service teachers in schools with improvement plans, I know that such “coaches” are not well liked. My understanding of their unpopularity had always been that such coaches often went into the schools for very brief moments of time and gave feedback/criticism to teachers without always knowing the full challenges that these teachers faced. Not many people like an “expert” who sometimes behaves as if he knows it all, especially if that person has never truly walked in other people’s shoes. (This is not at all to imply that all in-service teachers are perfect and could not benefit from professional development; rather my concern, which seems to be shared by the teachers I have spoken with on this issue, is with those “experts” who demand changes that do not take into account local circumstances, population factors such as extreme poverty, school climate, etc.)
I found out this weekend that there is another reason to not like these “experts” and that may be that they are opportunistic parasites. In a moment of pure candor, this man that my husband had just met, a total stanger, revealed that part of the reason why he is a “coach” is that there is a lot of money to be made right now doing this sort of work. I was aghast that a) a person would look at education as a location to make some easy bucks, and b) that he would feel no reluctance to share this piece of information with a total stranger!
Perhaps I should not be too surprised by this, though, as I have been reading a lot recently about supplemental education service (SES) organizations that are sucking money away from our public schools. These are the organizations that school districts facing NCLB-related sanctions are forced to partner with to provide after school tutoring. The assumption is that whatever the schools are doing during the school day is not adequate to help the kids learn. So SES organizations come in and basically provide the kids “more of the same” – often worksheets, drills, etc. Yet these organizations, which receive taxpayer dollars/schools funds, are not held accountable for student improvement/growth in any way! (I encourage you to read the book Hidden Markets by Patricia Burch for a more scholarly account of this situation.)
In my view, it seems that these “coaches” and SES organizations are behaving ammorally. They do not seem to be seeing education as a public good and that we all, as members of a community, should be pitching in to help. Rather, my impression is that these people and groups are seeing a policy that is ripe for abuse, and that they can go in and make “good money” off of it. Where is the ultimate concern for our children? Where is the desire to make sure that taxpayer money is not squandered? Both things don’t seem to matter to these folks; what seems to matter to them is how they are able to line their own pockets!
What experiences do you all have with such SES organizations or coaches? Are my impressions off base, or are you seeing the same sorts of things?