Teachers under stress in Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s Investment Schools

by Chuck Hoven

(Plain Press, December 2017)        At the November 21st meeting of the Cleveland Board of Education, educational advocate Don Freeman, for the third month in a row, brought up the issue of the stress that the teaching staffs at Cleveland’s twenty-three investment schools are experiencing.

Freeman emphatically said, “Professionals, by that I mean teachers, experiencing stress cannot produce positive educational outcomes.”

The public knows the 23 schools as investment schools because the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD), when seeking to pass the school levy, promised to invest extra dollars and resources in those schools to help improve the academic performance of students in these struggling schools. The CMSD refers to the schools as Corrective Action Schools.

CMSD initially started with 13 Investment Schools in the 2013-2014 school year, and then added an additional 10 schools a year later. Investment Schools in the Plain Press service area include Luis Munoz Marin, Walton, Almira and Lincoln West High School.

However, teachers working in the investment schools report that instead of hiring more teachers or addressing the physical and resource needs of the Investment schools, the CMSD hired outside vendors to implement corrective action plans at the schools and to monitor the progress.

Freeman called upon CMSD Chief Executive Officer Eric Gordon and the Cleveland Board of Education to “phase out the vendor program.” Freeman said it was “essential to give priority to this necessity.”

Freeman is a member of the Cleveland Education Committee, an advocacy group that focuses on educational quality in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. The Cleveland Education Committee has been looking into the stress experienced by the teaching staffs at Cleveland’s 23 investment schools.

The Cleveland Education Committee engaged in an outreach effort to teachers working in Investment Schools and listened to concerns of those teachers about conditions in the investment schools. The Cleveland Education Committee learned from reports from the teachers that the vendors have shifted the focus in the schools to “teacher performance” rather than “how can we help students.”

Teachers in Investment Schools report that while the information about teaching methods provided by the outside vendors may have been useful in the first year of their contracts, the vendors were repeating the same information in the second and third years.

The teachers report constant evaluation of teaching methods by vendors; vendors pulling teachers out of classrooms to give them evaluation results; teacher training sessions that take teachers away from the classroom; and administrators unavailable to address discipline problems because they are so heavily involved in walking around with laptops filling out teacher evaluations.

Teachers say the evaluations don’t ask if the needs of the school or the classroom teacher are being addressed. Instead, the vendors just criticize teachers with negative evaluations without providing resources to address needs. Teachers described a pattern of bullying and intimidation by some of the vendors. They say the vendors and their agenda have taken over the school. When teachers complain that the program is not working, the vendors say it is because the teachers are not buying in.

The teachers say the stress level; the increased number of forms they must fill out as part of the evaluations; the constant scrutiny by evaluators; the intrusive methods such as having someone critiquing the teacher via an earphone while they are teaching; and threats of termination are causing veteran teachers to retire early and first year teachers to leave. The presence of the vendors and the extra burden on teachers in the Investment Schools also makes it hard to attract quality teaching candidates to replace lost teachers, say teachers involved in school hiring committees.

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