Monday, October 25, 2010

What does School Reform mean to me?

"What does good school reform mean to me the teacher?" Hard to cover fully on a short blog. Forget all the glittering generalities uttered by the movers and shakers. How will things be different/better in the classroom? Teachers are increasingly taking blame for all the ills that everyone claims are present in our education system. In some cases the overt targets of organized forces with questionable motivations. (I am waiting for a guy in front of a microphone to claim he has a list of 205 teachers responsible like they were 1940's Communists).

There is a growing chorus of "experts" that seem to point the finger squarely at me, the classroom teacher.This upsets me. First comes the open ended statements about our schools failing...followed by a ranking...usually a list of how the U.S. ranks against some other nation in something. Next comes talk of how unions are protecting the bad teachers who are responsible(maybe so...I'm in a state without one so I can't say for sure, I doubt it is as dramatic as made out to be). But what doesn't come up is my question and it is important. How will proposed changes make things better? (assuming the system still relies mainly on teachers and classroom)

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery so I'll point some fingers of my own. To start, what I don't want from a teacher's point of view. I don't like politicians coming up with ideas on education. I don't like when people twist numbers about performance or use research alone to draw conclusions. I don't like private for profit business running our school systems(whether in charter schools, resource management, consulting, selling testing software or influencing decisions with their money). Why not you ask? Because I have seen what this can mean in the classroom. And it scares me. Sometimes makes my job harder.

Under NCLB my kids(and I) are judged solely by a statewide test and I don't need to rehash the flaws with this approach...(you know how to use google) but basically its rewards teaching to the test to get scores up. This approach places less weight on my professional more global measure of their performance(I call it a letter grade). Not to demonize them but I picture a big conference nowhere near a school made up of people far from the classroom who have written books or edupreneurs seeking to peddle their ideas and gain access(thus money...don't believe me?...check out the speakers at the VA Educate Innovate agenda from Oct 27 ... It appears one whole live classroom teacher spoke). They are smart but I really can't stand how many of them seem to dismiss my feelings, knowledge and experience and those of my colleagues whenever we speak up against their ideas. We are smart too. Again...this lack of civility just doesn't seem too American. But they have the pulpit and it seems some people are so polemical on these issues they refuse to even listen to my perspective.

Maybe that's a little harsh. Some of these folks bring new ideas or resources that help and actually make learning and teaching easier and better. I know tons of great administrators who keep the classroom in mind. Heck I know a ton of awesome private schools. But I am skeptical because these gatherings tend to put wheels in motion in public schools where ideas, information and resources become proprietary...owned by companies. Thus not willingly shared. To me this is just not consistent with the idea of "public" education. When I do finally get a say the wheels have frequently turned too far to be rolled back. When will people listen when I say things aren't good ideas? There are exceptions, but they are too rare.

I am getting off message. My focus has been on one of the problems I see with reform. My question about the classroom leads me to more questions. What specifically is not working and how do we fix it? How do we measure successes? What do we do with kids where education isn't their priority and might be disruptive? How do we keep teachers(me) from bailing out? What can we do better for kids that need more from our schools without messing up what is working well for others? How do we measure charter schools against traditional schools (should we even do that)? How are colleges fitting into this push? How much should we rely on technology? What role are parents playing in all of this? When/where do we stop and look at the impact of change and reassess?

There has always been and will always be education reform. But as a classroom teacher I appreciate the license to continue doing what I find works. I'm quickly tiring of the newest professional trend in the name of reform without knowing where it'll take me(nor do I want to stay cemented in the past). Not too many of my "clients" (parents and students) complain but sure I agree we need to improve. I'd suggest good school reform is generated "in the schools" and not elsewhere. From there I think we can all work together to develop some ways to help respond to the growing number of questions concerning our schools.

1 comment:

  1. OK, this is the first time I've ever heard the term "edupreneur," but I like it. I think it was about eleven or twelve years ago when I attended a workshop that our county paid for to learn more about helping students pass the Standards of Learning (SOL) tests. The tests were rather new at the time, so it struck me as odd that the main speaker's credentials were that he was one of the developers of the new tests.
    So this guy had worked to create the tests and now he was making big bucks traveling the state to help teachers learn how to teach to them. Nice.
    Now, a decade later, with increased public attention on education, we are seeing the emergence of a growing class of professionals who are in the business of making money off of public education.
    We could criticize textbook companies and the such, but while sometimes political, they at least provide resources without tying the hands or increasing the workload of those who use them. But too many in the "edupreneur" industry seem to have the ear of state and local policy-makers. The end result I fear is a drive to be recognized and commended for surface acheivements rather than the drive to serve the children and youth of our communities as holistic individuals.