Friday, July 1, 2011

Paying Attention to the School

As the "War on Our Schools" wages on the body blows are starting to take their toll. I try to avoid buying into the idea that someone is out to get us, but my ribs are pretty sore. Almost daily I have a conversation with a colleague whose ribs feel much the same. Certainly I can dismiss some of the concerns as alarmist or just complaining, but they have become so frequent that they are tough to ignore. Many good teachers are starting to leave. I'm a little worried that the current economic climate overshadows this and covers it up so no one notices. Is anyone paying attention?

As our nation looks in the mirror and asks itself some pretty important questions about the future one of those is what should our schools look like? I ask that with my knowledge as a teacher who just tries to get a little better each year. Sometimes I am successful, sometimes I am not. I try to do the job I would want done for my own children. But that feels like it keeps getting harder and this is a reflection of a system that I think is not getting better each year despite flurried reform. To the person not working in the schools they hear political rhetoric calling for reform and improvement and generally welcome the idea. These seem innocuous enough and garner sufficient support to move forward or are introduced quietly enough to go unnoticed. These reforms are creating a system that drains resources from actual instruction and are impossible to maintain. They march forward unopposed until they reach the schoolhouse. By the time we at the ground level confront what their effect is on student learning and our teaching it is too late to stem the tide. Its like when a boxer plans to come on in the late rounds but the body blows took us out before we could do much about it.

Granting the point that education has problems and we need to work hard to improve and make some changes allow me to pose another question to that mirror. What if the decisions being made are wrong? Value Added, Race to the Top, International Comparisons, the list goes on. Arne Duncan(yes picking on him) and others might be doing something that no one is asking for, at least publicly. Destroying our Public Education system as we know it. Don't believe me? You're not alone. I think that our schools should be viewed as too big to fail and there are countless teachers that say current decisions are steering us in that direction. But no one is paying attention. There is a big difference between not serving all kids as we should and not serving any kids as we should.

Ask this of top reformers and see what they respond: What have your policies done to improve our current state? Usually they'll just verbally dance around and try to appeal to their audience. What they won't say- we think we are spending too much on education, we don't support public schools, teachers are professionals, other factors affect learning, poor children have a tougher time keeping up and we should do something about poverty, standardized testing is unreliable, our teachers are overworked, rating tests are different from ranking tests, we don't know if this works, this is popular so that's why we are doing it.

So as changes are made and teachers are "consulted" it becomes increasingly difficult to tell if we are getting a seat at the table, or are on the menu. Either way the public better wake up and start paying attention before it is too late. Seems the only ones that really pay attention are those with kids in school. Smart leaders pay attention to feedback. I don't see much if any of that but instead see the political spin machines plucking and presenting a desired outcome of a change from all the information out there. It can be massaged to show what they want, not what is accurate. Aaron Pallas pointed this out when he did in fact pay attention to statements by former NYC chancellor Joe Klein. Click Here to read his response

Pay attention when private companies convince you they can do a better job with public tax dollars. Pay attention when Bill Gates, Oprah or some other billionaire gains influence over education policy solely because of their wealth(they seem to pay for attention). Pay attention when the politicians say their schools are failing but don't say specifically why or blame anyone or anything else in the community besides the school itself. Pay attention when school leaders start making claims about success based on their leadership. Pay attention when exhausted teachers leave the job citing shifts in what they are being asked to do. Pay attention when no one in the upper echelons of the educational establishment is willing to do anything except support the latest and greatest idea to come from the private sector. Pay attention when your child comes home and says their teachers complain about how testing affects them. Pay attention when your local school district makes a change driven by top down reform. Pay attention to anything labeled as "data driven decisions".

We as a nation simply need to do what we ask of our kids each day, pay attention.

1 comment:

  1. Thoughts?