Sunday, January 22, 2012

"They" don't listen because they don't understand.

Do educational leaders know what's happening?
"Ground control to Major Education Leader"
In recent months many of "them" (influential figures affecting education) have become very vocal about the problems with NCLB as the looming 100% pass rate timeline approaches.  Compelled to do so out of fear that their school or division will be labeled as failing.  They've snapped up Race to the Top(RTTP) funds as an alternative but have honestly done little to affect the overall direction reform is headed.   Shame on them! Shame on them for not doing something sooner.

Shame on them for also being very vocal about bad teachers.  They seem either to not have a handle on what is occurring within schools or just don't care to listen.  Early on in my state there were countless warnings about NCLB  that went unheeded.  Many of those calls coming directly from the classroom.  Shame on them for not listening until "they" were affected.  Sure teachers are sometimes the reason a class or school is not as good as it should be.  Listening to many reformers out there it might seem bad teachers are the only reason.  RTTP funds are being used to sell out teachers and educators even more.  This "revision" might be less punitive than NCLB but it is no less harmful.

The call to strengthen and improve performance grows louder day after day.  The pressure to perform is crushing.  That is not a good thing for a learning environment.  Positive pressure is good.  An element of competition is good.  A benchmark for comparison is good.  What we are tolerating is bad.

A single indicator for success is not a sound approach.  How would parents and students respond if a teacher used the same approach to assign a grade?  Any criticism would be warranted.   It is worth remembering as leaders use accountability to justify action that schools and teachers are expected to educate every child regardless of achievement level, motivation, or behavior.   As we press for accountability the teacher and school are saddled increasingly with responsibility to make kids learn.    Lost in the shuffle of responsibility is the role students and parents must play in this partnership.  Sadly many students do not not get much if any support outside of school and do not appreciate the value of their education.  Some schools can't or don't do much to mitigate this reality.  The effects of such an environment are crippling.

Kids can grow into entirely dependent learners and too many lose desire or interest to advance themselves academically.  They just don't like school.    Gone is a love for learning that is present in young wide eyed children.  They'd rather be elsewhere.  But they may pass the test.  So tests don't help. In fact these tests likely do more harm than anyone admits.  To ignore this and place all that burden disproportionately on the education system will never remedy the issue.  Geoffrey Canada has it right in this sense and what I admire most is he actually did something about it rather than just blame people.  Blaming schools, kids, parents or anyone is akin to treating the symptoms and not the illness. 

"The Lottery" is not a great date movie.
I recently watched the film "The Lottery" which chronicles the plight of inner city kids in NYC as they seek to gain admission into one of the Harlem Success schools.  It was excruciating to watch.  Not because I dislike charters.  Because I felt for the kids.  I disliked though how charters were portrayed and how they affect those not in or working in them. Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee, Arne Duncan and other non teaching reformers portray charters, vouchers and school choice as THE answer.   Those in the know more accurately think of them as only one of many potential medicines.  They are just schools afterall.  Schools freed from some of the buckling rules regular schools are forced to weather.  Different in many ways but also treated differently.  Do they work?  Some yes, some no...and that is about as scientific a response as you can find when you Google effectiveness of charter schools.   

Until you sit, immersed in a crowded room of young people unable to get them where they need to be, you'll never really get it.  Teachers do not hold exclusive private membership to good ideas on education but most do have good common sense stemming from time in the trenches.  Lack of complete success is part of the job and forces constant professional improvement. Any given lesson on any given day can be frustrating, inspiring, frightening, demoralizing among other things.  We know this because we work with people.  What we don't need is a bunch of higher ups pounding on us and making things worse.  Their efforts to design systems that will attract and retain the best teachers most of the time make me want to pack my bags. 

The higher up you are the less you see people and the more you see data.  The more you see systems and not people.  The more you think in terms of numbers and not kids.  I'd like to believe educational leaders are well intentioned but the more I read and hear I arrive at the reality they just don't care what teachers think.  Such a frame of mind has led us to where we are.  We are led to believe schools are beyond repair and we should shudder them and start over.  The people most able to functionally affect positive change feel demoralized, ignored and are leaving the teaching profession at an alarming rate.  The time has come to guide reform from the bottom up and not top down.  Anything else will mean a continuation of policy bereft of what is most essential to success,  buy in from teachers. 

What other landscape would generate the following comment?
“I would, if I had the ability – which nobody does really – to just design a system and say, ‘ex cathedra, this is what we’re going to do,’ you would cut the number of teachers in half, but you would double the compensation of them and you would weed out all the bad ones and just have good teachers. And double the class size with a better teacher is a good deal for the students.” -Mayor Michael Bloomberg

Pistols at dawn Mr. Bloomberg?   (We haven't forgotten your Cathie Black appointment) Maybe if we both had figurative pistols(meaning teachers had any real power)  you and all the other "reformers" might listen.  I don't usually reference the UFT but when the Michael Mulgrew says "clearly the mayor has never taught," truer words were never spoken.  So I will count Bloomberg and many others among the "them" I referenced.  "They" are highly skilled at both patting us on the back with one hand and with the other saying and doing things that slap us in the face.  Until people at the top listen to educators opinions, insights and experience little will change for the better.


If you know any of "them" recommend they read the TU.  Or any other frustrated educator's blog.   There are plenty out there.

1 comment:

  1. truer words were never spoken. Thank you from an elementary teacher with 26 very needy and low income students who is burnt and physically worn out giving them all I can.