There is no doubt in my mind that education needs to change. We are using an antiquated, industrial era model to ready our most important resource, our children, for the world of work and participation in our free society. We have been talking about education reform consistently since A Nation at Risk was released in the early 1980’s. As a result, we have seen many initiatives come and go over the past thirty years. Because of this, many folks in and out of education have adopted the “this too shall pass” attitude and have continued to perpetuate and defend the status quo. The dawn of the 21st Century brought us No Child Left Behind. Under NCLB, schools are accountable for test scores and have been made to change, restructure, and in some cases, shut their doors if they did not make adequate yearly progress. NCLB’s focus on narrowing the achievement gaps that exist for the poor and minorities has brought about some mixed results, but has managed to focus attention on one of the biggest educational challenges we face. The year 2010 has dawned with the different states falling all over themselves to ready an application to be considered for round one of the Race to the Top funding. The Federal Government has set aside 4.3 Billion dollars to fund innovations and reward states and ultimately school district that meet certain criteria. President Obama called this infusion of money and incentives education’s equivalent of a moon shot. If 4.3 billion dollars is a moon shot, what was it that Chrysler, General Motors, Feddie Mac, Fannie Mae, (insert the name of your Wall Street brokerage here) received? Whatever the name of the nearest Black Hole is what that was called!
RttT has four major areas of focus:
· Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy;
· Building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction;
· Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most; and
· Turning around our lowest-achieving schools.
(at this point, the text includes a lot of my opinion, so take it for what it is worth)
It seems to me that we are making a mad dash, no let’s make it a mad, mad, mad dash, headlong into a virulent phase of reform. Mind you, I don’t think all the outcomes will be bad. Shoot they made some of the most effective medicines out of bread mold….go figure! I hear the terms standards, achievement scores, assessments, and recruiting effective teachers to the lowest performing schools, and I think….hmmm more of the same. Let’s just try harder at the things we can’t seem to get right using the same modes of attack! Reminds me of some well meaning teachers that say the kids just don’t get it, and yet use the same methodologies and materials over and over again! O.K. Let’s think about some of the things RttT seeks to address:
Most teachers believe what they are doing in their classrooms is best for their students. I do not think many teachers get up in the morning, look in the mirror and say “I am going to go in today and try my best to not help my students get better.” Teachers, in my 21 years of experience (3 years as principal of elementary schools, 9 years as high school principal, 1 year as director of a high school cooperative, and 8 years as a classroom teacher), with very few exceptions, work very hard at what they think is best to promote academic growth for their students. Do not get me wrong, there are teachers that fit the lazy, tenured, stereotype. This type of worker exists in every type of employ. Not making excuses. It is just a fact. They need to be counseled to find other opportunities! What do we do to help teachers get better? RttT prescribes giving teachers incentives by tying tenure, continued employment, and pay raises to student performance. I know at first glance, many classroom teachers look at this and say “YOU HAVE TO BE KIDDING!” On the other hand, folks on the outside looking in see automatic pay raises, salary schedules based on seniority and levels of education attainment, with no differentiation of pay based on skills required for subject area or defined levels of expertise. A job for life! They also say “YOU HAVE TO BE KIDDING!” I think we can tie accountability to pay, tenure and employment decisions, but you have to build a value added model that is not based on today’s one shot, high stakes test. We need to pre-test and post test students to determine growth. Student accountability must be thrown into the mix as well. In the state of Illinois, high school students have little or no accountability for their performance on the state test. We also need to change the structure under which teachers practice their skills. Teachers perform a professional service that requires highly refined skills. Teachers at the high school level work with kids in 50 minute segments, seven times a day, for 176 days. Doctors, lawyers, accountants, or any of the other professionals spend so much of their day providing their expertise and the rest developing their professional skills. Provide teachers with the time, paid time, to prepare and practice pedagogies. Let them experiment with new technologies and work with one another to plan quality experiences for their students. Most teachers feel they step on a rat wheel in August and step off in June with very little time to breath much less try to improve their craft and meet all the mandates that come from the different levels. Yes, make teachers and principals accountable, but give them the pay and professional time it takes to perform at the expected levels!
Standards and assessments
The other day I had a teacher tell me she had some former students visit her and the conversation turned to what high school needed to do to prepare students for college. They said that they needed to know how to outline chapters and have the ability to follow longer college lectures. So much for the need to change to a student centered approach. With all the talk about what students do not know or cannot do, the adoption of a national set of standards, I often stop and scratch my head and wonder why such a broad approach to standards needs to be considered. We already have spread what we teach so thin so we can hope to touch on every standard that is measured by THE TEST. Student lack true understanding and the ability to apply new found knowledge and skills because they are required to “swallow” so much information and then regurgitate at regular intervals, with no need to develop a deep understanding of what is learned. No need to apply newly acquired knowledge, much less synthesize new ideas and meaning by delving into a subject and getting to know it well enough to question it or create new knowledge to share with others. When was the last time we truly discussed what a high school graduate needed to be able to do (notice that I did not say know)? Did this discussion exclude politicians, text book publishers, and others with interests other than what is best for education? Did the discussion include students, teachers, parents, employers and post secondary educators? That is where we need to begin, then build the assessment, and for once, let’s try one that does not include filling in the bubbles. Very few jobs require someone to fill in bubbles well….nor take tests for that matter. We need to concentrate on skill sets that are used outside the school. Think about all the things students do during their day that they only do in school and will never do again when they leave school. Eliminate those things and you will eliminate the difference between schooling and education.
Thank you for reading all the way to the bottom of this….Mom. If you feel like it leave a comment.