"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be...nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." – Thomas Jefferson

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Unintended Consequences

Unintended consequences are always difficult for people to predict because...well...because they're unintended.

When No Child Left Behind was passed in 2001 the members of congress believed that focusing on helping the poorest performing children would be beneficial. Who would argue that we should "leave children behind?" The fact that the law, and it's successor, Race to the Top, has had a detrimental effect on those students the laws were specifically written to help, was unintended...or was it?

I've started reading the blog, Accountable Talk written by Mr. Talk, a veteran New York City teacher.

In his latest post, Unintended Consequences, Mr. Talk refers to his TDR, or Teacher Data Report. The report he got was based on, among other things, the test scores of his students. His report was poor because, as he says,
Besides the fact that the formula is wildly unpredictable, I had the added disadvantage of teaching extremely needy kids in an otherwise excellent school. I have no one to blame for that but myself; when my AP asked whether I'd take on the most challenging students they had, I agreed. I had some crazy idea in my head that helping the students who needed it most was what a teacher should do. So I did it.
When the TDR was released, he realized that he was in a difficult situation. He scored poorly because he chose to teach the most difficult students. Should he continue to do that...and continue to get poor TDRs or quit volunteering and teach students who were "easier" and less "needy?"

Sadly, he chose the latter.
I just quit volunteering to teach the very children who needed me most. When my AP asked me to take them on again (which he would not do unless he knew I'd been successful), I said no. This year, those kids are with another teacher who has difficulty just getting them to sit in their seats. (This is not a knock on her. She is new and these are tough kids).
This year, his students are not the most difficult and they will, he is sure,
...vault me back into the rarefied air of the "excellent" teacher.
He is, frankly, concerned about his future.
I have a family to support and they are my primary duty. I can not take a chance that I will lose my job over some erroneous data.
And he's not the only one.
There are other consequences of the TDRs that became apparent to me immediately. I've had discussions with at least three excellent teachers who have told me that they are now planning on leaving the DOE for sure, because they can not see how they will ever be able to put in enough years to retire from this system. They feel everything is stacked against them. Because it is.
High quality, dedicated teachers are leaving the profession because they are being made the scapegoats in the corporate push to demonize public schools. They are being forced out because people who know nothing about education, children and schools are changing the way teachers must teach. For teachers, it's no longer about helping kids learn, it's about survival in a crazy world. When you have to pass up teaching the most needy children in the school because your livelihood depends on the students' achievement level few people are going to choose to take on the challenge of teaching the nation's most difficult students.
Another consequence is that no one wants to teach the grades or subjects that are targets of the reports. I have a feeling that a LOT of teachers are going to request K-2 assignments or look to leave middle school so they don't have to be subjected to public humiliation should their numbers not stack up with whatever new system the DOE devises.
This "unintended consequence" is preventing the best teachers from volunteering to help the students who need them the most. No Child Left Behind is leaving children behind. The Race to the Top is causing schools to push test scores to the detriment of learning. This situation, like the one in Los Angeles (where the LA Times published test scores from teachers' classes labeling the teachers successful or failing) is not about education. It's about blaming teachers for the problems our society refuses to deal with.

Mrs. Mimi said it best in a post she had...She went to comfort a child crying in frustration over "the test." I've printed this before, but the content is equally chilling today...if not more so. We are hurting children because billionaires and politicians who don't know a thing about education are setting education policy.

Read this from Mrs. Mimi's blog...
Don't tell anyone, but I used to just call it quits after a while.  I mean, enough is enough, right?

Me: (noticing that one friend, a friend who struggles in reading... I mean STRUGGLES) (kneeling down and whispering) Are you okay?
Friend: (tears streaming down face) (STREAMING!) I just can't do it anymore. (Is your heart breaking yet?)
Me: I know it's hard, sweetie, but you just have to do your best.
Friend: The words are just too hard.  I'm not smart enough.
Me: (trying not to let tears stream down my face because I have to get this kid to try and finish) Just try a few more and then we'll stop.
Friend: And we'll go back to learning?
Me: (choking back sob) Yes, honey, we'll go back to learning.
This child...this "low achieving" child...is wise enough to know that testing is not teaching or learning. Test scores don't always measure what's important.
~~~

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