"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

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Who Takes Responsibility for Classroom Conditions?

Education "reformers" are consistent in at least one thing. The "failure" of American schools is the fault of bad teachers.

You might remember the cover of Time Magazine featuring Michelle Rhee with her broom...ready to sweep away the bad teachers -- and the cheating scandal in D.C. schools uncovered after she was "swept" out of office hasn't seemed to stop her...

...or the Newsweek cover article which claimed that the "key to saving American education" was to "fire bad teachers."

Some "reformers" focus their blame on the evil teachers unions rather than the teachers themselves...and the fact that it's impossible to fire bad teachers because they have jobs for life (despite the fact that only about 50% of teachers make it past five years in the profession).

One current focus of "reformers" is to evaluate teachers by using test scores. Forget that it doesn't work..."we need to do something" to identify those bad teachers and get rid of them. We can improve teaching by putting more untrained teachers into classrooms, or lowering standards for entrance into the teaching force. (Yes, you read that right. Check out the push by Indiana's State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Bennett to lower the standards for entrance into the teaching force in Indiana.)

"Reformers" seem to believe that teachers have 100% control over student achievement.

The fact is that, while teacher quality is the greatest "in-school" factor for student achievement, out of school factors account for a much greater impact on students success in school.

Of course we want only good teachers in classrooms...and we need to identify and remove or retrain teachers who are incompetent or burned out. However, like most professions, the number of "bad" teachers is small (most of them get weeded out in the first five years) and getting rid of them, while desirable, won't "save" American education.

The vast majority of public school teachers are competent professionals who work hard every day and provide the best education they can for their students. But are teachers responsible for the so-called failure of public education in America? How much control does the average classroom teacher have over what gets taught (and how) in their classroom? The answer to that is a resounding "not much." "Reformers" are blaming teachers for variables that are out of their control inside the classroom...as well as outside (see The Blueberry Story).
  • Teachers don't choose the standards taught in their classrooms and often don't get to choose the materials used to teach those standards.
  • Teachers don't choose the standardized tests being used to evaluate their students, themselves and their schools.
  • Teachers are often told that they must spend a certain number of minutes doing test prep.
  • Teachers don't choose how much money is available for supplies (though teachers as a group spend hundreds, sometimes thousands, of their own dollars each year to supply America's public school classrooms).
  • Teachers don't make laws governing public education.
  • Teachers don't often get to choose what equipment is provided in their classrooms.
  • (Feel free to add your own)
Often new technology is dumped into classrooms by administrations or school boards without input from teachers. Smart Boards and iPads might be helpful teaching tools when used correctly, but teachers are often bypassed in discussions of what technology should be purchased for their classrooms. In The Paradox of Teachers and Technology in the U.S., Larry Cuban explains the impact on schools of keeping teachers out of the decision making process.
[Teachers], professionals with advanced degrees, have little say in determining access or use of hardware and software in their classrooms. Policymakers decide, not teachers, to buy and deploy new technologies for classroom use.

School boards buy iPads for kindergarten teachers. Superintendents contract with companies to supply every classroom with interactive whiteboards. Sure, maybe a few teachers show up on a district-wide committee that advises the school board and superintendent but decisions to spend and distribute machines are seldom made by teachers, the foot soldiers of reform who are expected to use them in lessons.
As is so often the case, teachers are treated differently than other professionals.
Doctors, lawyers, engineers, and accountants working either as solo practitioners or in small groups decide which new technologies they will buy and use. In most public and private organizations that pay salaries to professionals, in hospitals, top decision-makers often meet and confer with doctors. Ditto for engineers and architects in big companies, and senior lawyers in firms. But not in school districts.

...Treating teachers as undeserving to be at the table when decisions are made about the buying and deploying of hardware and software reflects the low esteem that policymakers have for teachers.
Teachers are not afraid of accountability...but they have little control over that for which they're held accountable. Teachers should be accountable for their work, but policy makers must also accept some of the responsibility for the conditions under which teachers work.



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Stop the Testing Insanity!


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