Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Public flogging of teachers continues

    I blame my mechanic — the fact that I don't change my oil often enough, don't check my tire pressure regularly, and don't know my carburetor from my glove compartment.

    I'm sure you will agree with me that my mechanic is solely to blame for any malfunction of my car. It can't be that I invest too little in it, or that I take only passing interest in its interests — that is, until it doesn't motor me to every chosen destination.

   We need new accountability standards for mechanics. Assemble the lawmakers.

   I'm serious here. Just about as serious as some policy makers are about education.

   Those policy makers, and the citizens for whom they posture, blame teachers for all the ills of the schooling machine.

    It couldn't be any outside influences that affect learning — not the inattention of parents, not whatever roiling events outside school walls might make it difficult to learn, not too-crowded classes, not administrators and policy makers who don't really get what teachers do.

        Something very detrimental to learning has been happening under the guise of education reform for nearly two decades. Americans have been convinced that standardization is education. They have been convinced that the way to "excellence" is to treat children's minds like one treats tomatoes during canning season.

     In the process, too many Americans have swallowed the propaganda that those who don't buy the standard (King James?) version of school accountability employed by state after state don't support excellence.

     In Florida a pitched battle rages over one more quest to reduce education to tomato paste on the butcher block of standardization. Reformers seek to pin teacher pay increases to test scores. The bill would require school districts to set aside 5 percent of their entire budgets starting in 2011 for "performance" pay increases. If they have any leftover money, they could use it to develop new tests, like end-of-course exams. Otherwise, they would have to give it back to the state.

     The bill also would essentially rewrite the rules for teacher contracts. And in telling districts how they can pay teachers, it would wipe out considerations like advanced degrees and experience.

     The most offensive thing about this is that it's not really about education. It's about a political vendetta. The party of Bush and Cheney and Limbaugh and O'Reilly has had it out for "teachers' unions" from the day some marginally educated focus group said the term was disparaging enough to be gold.

      So, we have people stepping up saying they know how to "fix" education. Even if they confuse teaching with conveyor-belt work. Even if they consider Sarah Palin learned.

       Ah, standardization. I once heard a person say, seriously, that if only schools would be like the Army, our problems would be solved. You see, all enlistees have to learn how to assemble a rifle. Have to. And will.

      But, then, education isn't training. Education is a higher quest. Or, so we once assumed. Unfortunately, our political system has instituted a concept of schooling that casts students across a sea of bubble-in questions.

       You say teachers oppose assessment? That's the most ridiculous claim of all. I have a book that has 450 pages of really great assessments — classroom exercises that show if students are using critical thinking skills. It has activities which can make school fascinating and truly challenging. No one craves assessments — quality, diagnostic assessments — more than a teacher, or at least the vast majority of true classroom professionals.

        The same goes for most mechanics. But I'm  holding mine accountable for my inattention. If my oil pan ends up empty, heads will roll down at the shop.

    John Young writes for Cox Newspapers. E-mail:


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Mr. Young, for your insightful commentary. A recent product of the standardization movement in Texas is a curriculum named cscope. Under strict mandate from duped superintendents to use this curriculum exclusively, excellent skilled tried and true teachers have been reduced to going through the motions of "canning those tomatoes". Using creativity and experience is no longer valued in some school districts.

Anonymous said...

Your commentary is so true. Children eat 3000 calories in junk food at home and the school lunch program is at fault for obesity. Parents allow their children to stay out all night and then say the school is picking on their child for making him/her stay awake in class. There are children whose parents are involved in drugs, alcohol, gangs, etc, but the school is at fault when he/she does not pass the required assessment (because they are worried who will get shot this night). These are just a few example of what is being dealt with EVERY day. These situations occur much more than the people making the rules like to admit, but as you stated: It’s all the school and teachers fault.

Anonymous said...

Excellent points! I love how the media chooses to focus too much on how "unsafe" schools are, but they fail to recognize that the hands of administrators and teachers are tied when it comes to discipline. A student who has been labeled emotionally disturbed--and believe me, some of them can have some psychological evaluation files that would give anyone nightmares--are protected under the law and it is EXTREMELY difficult to remove them from a regular classrom or even place them in an alternative school setting. If the school tries to, they get hit with bad ratings under No Child Left Behind and Adequate Yearly Progress. Which, in turn, means more negative press about how bad schools are. It's a no-win situation and I feel very sorry for the majority of good, hard working students who miss out on a true education because the teachers have to spend all of their class time dealing with one or two students who disrupt and disrespect everyone constantly. People who aren't educators don't understand how laws that sound good on paper or in a perfect world just don't work in real-world settings. It is frustrating for everyone involved. Until schools are allowed to remove these unruly and sometimes dangerous students from the general population, there will continue to be problems. But if we do remove them, oh no, we are hurting their self esteem! :(

David said...

John –

I found your article so on target that I'm afraid I lifted it, and reprinted it for my readers.

I hope this is okay, but if it's unacceptable to you, please let me know, and I will take it down.


Anonymous said...

Hey, let it take wing. The more people who read these thoughts, the better.