I had decided to stop blogging, but in the last few months I have found my voice again. There are things to be discussed and points to be made. Our current educational landscape is a war-torn battleground with various armies fighting for control of a multi-billion dollar prize. To control education is to control the minds of the future. The arguing and under the tables deals are deplorable. The issues are many, but we are a free people with creativity and passion.
Has anyone pondered the fact both parties are in agreement with each other about Common Core? John White is a Teach for America alumni, mentored by Arne Duncan, who just stepped down from serving his dear friend, President Obama, as Secretary of Education. Does anyone wonder how our Republican conservative governor, Bobby Jindal, befriended White? Anyone?
National standards are not new. We have had national standards for years. The only difference is these standards were created by organizations like the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics, instead of the government. The standards were then used by the states to create state standards. The testing companies created tests to match these state standards. Here is the interesting part, when I was teaching; I would pull released test items from various states. Guess what? These were often the same released test items I found on the Louisiana Department of Education site. There are only a few testing companies and they had been selling the same questions to all the states, because the state standards were based upon national standards.
Common Core enters the picture. Why? Imagine how much money testing companies make from making all those new tests! Textbook companies created all new textbooks. Money! Interestingly enough, some of the "test prep" material I have seen is the same as the old stuff with a new cover and a new structure. Dig into the shareholders of these companies. I wonder where their political donations are going?
I am for standards, but I am for local control and states' rights. Trust the federal government? Seriously?
The National Assessment of Educational Progress is a national assessment used to check our educational progress. The first test was given in 1969! You can learn more here: http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/about/naephistory.aspx
Again, why do we need another set of tests? We already have a national assessment data we can use from the past 47 years!
Why are outside interests such as Bill Gates and the Walton family donating so much money to certain BESE candidates? Do you think these very wealth business people are really concerned with children or could there possibly be other reasons?
The whole idea about teachers being held accountable using value-added measures is quickly finding to be statistically unsound. I will humbly admit I thought this was a great idea about ten years ago. Of course, I was clueless about the statistics and the idea sounded great. I know amazing teachers and I know some who need to be kicked out in the chair they constantly are found sitting. The reason I supported this concept is because of the terrible teachers I found in the profession. Why can't we work together as a profession to police ourselves? There are terrible teachers out there. If you are one, quit. If you know one, help them quit.
Linda Darling-Hammond, who should have been the Secretary of Education for the United States, outlines the issues with VAM-models. You can read the facts file://localhost/here/ https/::edpolicy.stanford.edu:publications:pubs:1340
Many things impact student achievement. Hattie (2003) offers a quick summary of the research. What students bring to the table predicts 50 % of their success. Home life is 5-10%, schools are 5-10%, principals show little impact outside of the school factors already counted, peers impact between 5-10%, and TEACHERS account for 30% variance. Other studies show even lower impacts of the various educational factors, but the teacher impact is always the highest of these factors. You can read Hattie's report at http://www.educationalleaders.govt.nz/Pedagogy-and-assessment/Building-effective-learning-environments/Teachers-Make-a-Difference-What-is-the-Research-Evidence
Why would we focus all of our efforts on content and assessment, when we know highly effective teachers make the greatest impact? What if instead of spending all of the billions of dollars we have spent on creating assessments, curricula, textbooks, computer programs, etc... we would have spent the last 20 years focused on recruiting, retaining, and promoting the very best teachers in the world? Do you think this could have made a huge difference in our country? Look around the world....this has worked for the high performing countries. Teachers are valued and appreciated, not demonized and blamed.
Highly effective teachers work hard and I don't mean the ones labeled by some crazy system dreamed up over cocktails. I am referring to those teachers I have seen in action. They arrive at school before sunrise. Their classrooms are places of wonder and excitement. The children are engaged every minute of the day. They push their children to think, read, discuss, argue, invent, create, and love each other. They do not yield to scripted lessons with robot-like workbooks. These teachers, you see, have a brain and should be allowed to think, problem-solve, and teach! If scripted robots worked, we could save tons of money and buy a parrot for each classroom!
(Of course imagine how much money textbook companies would see float away. There would be no fancy dinners for personnel on the textbook committees.)
What will we do when we don't have enough teachers?
School leadership is tired! I challenge you to shadow a principal in this day and age. Whether you are a teacher or a non-educator, when done well, this is a tough job. I know some amazing leaders. I love them and I appreciate the work they do. Support your school leaders. They need you! For a glimpse into their world read this: https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/02/10/why-a-great-principal-burned-out-and-what-might-have-prevented-it/
Buzzwords are the enemy of education. “College and career ready”, “rigor”, “diversity”, “differientiation”, blah, blah, blah… Every year there is a new trend. Effective teachers and leaders have always been using various strategies and producing results for years. We act like these ideas are something new once assigned a label.
Drop the double talk and fancy buzzwords. We need to speak so the public understands us. Our goal is to use our training as experts in child development, pedagogy, soft skills, and content to help children meet their potential. This will look amazingly different for each child if done well. We need to communicate with the public. I have met very few parents and community members who will not work with the school when they understand the issues.
Stop listening to all of the rhetoric. Talk to teachers and to children. Read what other countries are doing. Be informed about your candidates’ platforms and inquire about the sources of their funding. Ask to see exams. Go read the practice tests at www.louisianabelieves.com. Go read the Compass data, which will be another blog soon. Don’t trust what you read…even this blog. Go find out for yourself.
Question! Read! Think! Discuss! We are a free people. Make up your own mind!
I am a teacher, which in a single word, sums up my passions and my belief in the future.