True Stories from My Past Week
Story # 1
I was visiting an elementary school this past week observing a college senior who is student teaching this semester. As I left her classroom I was walking through the school hallway alone. A kindergarten boy came running down the hallway on his way to the bathroom. He was close to me before he noticed me.
He stopped running when he saw me, looked me up and down and said, “What school did YOU go to last year?”
I laughed all the way home about his comment.
On Saturday I visited a school district 45 minutes away to watch my granddaughter perform in a competition. There was a lady I had never met before sitting behind me. She began talking about her past week as a kindergarten teacher. Once I realized she was a kindergarten teacher, I turned around to tell her my story about the little boy in the hallway. She listened and laughed. When she realized I was also in the teaching profession she then said, “Let me tell you about my week at school.
“On Thursday of this week the administrators called a previously unannounced teachers’ meeting. We found out at that meeting almost all of the third through sixth grade teachers will be leaving our urban school. They are getting rid of all but two teachers in those grades because the students’ test scores came back too low. The only reason we kindergarten through second grade teachers still have jobs is because our students don’t yet take the standardized tests.”
I was stunned. “Are they firing all those teachers?” I asked.
She continued her tale, “No, they are moving them to another school in our district. The other school is in a completely different neighborhood with an entirely different clientele. Guess what? Not so surprisingly their tests scores are higher. Therefore the administrators (or somebody) believes those teachers are more effective. They are bringing those ‘effective’ teachers to our school to boost our students’ test scores. They are moving what they consider our ineffective teachers to the other school to learn from the ‘effective’ teachers still there.”
We smiled at each other and shook our heads.
I thought to myself, “Who is making these decisions? Did they visit in both those schools? What are educators even thinking? Or are educators even involved in any of these decisions?” Like the kindergarten boy I met in the hallway I wondered, “What school did THEY go to last year?”
On Sunday I was in another school watching yet another grandchild participate in a function. Next to me sat a wonderful, committed first year teacher. I have known this young lady for years and am very aware of her standard of excellence. I told her the story the kindergarten teacher shared with me. She was disappointed, but not surprised.
She described a similar circumstance she had encountered. School districts have become so reactionary to test scores that it seems like learning takes a back seat to the almighty score. Everyone is talking about value added.
Note from me: When schools talk about ‘value added’ these days they only mean how did you raise test scores? They don’t mean how well do you communicate with parents, differentiate instruction, tutor or counsel students. Value added means only, “What did you do to raise test scores on the standardized tests?” I’m sad about that. A valuable teacher is so much more than one number on a page. Ask any student what constitutes a valuable teacher. They will describe one accurately. But students’ opinions don’t factor into the equation either. Only standardized test scores matter anymore.
This young teacher pointed out that her subject (foreign language) isn’t covered on the state standardized test. But the teachers still have to prove ‘value added’. Essentially all they have to do is make up a pre-test, then teach the skill and administer their own post test. If the scores go up, they can prove value has been added. She is professional enough and committed enough to recognize the irony in this scenario and she is only a first year teacher.
Isn’t this just a little like asking the fox to guard the chicken coop?
It makes me sad to see educators running in circles like this. The cry for higher test scores from politicians and the media….higher test scores, no matter what the method… is causing otherwise intelligent people to make some pretty desperate decisions. When we don’t know what to do, we just get forced into doing something whether it is worthwhile or not.
I want to ask the politicians, government officials and reporters who are complaining about our schools…in the words of a kindergarten boy…
What schools did you go to last year?
What teachers did you interview? Did you ask them how to raise test scores?
What did students suggest about how to identify effective teachers and raise test scores?
TEACH…To Change Lives
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There is a lot of evidence that our present school system is actually obsolete. I saw this interesting TED talk the other day that I think you’ll like: http://www.ted.com/talks/sugata_mitra_build_a_school_in_the_cloud.html