Thursday, May 13, 2010

Anti-ed rhetoric ...don't go there!

My new Teacher of the Year friends, from every state in our nation, have begun to share our thoughts on what makes an "effective" teacher. The big news is that evaluation methods vary widely in our country - some involving the use of portfolio, self assessment, administrator "walk through" and significant, regular input and conversation.

Clearly, all of the awarded teachers are interested in being part of the conversation about what we think is "great" about teachers who are lifted up as teachers of the year and other such awards, especially during the current anti-teacher public environment.

Just when I needed it most, I read an article in "Education Week" ( which Dianne Ravitch and Mike Rose share significant thoughts about what is happening. Both agree on the following, as stated by Mike Rose:

"You and I are both concerned about the predominance of school-bashing rhetoric in the national discussion of public schools." It seems, says Mike Rose, to "provide the ideological foundation to dismiss public education, to seek free-market solutions or structural or technological miracle cures."

That's what I've been hearing "out there" as well. I hear from folks that good teachers like me shouldn't be "defending the education of yesterday."

Diane Ravitch admits that there have always been critics and reformers of public education, but there was one important difference, "the critics wanted to make public schools better. Now, many critics think that the answer to public education is to get rid of it, to replace it with something that is wholly different and not subject to any democratic participation or control."

Wow, there's the rub. We "improve" public education by eliminating it. Ha!

Now, let's think about the current conversation about "teacher quality."

The be all and end all of a good teacher, according to the policy folks, is how kids perform on tests. I mean, as a "good teacher" we all have to be about student progress. All good teachers I know would agree, but the essential difference is how to judge student progress.

Most teachers don't trust the tests as the sole way of judging student progress. We don't trust the tests as the sole way of judging teachers either.

Diane talks about how we can judge effective teachers, anyway. It seems that we are moving in a direction of “deselect(ing) teachers every year whose students did not get gains. If we fire 5-10% of teachers every year, over time the nation will have an excellent corps of teachers."

Oh my! Credentials don't seem to matter, according to reformers, nor do degrees. So, Diane asks, why not have talented high school students do this test prep we are looking for? It may not be as much of a reductio ad absurdum as it at first seems. I mean...

Do you agree with the following?

Good education = Good test prep and results

Bad education = Bad test prep and results

Now, close your eyes and remember that special teacher. Come on, there must be one out there. Everyone talks about this person in every educational speech.

Your favorite teacher - the one who changed your life = your test results that year of school.

I'd bet money that this is not true, that you remember this person because of the way they motivated you to believe in yourself to become a learner.

Being a learner is forever.

Mike Rose says that real, honest-to-goodness professional development is crucial for teachers. Not the one-size-fits-all, half-day blitz we are familiar with, but the sustained, deep, collaboration with experts that really affect teachers and influence learners.

Oh, but I forgot - a teacher doesn't have to be an intellectual leader or social contributor, we just have to turn around test results.

We are "a knowledge-delivery mechanism preparing students for high-stakes tests."

Sounds like a wonderful career. I'll have to use that when I speak to the dewy eyed teachers to be in an upcoming speech.

Are you kidding?

Educational policy is being created and used to hurt the essence of the best of instruction as we know it. There is good and bad in yesterday. I am a huge supporter of technology, but I see it as a tool to create an infinite number of seats at the table. I cannot sit by silently while my profession is reduced to a Chaplanesque view of teacher as factory foreman pumping kids into a place on the assembly line. We know that this sort of one-size-fits-all approach is doomed.

What makes an effective teacher does need to be measured in important ways, but these ways need to include self reflection, personal growth, collaboration and peer involvement, connection with content-area experts, connection to the students'and strategies to help teachers find "tools" to help students overcome significant life obstacles like poverty, an intellectually unenriched home, disease, learning disabilities.

Personally, I'd prefer to eliminate poverty and social inequity, but that's another story.

Diane Ravitch spoke of our president and his wonderful ability as an orator. She'd like to see the tone shift from our guy up top. "instead of speaking about punishing, firing, failing, and closing, speak instead about improving, supporting, developing, encouraging, and inspiring."

That would be music to my ears.

Think hard about what we want. Do we want public schools that work? Or do we want to demolish our public schools and the teachers who would work in them? Do we want whole-minded professionals to take on teaching jobs or narrowly focused technocrats who are good at getting kids those discrete skills to get the numbers to get them the merit pay to get the acclaim.

In such a reality, Mr. Holland never gets his Opus and Mr. Chips, a life-long teacher who got an important movie goodbye from his school, will never appear on the screens of future movie goers. In the current scenario, The elegantly aging Mr. Chips would have been fired by the time he was 40 and Mr. Holland, that music teacher who actually loves music, will be told to focus more on the "real world."

Not on my watch!

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