Thursday, April 8, 2010

Eric Hanushek, writing in Educationnext (Florida Positions Itself at the Forefront, 04/07/2010; ) says:

"Over the past decade, Florida has shown its laser-focus on student performance.  ...
Now it is showing additional leadership by moving aggressively on issues of teacher quality. It is poised to pass legislation that would do two things. It would do away with teacher tenure for newly hired teachers. And, it would require that half of teacher pay increases be based on student performance.
Who could be against these ideas? Certainly parents and students cannot be. But just as certainly, the teachers unions are aghast that anybody would want student outcomes to play a prominent role in teacher retention decisions."

After 37 years as a teacher, one of many questions I have for Mr. Hanushek and those who have enthroned "student performance" as the only measure of good teachers and good schools is: What about those students who refuse to do anything to learn anything? Yes, even in this make-it-as-easy-as-possible-for-everyone-to-feel-good-about-themselves-with-little-or-no-effort-at-all society there are children who refuse to participate in their own education. Regardless of teacher and school efforts in their behalf, some, and the number is growing, have no interest in participating in or contributing to their own learning. And who can blame them. There are no consequenses for failure. A student can fail seven classes and be passed on to the next grade, not by the frustrated teachers, but by the system which is controled by the government and politics. So why are these students even there? Some are there because it is the law and they are forced to obey: some are there because their parents use school as public funded day care; some are there to stroke their attention needs by disrupting the learning of others; and some are there simply to socialize and talk, talk, talk. I had a son who went to school only because it was the law, and though he is very intelligent, he did only enough to usually earn a "D" and not an "F." I would never want any teacher or school judged by his refusal to participate responsibly. (Happily, after almost not graduating from high school, he did later decide to go to college where he was a "A" student. Much to my relief, he has become a responsible adult.)

Now, how does the government these days judge a teacher or a school to be failing? By the ridiculous NCLB pie-in-the-sky standards, where one child in one subgroup can fail an entire school. Yes, dear reader, out of forty unrealistic chriteria for judgment of a school, the school must pass all forty. 39 is not passing. This is never explained to the public; they see only "passed" or "failed" reported in the media. And if the government bean counters mistakenly proclaim a school to be a failure, the retaction of their mistake is never reported to the public. Parents would riot if teachers graded their children by the same standard the government uses to grade schools: 100% you pass; 99% you fail. This is what happens when political agendas set standards for those who have limited influence over the final outcome; teachers are working with individual human beings of varying abilities, desires, and effort not robots which can be programed for perfect results on standardized tests. Of course, if there were no "failing school" crisis, real, imagined or manufactured, our dear politicians would have no emotionally charged political football to kick around every time there is an election looming on the horizon.

Don't get me wrong, I am for high educational standards. I am against unreasonable standards not grounded in reality and common sense, and where the responsibility of the variable element, the student, is ignored. My solution to all rediculous education "reform" legislation is to require all politicians to teach eighth grade math, science, language, or history for three weeks before they can submit any eduaction bills. Then we just might end up with reasonable, informed, intelligent education standards. But, alas, along with all my other solutions to world problems this will never happen either.


Jared Ward said...

Thanks for sharing this with me. As you know I have a tremendous amount of respect for you and also for all of the teachers who have worked a full career and then some in this very demanding profession. I hope my thoughts come across clearly here as I am not as good a writer as I would like to be.

I think, for the most part, I agree with your thoughts on this article. High stakes tests (or even grades for that matter) don't give an accurate picture of the learning accomplished by a student or the quality of a teacher. I agree with you about NCLB and would love to see that program repealed. The same day I read the article by Hanushek, I also read this article (which brings up many of the same concerns that I think we share):

This article also calls for a more comprehensive evaluation tools that assess teachers and students over longer period of time and allow for those other factors that influence student learning.

I am not a fan of most performance-pay models because they are too dependent on high-stakes testing. I have been teaching art for 10 years and most of what my students learn isn't part of their grade or any formal assessment by me. Besides, there isn't an end of level test for my subject, so where does that leave me in such a program?

I read another blog post this morning (a tongue-in-cheek, fictitious letter from a student to a teacher thanking her for helping him to raise his test scores) that I think you might like:

So, I think what I liked about the Hanushek article was that it showed an example of a state that is leading change in our profession. I think doing away with tenure might be a little extreme, but revising the standards for earning tenure would be great. I think about the standards most universities have for tenure: a 5-7 year process that involves teaching evaluations, scholarly work, and school service (committee work).

I don't know what the solution is. Besides, coming up with the solution is way above my pay grade. But I do hope that those who are in a position to effect change will listen to teachers from both sides of the argument as they draft new policy.

Thanks again for writing your response and allowing me to share my thoughts. I really like your idea of having any who would made decisions regarding education to teach for 3 weeks in a middle school classroom. Too bad that will never happen.

Do We Blog said...

Your "Listen up, the emperor's naked" comments are likely not popular, but they are right on. Some will say it is all our fault that there are kids that don't want to learn. Even if we all taught on iPads in line with totally constructivist philosophies, there would be kids who refused to learn.

belann said...

Too true. I watch them come into the library to "do their work" because "zeros aren't permitted." Truth is they still don't. Some just don't care at this point in their lives. Hopefully, at some point they will.

oldlibraryman said...

Thanks for your comments Jared. I too believe that something needs to be done. Your idea of a long term evaluation is something that should be done, but law makers want results right now, they may not be in office when the better results are available. But, if you can show that a child has shown quantified improvement from time a to time b, regardless of being on grade level, whatever that really means when teaching thousands of individual children, then you and the student are doing well. This is not the data that they seem to want. This statement you made is a perfect depiction of true education:
I have been teaching art for 10 years and most of what my students learn isn't part of their grade or any formal assessment by me.
There is an old saying that if you are not learning more than you are being taught, you are a poor student.

jethrojones said...

Sadly, this got vetoed.