A Teachers Viewpoint

Location: Texas, United States

I am a teacher with 33 years experience in public education. The purpose of this web log is to critically examine the present state of education in our great country and, particularly, in Texas.

Monday, April 24, 2006

How to save American schools - step one

The first thing that absolutely must be done is to abandon the absurd notion that anything useful is gained from the current misuse of standardized tests. States, local boards and schools must simply refuse to take part in these tests. They are resulting in the destruction of schools, good administrators and good teachers while doing little or nothing to improve appallingly bad schools.

Perhaps the most aggressively dumb use of test scores is when the whole school score is used to evaluate individual teachers. In every school in America there are lizards who think that the way to teach is to make kids copy the textbook. In the same schools there are great teachers who break their backs everyday to see that thier kids get the highest quality instruction. Yet those same great teachers have their evaluations graded down because some other loon next door can't teach. This practice is demoralizing great teachers everywhere. The time has come for school administators of courage and integrity to say this is one thing I will not do.

The time has come for intelligent administrators, teachers and governing agencies to stand up on their own two feet and say this is enough. Most important it is time for parents to say with loud voices "you will not do this to my child." It is time for parents, teachers and everyone involved in schools to stage a rebellion in the voting booth. If a legislator or any government official insists on continuing the current use of standardized tests - vote - them - out.

Parents need to remind government officials that their children belong to the parents, not to the government.

I wish to concede one argument that school testing advocates will make. There are lousy public schools - many of them. However, standardized testing is not the way to determine the quality of a school. All anyone has to do is walk through the halls of any school in America to perceive the quality of a school.

The only intelligent use of standardized tests is to determine the growth of a single student over some reasonably extended period of time. Standardized tests of content should be used to gauge a childs' growth in a discipline. That is the single use for any standardized test.

Take back control of your schools.

Friday, April 21, 2006

National Geographic vs Tippy Chases His Tail

Another aspect of the testing scandal that is occurring in Texas is seen in the seemingly trivial requirements around this test. What is the difference between a magazine like the National Geographic and a 10 page book from the school library.

One can be read in a classroom after TAKS and the other cannot. Would you like to guess which one is forbidden?

You are absolutely right! National Geographic would be the magazine that is the one that the students cannot read after the test.

After a student completes marking the TAKS test he or she certainly must remain quiet. That is not arguable. So, students in a particular testing situation were given National Geographic magazines to read. The problem is that National Geographic is a magazine. By virtue of its binding students were told that they could not read National Geographic magazine.

The state of Texas tells test administrators that after the test the students can read a book. They can't read a magazine. They can't draw. They can't put their heads on their desk and sleep. The situation has become so legalistic, so rule bound and so silly that school administrators are running scared of being found guilty of violating any of the silly rules associated with this farce. Since the instructions say "book" the students WILL read a book, not a magazine like National Geographic. So students are reading books. And many, if not most of the books, are written at a very low reading level. As long as the material they read is in the printed form we know as a "book" anything is legal.

The thing I would like to ask any parent is how long are you willing to put up with this until you hold the politicians who voted for and still support this monstrosity responsible. How long will you put up with this mess. Your kids time is being wasted.

The people who tolerate this waste of time in their kids lives are responsible. That would include all of us if we do not raise our voices for change.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Is there any hope left for average to low income kids

Lately, I have been wondering what it will take to help the public to understand how bad things are in many public schools. I am especially concerned about schools that serve average to low income populations. Many of those schools are under the leadership of people with minds so dull that it boggles the imagination. So many administrators in schools are playing a fools game. There are so few administrators now that have the intellect and the independence to reason for themselves.

Most school administrators have bought into the testing philosophy. Because of that the educational landscape is becoming more of a wasteland. This week in Texas we are giving the TAKS. The TAKS is that way that schools are now judged in the state of Texas. There is really no other way in which schools are measured. Unfortunately, that is also the way that teachers are measured. Tragically, it has become the way the kids are measured.

In many districts across the state teacher contracts are being held up until the TAKS scores come in. Many of the superintendents and boards in charge of school districts believe that the scores on the TAKS is actually a way to measure quality teaching. Rational thought still can be found in some places. But, unfortunately, many school leaders have fallen for the common orthodoxy that somehow a school population, particularly one that is challenged, can be in the same place at the same time. Further, many of them seem to think that it would be a good thing if they were in the same place on tests.

If a school district falls into the last appallingly stupid group its approach will be something like the following. The district finds that its test scores are below their expectations. The district curriculum leadership then tries to identify the specific objectives that need work. They tell teachers that their evaluations and their jobs will depend on the test scores of their students. All the busy bees go to work writing manuals, worksheets and workbooks to remediate the skills that are lacking. The skills are taught out of context with the view that if you really hit those skills hard then success can be achieved. This procedure focuses on ever narrower objectives until almost nothing is taught. Then the tests are given the next year. When the scores don't come up it must be the teachers fault. So, obviously the answer is to hold teacher contracts until the scores come up. Some districts will try to shuffle the chairs by simply moving teachers and adminstrators around. Other districts may actually go so far as to close schools to eliminate the problem of low test scores. When a school is closed and redefined by a district the scores at that school basically go away. That is the solution of an intellectually bankrupt leadership.

Presently there are schools who are just dumping their older, more experienced teachers for cheaper young, inexperienced teachers. School districts can save a tremendous amount of money in this way. Too bad about the kids. I have seen situations where hundreds of years of combined experience are replaced by people who have no experience. There are classes where the students are reduced to reading the chapter of the textbook and doing the questions in the back of the chapter. Many, many classes exist where there are no grades in the computer. I have seen situations where the grades absolutely were fabricated out of whole cloth.

The collective leadership of many schools represents a true confederacy of dunces. There are some specific things that failing schools can do if they want to help the kids. I will muse about those things in coming days.