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.

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.


Blogger stephen lazar said...

I am very sympathitic to your pessimism. Here are two ideas I constantly draw hope from:
1) Excellent teachers who can overcome every barrier placed in their way. 2)My belief in the "pendulum" model of history - most stories in history tend to be about the swinging between two extremes. We're now at one extreme in schooling - extreme regulation and testing - the pundulum will swing back the other way soon.

8:52 AM  

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