Saturday, April 24, 2010

Federal Prostitutes

Barack Obama rode into the Whitehouse with the backing of teachers around the country. He has taught, he has seen poor schools, he understands our issues. Little did we know that George W. Bush would turn out to be a better education president. With Bush, reforms were half-hearted, underfunded, and not taken seriously. Obama's reforms have one important difference, money. The federal Race to the Top fund is causing states and districts to whore themselves out for a share of the money. The effect on education will be tremendous.

As stated by the Race to the Top website, $4 billion dollars is available:

Through Race to the Top, we are asking States to advance reforms around four specific areas:

  • Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy;
  • Building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction;
  • Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most; and
  • Turning around our lowest-achieving schools.

Awards in Race to the Top will go to States that are leading the way with ambitious yet achievable plans for implementing coherent, compelling, and comprehensive education reform. Race to the Top winners will help trail-blaze effective reforms and provide examples for States and local school districts throughout the country to follow as they too are hard at work on reforms that can transform our schools for decades to come.

Essentially what Race to the Top is asking states to do for a share of the money, is to adopt the charter school model. All of this despite the fact that charter schools show no significant improvements over public schools. Charter schools who do perform better than their public counterparts succeed for reasons unrelated to their model. Charter schools are allowed to be selective in whom they take. If you only accept English speaking, non-special education, and moderately proficient students, of course you will outperform a public school who must take anybody.

One major component of the charter school model is "teacher accountability". Charter schools hold their teachers accountable to student growth on tests and assessments. Obviously, teachers must be able to demonstrate real growth and success with their students. The devil is with the details. How do you measure growth, and is the data valid and reliable? Testing 101 requires that assessments be valid, test what is taught, and reliable, no variables. Charter schools can guarantee reliability because they control who attends. Public schools do not. My district went from 20% non-English speaking, to 60% in 10 years. Our test scores leveled off, did not decline. I doubt a charter could match that. The validity of state and district tests is an obvious issue. My school is 80% non-white, whereas another in the district is 30%. What is taught in one school, may not be relevant in another. I chose to teach about homosexuality and the law. I felt as though that would be enriching and relevant to students growing up in such a diverse society. The other school chose to teach about Reagan and macroeconomics. No schools are the same, what is taught is not the same, and the students are not the same. How can the state use one test to guage growth for all schools. The assessments are not valid or reliable for the students, and teachers should not be held captive by the test taking abilities to teenagers.

Union busting is a major hidden reward in receiving Race for the Top funds. States that have stripped their teachers of tenure protection have won the first round. Tenure guarantees due process to teachers before they are fired. The problem is that administrators come and go as frequently as El Nino. One may like you, others won't. Tenure is meant to protect teachers from arbitrary reprimands or firings by administration. It allows teachers to take risks in the classroom, try new methods, and experiment. Tenure also attracts people such as myself to education. You are not paid well initially, and professional development, licensing, and education come out of pocket, but are required to keep your job. Tenure makes the stress and initial hardship of teaching much more bearable. If they are serious about attracting the best and brightest to education, stripping tenure is not the way to go.

More testing, and teacher busting is not the answer. This will drive away teachers, and take more time away from learning. What is the answer? Each school is different, but reducing class size, parent and student involvement, teacher training and development, and teacher-led reform and instruction always get results. Does this cost money? Yes. However, if states are willing to whore themselves out for money, why can't they do it for something that works.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Two extremes that make the day

I had the students read about the Truman Doctrine and compare whether our new foreign policy was "A radical departure, or a continuation of existing American foreign policy, but with a new face." The students unanimously agreed it was a continuation, using their background knowledge about the Monroe Doctrine, Roosevelt Corollary, US imperialism, WWI, and WWII. "We were just protecting our interests, helping capitalism expand worldwide." What are our interests? How is that beneficial? "Trade, money, control." Wow, they know more about the world than they know.

On the more comedic side of teaching, I was curious if the students understood why the Soviet mutual protection organization was called the Warsaw Pact. A student responded "Because they see the war!" War-saw...genius.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

"Vacation Time"

A lot of people assume teachers have tons of vacation time. I ran some calculations based on the hours I work. Interestingly enough, I work enough to cover all of my "vacation time." Averaging 40 hours a week, every week. What isn't included in that calculation is what I've been doing with my spring break, grading papers. All good teachers use "vacation time" to work, go to graduate classes, or for professional development Am I complaining? No. I chose education, not business school for a reason.