Schools: No one left standing

 

I’m sharing an article I’d written on another platform years ago about issues with standardization of schools. Once updated, needs a bit of updating again. The main point is still true: standardization, testing, top-down accountability, and technology use reduce creative thought and academic freedom.

 

So, Finland is said to have a better public education model.

What the Finland’s model suggests as solution is allowing publicly-supported schools more flexibility in curriculum, funding, and less hierarchical systems. Many public schools remain traditional and greatly prescribed, despite the initial reason for allowing charter schools was to encourage change. Alternative designs and curriculum are needed–why isn’t this happening?

Charter schools have also siphoned off energy for change, pretending to be the change while conveniently requiring applications for admission and leaving regular schools to struggle with higher numbers of special education students. Why don’t regular public schools ask for more flexibility? Why are only charter schools accorded flexibility?

The institution of public schooling is not the problem, it is the unrealistic limitations and conditions imposed on regular public schooling.

America was once praised for its diversity of thought and educational freedoms, but now we have rigidity in the schools.

This is a bi-partisan failure. George Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act ushered in a costly system in which standards, testing, and accountability fostered rigidity, and in which districts were fooled into purchase of expensive one-size-fits-all materials or programs, under the illusion of meeting new guidelines for “standards” and “research-based interventions.”

“Research-based” was interpreted as large-scale research studies, not as as methods proven by traditional research. Traditional, time-worn teaching methods without this kind of research backing were snubbed. Some for-profits funded large-scale research in public schools with students and teachers, such as in Springfield and a few other cities to compare Scholastic Reading 180 and another program. Scholastic Reading 180 was a computer-based program that was in my experience and that of several other teachers troublesome. In fact, in my school three young teachers quit and blamed it on being forced to use that program. However, the program was to run for 5 years regardless because of the grant funds, and then continued afterwards because of stasis.

When states began testing for complex standards, the doors were open for private interests to address “failure” and “accountability.” In truth, regular public schools have very few options because of educational guidelines and prescriptions, and yet money was and is being poured into consultants and trendy external programs that fail to make a significant difference and fail to address root causes.

In Holyoke, a reading program was purchased about which I heard Holyoke teachers complaining. Purchase and rollout of this program shut out all other alternatives. There is a problem with “one-size fits all” for both teachers and students.

Many schools and individual teachers choose to avoid responsibility and the hard work of aligning curriculum with detailed standards and or the hard work of proving alignment (bureaucracy) by purchasing pre-packaged programs and curriculum. These kinds of purchases directly interfere with diversity of thought in curriculum and with adaptation to student needs. Further, these purchasing trends further support dominance of curriculum by outsiders, often outsiders with corporate interests.

Use of standardized curriculum for marketing and propaganda is a real threat. In my classes, Scholastic Reading 180 curriculum neglected discussion of living costs while steadily promoting minimum wage careers in each chapter; to me, ignoring living costs is a glaring omission that leaves Scholastic’s motives suspect and desirous of pliant employees. In 2011 Scholastic was also under fire for combining “curriculum” with marketing on behalf of food marketers and the fossil fuel industry; to me, this indicates that Scholastic cares about the bottom line and could care less about students or truth. The curriculum of Reading 180 had other more subtle signs of self-interest and marketing, such as emphasizing MTV and entertainment connections which reflected board member industries. The curriculum promoted walkout “protests” for the right to listen to music in school and required writing assignments to demanding the return of MTV to a television station.

Popular media suggests only the Christian right, often portrayed as nutcases, worry about someone else forcing and deciding curriculum choices. This is too bad, because everyone should insure education is in the hands of guardians, students, local community, and that it is unique to students’ needs. History and great literature provides warnings about centralizing control of education, such as from writers Orwell or Madeline L’Engel or dictators Mao, Stalin, and Hitler.

The current design of ‘accountability’ lines up neatly with replacing creativity in schools with automated online education. Accountability is expensive, top-heavy on administration, and painful for teachers who create and enjoy building connections with students. Instead of teaching, time is directed towards surveillance, bureaucracy . . .

To me, the surveillance of teachers and mandates to cover very specific standards is too obedient and dictatorial, crushing alternative lines of thought. I saw urban administrators and teacher ‘leaders’ (who are tasked with zero to little teaching) enter classrooms and check boards for listed goals, objectives, and standards, then follow by watching whether teachers stick exclusively to what is listed. Teacher ‘leaders’ who did not teach much at all had would observe young teachers and, perhaps for political reasons, find fault, make corrections, and take credit for anything positive. I remember seeing one young teacher sobbing as result of a ‘Teacher Leader’ – seriously?

Accountability and standards are an avenue for exacting extreme top-down control. The energy of teachers and administrators is all directed towards compliance. There are benchmarks to meet each year, and analysis of progress towards just those benchmarks incessant and apparently addictive. This model encourages control of all teacher time, as planning time and meetings are now dominated by analysis of school-wide data and benchmarks and quick solutions. Ridiculous solutions to poor scores included creation of school-wide posters with catchy phrases, or routine teaching methods. Seriously?

Instead of analysis of school-wide data & benchmarks, teachers could be doing something more useful such as discussing how to integrate current events into curriculum, or considering new ideas to bring into the classroom, or polishing lessons and grading current assignments. How about more teacher prep time?

I believe if you want something done ‘right’, you ‘do it yourself’ — the idea that we ask teachers to do a hard job exactly as we prescribe I believe is full of hubris. You cannot ask someone to do something hard and, even on top of that, something hard with other people exactly as you lay out. I believe we owe teachers some flexibility, respect, and leeway, rather than this Big Brother on Steroids situation.

In my last district and assignment, every lesson was scripted with a “Do Now” to a “Closure” on the assumption that students can’t otherwise compute. Department of education are also set on this model. Forget about the possibility of a break for the old game of 7-up or hangman in the last few minutes of class, and forget about answering an off-topic question or emotional situation. God forbid you lose track of time and the ‘closure’. The stress of constant evaluation for teachers is not a subject of discussion, nor is there discussion of whether this system may be constraining the traditional respect for teachers and academic liberty.

At the teacher level, any content left out of the standards can be targeted as ‘wrong’ to include, but instead of questioning the top-down control or evaluating the content of standards there is instead analysis of whether compliance exists with these standards and so the fault is always the teacher and never the standards. Our standards are not being designed by local communities, however, and our teachers are being asked to follow in lock-step.

Accountability is also harmful to the students. Testing can focus subject matter on selected data, and be a cruel barrier to students struggling at home or academically. Demanding that Massachusetts kids are successful in all testing subjects can hurt student abilities to really learn one subject well and contribute to society in a meaningful, productive, and loving fashion as the student might wish.

In 1999 President Clinton signed an order to get technology in schools that started the Advanced Distributed Learning Program and encouraged private investment: “(3) mechanisms for the Federal Government to encourage private sector investment in the development of high-quality instructional software and wider deployment and utilization of technology-mediated instruction so that all Americans may take advantage of the opportunities provided by learning technology.”

Clinton’s order seems innocuous, but in line with the current thread of control, educational technology magnifies the ability of corporations assert control over curriculum, establish early youth marketing, and conduct surveillance.

Financial interests push tech investments but ignore harmful effects.

The internet does have value for research and sharing information — however, many forces are attempting to censor and manipulate the internet for propaganda, data gathering and hacking. Even without student use of technology, technology can increase the ability of a wealthy corporations and individuals to shape and survey people and curriculum.

In and out of schools, regulations and protections are lacking and for this reason the default should be pen and paper. School technology use needs to be limited, circumscribed, and students made critically aware of risks so as to protect youth and reduce dependency on technology in daily lives.

Somewhere out there educational technology may exist that is worthwhile. But use of educational technology needs to be put under the microscope, rather than lauded simply as a way for Americans to “take advantage” of the rather ambiguous “opportunities” provided by learning technology. Technology in itself should never be the goal. Unfortunately, the fascination with technology appears to be blinding and encouraged by the lobbying and marketing of the technology industry.

Although technology is quickly outdated and education is more than job training, school technology from K-12 has been sold as necessary for access to future jobs. This has been sold by the Partnership for 21st Century Schools/Learning (P21), founded by a coalition of “business community, education leaders, and policymakers” [read: not teachers, not locals, not parents, but yes business]. By 2009, P21 was facing allegations of being a front for technology interests, with the strategic board including Microsoft, Apple, Dell, Cisco, etc.

Diane Ravitch also complains about 21st Century Schools here, saying that the passing on of knowledge is being set aside, teachers set aside, and students are to work “independently” as part of 21st Century Schools. Certainly, the thrust of modern “accountability” seems to be about denying the value of the passing of knowledge by individuals and instead of the value of teachers and administrators to supervise behavior.

I am not certain, but think Diane Ravitch is referencing the p21 skill of collaboration or cooperative learning across “networks.” While cooperative learning may be helpful at times, the pressure to use “cooperative learning” as if “better” means it is easy for students to hide behind someone else’s work in a group “collaboration.” The sudden emphasis on group learning dismisses the practical value of learning and studying alone without distraction. Indeed, meetings can be a massive waste of time, as most of us know.

And by dismissing traditional lecture or teacher-led discussion, teachers are prevented from sharing knowledge more quickly directly or as a mentor. Emphasizing collaboration among students at the expense and dismissal of lecture has the effect of silencing “wise” elders. Lectures have been derided as dull, but lectures can be valuable and are often used in college courses as professors can easily share what may not be exactly or clearly written in a text-book. Dismissal of lectures increases reliance on commercial materials to get across concepts that a lecture might address.

The Common Core also emphasizes use of technology across the curriculum, I believe at the expense of core subject matter by spending time in every class using or learning how to use technology, rather than limiting technology forays to a single class or selecting technology based on value. For example, kindergarten through elementary students could do without Paint or other technology lessons. The computer program Paint for example has little value for a child compared to learning the dexterity required to use a paint brush. A better example might be that we all have experience with computer glitches and slow downs. Imagine that in every class, and the time to set up special equipment so as to comply with directives to sue technology, rather than comply with common sense and use what works more efficiently for learning.

Common Core backers are listed here , here, and here. Backers reflect industry. The first article indicates the Common Core was put together by Achieve, an organization in common with ALEC (an organization that drafts legislation on behalf of member corporations and provides it to legislators). ALEC promotes privatization of schools. The Achieve board at one time included a max of 5-7 state governors, at another time included the College Board, zero classroom teachers, and further based its findings on two years of research (i.e. slipshod and short).

Organizations funding Achieve apparently include:

  • $20.9 million from the Gates Foundation

  • $2 million from the Carnegie Foundation

  • a combined $2.6 million from five ALEC corporations (GE, Prudential, Nationwide, Lumina, and State Farm)

  • GE also donated $1 million to Achieve in 2010 and 2011.

Government-sponsored STEM has also been criticized for promoting STEM for every child at the expense of literature, arts, and even practical mathematics, and while graduating 860K new engineers for 130K jobs. STEAM has been put forward as an option to integrate artistic skills, but this still neglects the value of history and literature.

To spell this out, there is a clear benefit to industry to graduate students who are compliant, expect few wages, compete with hundreds for a few jobs. To set up classrooms and a system where students are constantly working academically and many defined as failing or somehow insufficient prepares students to be used to jobs with little free time and little pay. Students that lack “Exceeding expectations” can expect little, and additionally blame failures on a lack of “grit.”

The lack of adequate funding has opened the door for private foundations to offer grants that come with strings attached. Grants scatter the direction of teachers and schools by refocusing attention on grant needs and requirements. My school applied for both Gates grants and STEM funding. I was burdened with the technology grant director as supervisor, who needed evidence of “innovative” technology use and lesson plans.

There is an overreaching assumption by some that technology ought take center stage and subject matter be secondary. There seems to be a foolish idea that somehow use of technology will transfer intelligence, capability, and solutions.

However, developing competent reading and writing skills may be best served by simply assigning reading and writing, rather than watching an online video, taking an online quiz, or conducting an online search. Speaking with a teacher may better get to the point than a scripted computer program or online search. The time teachers invest integrating technology may have less pay-off for students learning the subject matter. Integration takes time, and looking online can also waste time for students.

The emphasis on standardization and accountability is at odds with “innovation” and in accordance with automation and centralization of curriculum to the point where technology is making inroads in replacing human beings as teachers, and teachers have little to say about the value of a human being leading inside a classroom and divorced from technology.

In Massachusetts, Baker’s administration has invented MAPLE, which connects schools to educational technology, as a solution to costs of education. Equitable funding is still not being addressed, or root causes of inequity. As school budgets keep shrinking, will robotized teachers and personalized school ads be next? Online preschool exists in several states, a cheap and terrible offer that is in stark contrast to the Waldorf and outdoor schools allowed the wealthy, as favored by Silicon Valley.

The concept of technological “personalization” marketed by MAPLE is rosier than reality, because computers are confined by programming that can be misdirected, lack a “human touch,” and can infringe on privacy rights. The attitude that tech is the answer also ignores the alternative voice that nature is the answer, such as expressed by Waldorf or Montessori school models.

When I taught, basic supplies were an issue, as were working printing facilities, working computers, and secure students. Many of my students were too poor to get a decent uniform, decent heating, warm pajamas, or daycare for young family members (causing school absences). The opportunities for students to enjoy and attend after school activities such as track were minimized by transportation and other issues. And yet, the answer for school “failure” is to provide money for educational technology rather than recognize and attempt to improve societal inequities. This has been said before: school “failure” is often based on poverty and lack of resources.

On the Republican side, the No Child Left Standing Act has been critiqued. On the Democratic side, Obama championed merit pay to adopt a system of bonuses for “better” teachers, ignoring the financial insult and how this would divide teachers and encourage cheating. To entice states to jump onto Common Core and Race to the Top merit pay, Obama used stimulus monies, thus bypassing state and federal votes completely, and further threatened to deprive states of Title 1 monies.

Luckily, passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) meant that by 2017-2018 teacher evaluations no longer had to be tied to student performance, a blessing although some states still continue the practice. Massachusetts still adheres to the testing mentality, including ridiculously long professional evaluations.

In my opinion, such long evaluation measures encourage administrators, who generally lack teaching experience, to get lost in the details, bully, and the responsibility of facing the real issues facing schools, including the federal guidelines that limit and penalize schools for suspensions even when bullying and violence is on the rise.

Such long evaluations are insulting to administrator time constraints, and insulting to the professionalism of teachers by usurping teacher responsibility for teaching with administrator evaluation that results in nit-picking and bullying. In other words, administrators can game the system by blaming or intimidating teachers when schools “score” poorly or are “failing.” With accountability and take overs, administrators are at risk of losing jobs and under heavy fire, and so frustrated administrators are encouraged to blame teachers by these evaluations. The details in these evaluations mean that even administrators can be called to account if a supervisor of a supervisor finds that an item was wrongly marked.

My opinion is that these super long evaluations defeat the purpose of evaluation by considering too many points and failing just to focus on whether a teacher can do the job well, needs assistance to improve, or cares about teaching.

Teaching is highly political, a fact that has been ignored. As a teacher, I have fought frequently with administrators over how students should be penalized for misbehavior, or how students should be provided additional services as required by IEPs or by academic needs.

The political nature of teaching means that teachers who take a difficult stand can be hassled with these evaluations.

As a teacher, I could go into a teacher’s classroom and give good advice because I understand teaching and want to help others, but the design of schools is not conducive to “wanting to help others” and there are many inside of schools who have different motives. I have had teachers yell at me when my kids (usually I had difficult kids) were sent to them. Teachers do not want to look badly, and so there is also not a motivation to help other teachers look good. Many administrators and “coaches” also, in this climate, do not want to take responsibility and prefer that teachers with difficult students are blamed.

My opinion is that the super long evaluations fail to develop a positive relationship between teachers and administrators by refocusing on all the failings of teachers and in way that publicizes this rather crudely. If an evaluation is super long, young teachers that care will end up lost looking at all the average, above average, below average points and not know how to deal. There are better ways to work with people, and such a long evaluation, well, it can be used to bully and most definitely results in administrators, who often lack teaching experience, in getting lost in details. There really are much better systems, but our system seems to be designed on the idea of establishing “merit” and fault, rather than gentility, cooperation, and mutual respect.

Going back to curriculum and accountability in general . . .

In sum, the once-heralded creativity, humanity, and educational freedom of American schools is being stifled by disenfranchisement, meaning parents, students, and local communities no longer have say although the wealthy and businesses still do. Here is a list of a few issues that ought to be changed:

  • Standardization (i.e. end of diversity & flexibility)

  • Technology mandates (i.e. stupid lack of flexibility and irradiation)

  • Requirements to show schools “follow” and “support” standards leading to schools and teachers relying on private providers to fulfill time-consuming requirements or being forced to use private providers as a condition of takeover.

  • Allowing private providers to address “deficiencies” to be oddly exempt from state requirements and bureaucracy

  • Allowing charters flexibility, but not “public” schools

  • Education as a marketing platform (insane examples, like marketing by Scholastic, or seemingly innocuous Google branding or less obvious marketing in curriculum)

  • Obliteration of providing leveled skill instruction (a major hit to reading and math skills) unless outsourced

  • Excessive emphasis on “ivory tower,” collegiate or “academic” learning, reneging on arts and crafts, recess, exercise, and vocational learning

  • Ignored in standards: consumer law, current events, and how to engage in or protect democracy

  • Subject-matter requirements and standards that fail to allow time for foreign language or interdisciplinary teaching

  • Federal guidelines penalizing schools which fail to send students to a four-year college (stupid, really stupid, for kids who want to be plumbers, hair dressers, or whatever)

  • Federal guidelines penalizing schools for items outside of school control, such as numbers of special education students or suspensions or parent involvement

  • Current testing frenzy detracts a great deal from learning time

  • MCAS tests seem to test minutia, rather than being of consequence

  • Standards emphasizing employability for specific, limited jobs (voke or academic) by business-funded advocacy groups who offer nothing in return, advocating for a glut of employees from which to draw the “best” instead of taking responsibility for training an employee as was once traditional. Mass. state law states clearly now that voke training is to prepare students to work for businesses–this leaves out the option of being an employer, or being independent.

  • Lack of adequate funding requires many schools to seek grants (from billionaires, etc.) that come with many strings attached and further disrupt local control of education

  • Failure to provide for and protect teachers from student and administrative bullying as well as from surreal expectations — see this commentary on a teacher suicide

  • Destruction of respect for teacher unionization, informal student mentoring, and educational freedom which can prevent tyranny, political manipulation, and the use of state-sponsored education as propaganda tools through “standardization” and surveillance.

If you are still reading, below are my personal experiences with testing, accountability, and technology as a teacher.

The introduction of the ELA standards initially led to the meteroric rise of teaching all kinds of English-specific vocabulary in literature classes as part of test preparation. Words such as onomatopoeia, simile, metaphor suddenly began to dominate the vocabulary lists from middle school onward, and other items, such as vocabulary relevant to understanding novels, slipped to the side. I recall one year English teachers in my school were depressed as the term pun was on the state test for the first time, and none of the teachers had taught pun.

To test students on literary term knowledge as part of a graduation test seems really stupid – why does anyone anywhere really need to define and identify alliteration or anything similar?

When literary terms and other minutia are used to classify a school as “failing” then this is a slap in the face to the true meaning of education.

English literature shifted to understanding literary terms in order to answer state test questions as well as to time writing responses like the ones on the state test (short response and essay). Preparation for essays often included attempting to get students to remember and apply various essay questions to one text, rather than moving on to read and analyze multiple texts. Professional development and planning time was shifted to test analysis, but also preparing sample test preparation lessons. This I think has come at cost of emphasizing reading, discussing, and understanding great literature, besides practicing alternative writing styles. The former I think is the greatest loss, for literature helps with understanding the world socially, emotionally, and politically.

The technology grant my school received was quite a headache.

As result, we attended “professional development” on using technology, and some of these were very hard to follow. Teachers were supposed to submit lessons integrating technology somehow — and provide the lesson to the technology director to be further shared for the grant. We prepared these lessons regardless of whether we would use them, and off the cuff as part of after school professional development requirements.

There were after school sign-ups for more professional development and questions like were we innovative, as stated on the district teacher evaluation form? You couldn’t just use technology to teach, you needed to be “innovative.” To be innovative, purchasing additional equipment sure helps, especially if, as it was, school equipment is broken, missing parts, or slightly outdated. To me, these grants and emphases drive further investment in technology and ignore educational value.

Requiring technology use means some teachers lack the support to use pen and paper when a student is or students are breaking computers intentionally. Instead of focusing on preparing important course content, teachers are focusing on technology training.

Entering grades, for example, on software often took hours longer than paper and pen, due to glitches with software and internet service. For me, I spent several hours trying to make the program work without any access to help.

Because my supervisor insisted on “innovative” computer use, I spent for just one observation considerable “planning time” searching for a laptop projector, asking how to use it, and looking online for videos to show my classroom. Sadly, my supervisor didn’t show up on the day I used these “innovative” videos, and so I stayed up all night creating an online “scavenger hunt” to show “innovative” computer use. But I think all of that was silly, and that reading a book is a better choice as my students were struggling readers and as students spend too much time distracted by technology as it is.

I have seen development of PowerPoints construed as “innovative” integration in English literature by many teachers including myself. I don’t actually think students need to make PowerPoints in English literature. I believe the time involved in PowerPoint development takes away time students need to develop reading and writing skills. Development of a PowerPoint is connected to understanding software and graphics, and that could be easily picked up even after graduation with a decent understanding of art, English, and basic computer skills.

There is a big difference between a technology mandate and the choice by a teacher to utilize technology. When a teacher chooses to use technology, there is often a good reason. A mandate and standardization of all curriculum is quite different and equivalent to disaster.

Computers can be a barrier to getting student attention or for setting up the room for a discussion–often computer-scripted programs are poorly designed and could simply be replaced more appropriate printed materials by the teachers.

It seems that standards combined with scripted curriculum negates the idea of teachers as mentors and human beings.

In many schools, the bureaucracy of standards means teachers are continually observed, and teachers are given prescribed lessons, texts, and standards–in this situation there is little room for diversity and a great deal of room for control and bullying.

On a personal level, I felt in my last years teaching everything I did was controlled and monitored by administration, as I taught a “scripted” computer-based course and faced demands to implement the program according to script or “on model.” My requests to have someone model “success” were all refused.

Many times I went to administration and stated that the program was failing students, only to get the response that I was failing to implement the Scholastic Reading 180 program properly because the program was marketed as “engaging” and “successful” when implemented according to “model.” Never mind that one group meeting with other Reading 180 teachers also was filled with complaints from other teachers, when on one hand many teachers do not want to admit struggles and be blamed. I begged for students to be placed in more appropriate classes to be told that credit requirements and testing placements were insurmountable, as well as funding and government mainstreaming requirements. I had students who I begged to read, that were furious with me when having read, for the program books were so mindless. One struggling student read in class for the first time and then threw the book across the room because he was so angry about the book being stupid. And when I attempted to adapt materials, I read online that any adaptation belonged to Scholastic. Basically, Scholastic is selling the program as perfect and then claiming all the personal work invested by teachers as its own.

To get students to follow the program I had to force kids to move every 18 minutes — but forcing is not the way to have a good relationship with students and it is not something that works in reality. This kind of model promoted an authoritarian relationships with students and conflict.

I noticed in many of the books adults were portrayed as stupid. I began to wonder whether the program wasn’t designed to kill teachers besides students. Two teachers before me had quit, and I felt students hated me for implementing the program. Perhaps it was designed to kill schools.

In the case of the Scholastic Reading 180 program, there was something about having to make students learn rather than want to learn that was a bit like teaching kids to put up with a crappy life rather than making life better. Students ought to enjoy school, rather than see school as a chore. Sometimes veering off subject matter has value, whether for taking a breather or considering current events.

In my classroom over the years I began to have more people coming in to review my work rather than teaching. These people were really not working as hard as me, because they did not have responsibility for the students. Why were they not teaching? After all, so many students need help, right? They were “instructional leadership specialists,” specialized program “coaches,” consultants, or district, school, teacher evaluators. They had varying demands to prove school performance from parent phone call directives, short response assignments, mnemonic posters, rubric use, student exemplars, student data analysis, MCAS analysis, posting missions, innovative technology use, etc. All of these people and all of these demands cost time and money, and the primary role is to evaluate teachers and make sure schools are following and meeting standards. Personally, I think this “accountability” is a waste of money and time that misdirects administrators and teachers away from student needs and critical analysis of the school system itself.

Accountability for teacher evaluations also seems over the top.

I have walked into two classrooms where two different English teachers were painting their nails and didn’t seem to be concerned about teaching. I think sometimes there are obvious signs that someone really is a lackluster teacher. I have sat in meetings where I’ve looked over at teacher-created handouts and known that a teacher is presenting good content and also cares about doing so. I have also seen many teachers working very hard to help students, and many exhausted teachers primarily due to the demands of bureaucracy and accountability.

Merit pay, scripted programs, and testing ideas quite seem to get in the way of heartfelt teaching. Some great teachers become bad administrators in order to make house payments, but few join the teaching profession for money, although that has begun to change due to the lack of decent jobs in our economy. Still, merit pay has zero impact on a loving teacher’s performance, but encourages cheating and subterfuge.

At my last teaching job, one teacher was angry and yelled at me for sending a student to her class: “She better not be a bad student! I’m going to send her back!” — she was actually a great student, but this shows how teachers are touchy about the make-up of students due to “accountability.” I definitely had students rolling into my classroom, being sent from elsewhere, who were incredibly disruptive and sometimes abusive. For some reason no one sent top students away. The right school connections meant that you could have “better” students, better assigned disciplinarian support, a better student “score,” and thus “merit pay.”

Schools have gotten used to doing what they have been told or following prescriptions. But alternatives exist.

In Massachusetts there was a petition initiative put forward to redesign the state standards, or actually to have some experts get together and redesign the standards. This idea actually struck me as wrong, because I believe in local communities, students, and parents having a say.

I’ve had a tendency to speak up, for better in some cases, or worse. As an example of how professional evaluations can be used to bully, here goes. In my last job, my last supervisor was the technology director and grant director for a technology grant. My supervisor wanted more after school activities, perhaps for her own or the school report card. I refused due to a heavy workload and home responsibilities, so I was marked as failing to “contribute to school culture.” I couldn’t get over it at the time, and kept telling everyone because it upset me. In previous years I had actually run after school activities, and I was quite clear to my supervisor that I had extenuating circumstances and too many things going on that year to comply.

I was also marked as failing to use technology and as failing to use technology innovatively. Never mind that I was still attending after school training on how to use a scripted Reading 180 computer program.

My professional evaluation had over 40 areas to evaluate, each divided into other segments. When I argued over marking lack of innovative technology use as being obviously subjective and biased, my supervisor just marked others with the expectation that I would come to heel. She barely had any teaching experience, except as a one-to-one tutor in a heavily staffed school for special students, and she failed to appreciate how much I went above and beyond to teach despite the ridiculous scripted programs I was assigned. I was supervised at one time by an expert evaluator who was brought in because I was at odds with my supervisor, and I remember her raising her eyebrows–it is all so political–and saying that I was an excellent teacher.

However, that gives the impression that I passed all evaluations with flying colors. In fact, I tended to freeze up during evaluations and lose my intellectual ability, it seemed. Sometimes I did well, sometimes I did not do well. I never understood why folks said that testing unfairly hurt students with testing anxiety, as paper tests did not translate into anxiety for me. One day I realized that I had testing anxiety with in-person evaluations, and that the testing anxiety stemmed from caring too much. Now, that anxiety has probably disappeared due to irritation with the hypocrisy that leaves little to respect about evaluation.

In another instance I had started teaching in an urban school, loved my job, and had an evaluation that went well and my classroom proceeded fairly normally. However, I received a failing grade in the second year which stunned me. Despite taking responsibility for my own students and much of that of the several special education teachers for planning and grading, and despite encouraging a new special education teacher and having a decent observation, I was not appreciated. I went into a meeting with the principal truly puzzled and continued to ask what was wrong. Finally, he put down his papers to tell: my grades. Last year, I’d failed an awful lot of senior students, causing the principal to lose out on his bonus.

I have to admit, I wish I hadn’t failed so many students. While I can add and subtract and that was not the issue, what happened is I gave students zeros for not doing work, and this meant that an A and a zero could equal two 50s, or two Fs, and that was a heavy burden in an urban system with students who had many other issues and little help at home. I explained this to the principal and said that it was just my math. His response was that then I should give students 50s instead of zeroes. I remember he established that as school policy shortly afterward and this is now district policy too.

Of course, I was ticked off as a young teacher, angry that he had used my evaluation to — well, what? It took my insistent questioning to get him to tell me, as I insisted there was nothing wrong and his evaluation made zero sense. I suppose he just wanted to get rid of me. At this point I am no longer angry about it, but wish people would talk to each other more about issues.

That second year my students all turned in school work. My students consistently told me that I was the teacher who failed all the seniors and it wasn’t going to happen to them. I didn’t want to fail anyone, and failure is difficult for the students. I cannot understand why students initially did not get that turning in assignments was necessary on a regular basis, or why no one talked to me to help me understand. I’m not proud of giving zeros, but I do think there needs to be a little more respect for teachers rather than abuse of evaluations at first irritation.

I feel badly for those seniors, but at the same time, failing should not be the end of anyone’s life, but an opportunity to learn and grow. Failing is also sometimes necessary: isn’t that the point of accountability, to make sure that students actually learn what they need to learn? That first year, I did have many seniors who blew off that last semester. Still, I learned with time to appreciate the demands on students and the need to keep grading less harsh.

Consequences help people shape up, but in the current school system “accountability” is not about the right kind of consequences or chances, because suspensions for misbehavior are difficult for schools to provide and because testing is just an opportunity for schools to be taken over rather than for students to be provided with targeted instruction as needed.

Because of the restrictions on suspensions and a growing number of students with trouble relating to life, people, and the concept of respect, I also saw administrators shrug off behavior that set a poor precedent for other students and the treatment of teachers.

I really don’t get how people cannot understand that letting things slide is a recipe for disaster. Whatever the suspension rules are at the state level, I recommend civil disobedience to insure civility and safety in schools. There is this notion that suspensions reflect racial or socioeconomic discrimination. Racial and socioeconomic discrimination is a problem that needs to stand on its own merits and proof, so that suspensions can occur when needed. Allowances for misbehavior need to be cut, and there needs to be compassion for teachers who are facing disrespectful students and classrooms.

One time some students came up to me and were lewd. I wanted to strike them across the face, slapping hard. I never had the desire at another time, but the two of them, the slimness and the intent made me furious. I would say I’m able to keep my temper, except I know I automatically raised my hand before I put it down. Teachers lose jobs for reacting to student misbehavior, but the consequences for students seems slim. With restrictions on suspensions and sometimes even the idea that kid gloves are necessary with all students, administrators have little recourse, blaming teachers instead who are left with little options as well.

Watching some deans negotiate with students has left a sour taste and sickened stomach.

This article is a bit rambling, sorry, but I haven’t time now to do more.

Online, there is a smorgasbord of opposition to the Common Core. I haven’t time to wade through it, so I am just throwing a few links out on this page.

Problems with Educational System by Concerned Teachers, etc.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/

Diane Ravitch’s: http://dianeravitch.net/

Common Core Without Representation

http://whatiscommoncore.wordpress.com/2013/09/19/dr-gary-thompson-to-deseret-news-let-readers-know-the-truth-about-common-core/]http://whatiscommoncore.wordpress.com/2013/09/19/dr-gary-thompson-to-deseret-news-let-readers-know-the-truth-about-common-core/[/url]

Questionable Curriculum Funding and Corporations

http://anmnews.com/common-core-funds-the-muslim-brotherhood/

Branded Schools

http://reclaimdemocracy.org/branded_schools/]http://reclaimdemocracy.org/branded_schools/

The Case Against Testing

http://www.fairtest.org/arn/caseagainst.html]http://www.fairtest.org/arn/caseagainst.html[/url]

Network of Teacher Activist Groups

http://www.teacheractivistgroups.org/]http://www.teacheractivistgroups.org/[/url]

Bill Gates Education Reform and financial gains by mandating tech

http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2013/02/13/Bill-Gates-s-Education-Reform-Sparks-Conservative-Opposition

Additional online sources regarding Common Core, etc

Pennsylvanians Against Common Core(easy to read)

http://nopacommoncore.com/invasions-of-privacy/

7000+ members:

https://www.facebook.com/ParentsAndEducatorsAgainstCCSS

2000+ members:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Stop-Common-Core-in-Michigan/303312003109291

http://www.arizonansagainstcommoncore.com/

Rebranding the Common Core in the face of opposition: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/some-states-rebrand-controversial-common-core-education-standards/2014/01/30/a235843e-7ef7-11e3-9556-4a4bf7bcbd84_story.html

Californians Against Common Core:

http://cuacc.org/

http://truthinamericaneducation.com/common-core-state-standards/lawsuit-against-common-core-filed-in-utah/ Utah Lawsuit Against the Common Core

Data Mining: http://radixnews.com/2014/10/10/national-common-core-database-track-kids-birth/ and data breach: http://www.nbcnews.com/business/personal-finance/millions-children-exposed-id-theft-through-anthem-breach-n308116 and audio/voice recordings alongside palm prints: http://saveourschoolsnz.com/2015/03/15/pearson-is-collecting-student-fingerprints-and-palm-vein-scans-what-the/

 

CELLPHONE BAN ATITUDES

Cell Phone Ban Attitudes: Japan, Bayern, etc.

The USA is way behind on cell phone control in schools.

In 2009, the long-running German magazine the Spiegel in “Japan plant Handy-Verbot an Schulen” reported that Japan had removed cell phones from schools up to middle school, despite criticism regarding enforcement. The grounds for this action were reported as concerns over social impacts such as harassment.

In “Sorge um Gesundheit: Frankreich will Handys an Schulen verbieten” the Spiegel in 2009 reported that Bayern had followed suit for similar reasons, allowing exceptions if needed for instruction.

In 2009, Frankfurt followed with a ban, but cited concerns over health risks as reason.

The state of Tamil Nadu in India has even banned cell phones in universities due to continuing reports of cheating or taking pictures under girls’ skirts. The decision to ban student use has been controversial because university students are adults. However, some teachers have expressed relief due to problems of students not paying attention in classrooms and the difficulty of taking cell phones away during exams.

The Conversation provides a detailed study description in the 2015 “How smart is it to allow students to use mobile phones at school?” by authors of study and article Richard Murphy and Louis-Philippe Bertrand finding school performance improving 6.4% from bans, equivalent to an extra hour of school a week.

And even in workplaces, The Huffington Post reports in “Australian Workplaces Ban Smartphones And Boost Productivity,” cell phone bans, some with $5 fines or dismissal if breached, are increasing productivity with one one employer estimating by 20%.

Online at Welt, in the 2015 “Wie das Smartphone Eltern und Lehrer überfordert,” Von Inga Michler describes how research polling found 18% of German students were prohibited from general cell phone use in schools and 2/3 prohibited from private use in schools. She discusses a Bitkom study finding that 53% of teachers did not want increased use of new tech in schools. Even those that did reported numerous problems of technology, with 21% worrying over technological failures and others worrying about expense (27%), lack of access (45%), ability (14%), tech breakdowns (21%), and that technology did not always bring positives (26%). While this reflects many concerns, the BitKom study, which after all was funded by BitKom or telecommunications interests, reports this in press release as if more investment is needed–and this attitude is to be expected as BitKom sells software, IT and telecommunications services.

In the Washington Post, Brooke Olsen Romney shares her frustration that some teachers are not able to control cellphone use, dividing class into 20 minutes teaching and the rest free for cell phone use. She states cellphones in school are used to share nude photos & check porn in the bathroom. She observes “lunchrooms are strangely quiet.”

Common Sense Media recently reported that in the USA, most adults and youth alike are concerned over too much time on cell phones, disrupting normal social connections and creating animosity.

Jean Twinge reports that from 2012 to 2017 teen depression has surged 33 percent, suicide 23 percent, and ages 12-19 suicide surged 31 percent. According to her research in Clinical Psychological Science the causative factor is screen time. She notes that in 2012, cell phone use crossed the 50% threshold.

As reported by the BBC, France’s Emmanuel Macron pledged to enforce France’s school cell phone ban, winning parliamentary election, indicating telecommunications companies may be losing the marketing battle in the tide of public opinion.

In the USA, popular opinion is increasingly arrayed against internet and telecommunications giants with concerns of outsize influence, especially on youth, and risks of surveillance as seen compellingly in China, where citizens receive “social credit” scores based on surveillance. In a 14 February 2018 Boston Globe editorial, George Soros also spoke of the dangers of internet monopolies as compelling individuals to surrender “freedom of the mind” by engineering distraction and addiction for commercial purposes.

Still, telecommunications companies continue to report that the answer to everything is more of the same: more cell phones, more computers, more expense.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

− 1 = 3

Kirstin Beatty