Wow! I was just looking at the last entry I posted here in my little corner of the net, and it’s deja-vu! A brand new school year, and I am back in 6th grade, (I had 7th grade last year, fell in love with the curriculum, only to be sent back to 6th), and we are an Improvement Required campus (IR Stage 2), our former principal resigned, and we have a new boss.
Yet, it’s so funny, that despite all the change, the rhetoric is still the same — data worshipping, threats about teachers being let go, excessive requests to meet (PTLC’s with the whole grade level, subject grade level, and department – the last of which has yet to be determined) which leaves me wondering: will three planning periods be taken? I think that we’ll be taking A LOT of time from the 450 minutes of PERSONAL PLANNING that we are entitled to BY LAW…hmm…will have to wait and see what is mandated.
During today’s staff development, a TED talk by Sir Ken Richardson detailed the reality of the American Education System, how it relies WAY too much on testing and data, compared to say, Finland, the country we are ALWAYS LOOKING UP TO in regards to education outcomes. Yet, as this is being done, I assume to “motivate” us to do our best, (as if many of us were not doing it already) we are being told if the scores are not there by year’s end, teachers could lose their jobs. See the irony? If you follow the education blogosphere, like the amazingly active blog by education champion Diane Ravitch you will get the idea of why I say it’s ironic.
We are told, that numbers never lie. Yet as I do my mandated “data digging to drive effective instruction.”. I find students with a score of 23% correct on the almighty reading STARR test, and a score of 90% correct on their LOCAL six weeks standardized tests for the same subject…so… numbers never lie? Perhaps, but they never tell you the whole truth either.
I have to say, I am a little dismayed…maybe disgusted…maybe appalled…I really don’t know exactly what to make of it, but I have a pretty good idea.
You see, a couple of days back, I received an e-mail with the agenda for our first back to school staff development, scheduled for next Monday. The very first item, right after 30 minutes of breakfast time, reads “New Attitude or Reconstitution”. Now someone correct me if I am wrong here, but I recall from many an education blog and websites, that the word reconstitution indicates something akin to “Massive Firing of teachers, staff, and takeover by the state, when a school fails to meet the infamous standards of what the state deems to be student academic progress”.
So, I imagine the rhetoric during this wonderful meeting, will be to the tone of how many teachers failed to produce high enough scores on the STARR test, now that the TEA (AKA Pearson’s Consort Agency) has regurgitated the massive data sets fed into it, and decided that my campus has the lowest scores out of the 4 middle schools in our district, and about how these teachers (and all of us, not just the testing ones) have better change their tune, bow our heads in shame, and acknowledge we are the root of all the problems in the world. I imagine there will be a healthy amount of mandates that probably have been concocted in the minds of a so-called “education consultant” that has been hired since last year, to have teachers pour over reams and reams of “quality data” to drive their instruction, as well as a beefed up schedule of classroom observations by a team of up to 5 Instructional Coaches, (It’s so much fun when 5 people walk into your classroom with clipboards or iPads in hand!!), to “Assure the implementation of collaborative learning, learner centered activities, et.al ad nauseoum ” , or maybe even a seemingly eternal discussion on some new “magic bullet” that is being introduced as the cure for sagging STARR scores.
Among these dreary images that start to rack my brain, are also wishful hopes that the meeting will be about how administration and main office staff will commit themselves to support each and every faculty member, by providing a sound approach to student discipline, along with a caring and proactive counseling staff that will not be bogged down by data mining to place students in “STARR remedial courses” that do nothing but frustrate our students by removing them from sports, art, and other electives. There are also hopes that the powers that be in the district and the campus, will commit to engaging parents in the education of their children by providing parenting classes. Or how about rallying the faculty into working together by bringing back true academic teams? Or perhaps we could hear that more teachers are being hired to reduce class sizes?
I guess it is only human to have wishful hopes like that. I can say that when I speak to colleagues in my campus, in other schools, even in other states, they seem to echo wishes and dreams like the ones I have just described. I mentioned that in one of my recent posts, so I can vouch for the fact that many educators across the land feel exactly like that.
But sadly, it would seem that it is easier for those in a position to enact change, to take the easiest (and the most popular lately) approach to address that report produced by TEA, which really tells us nothing. And that approach is…(drum roll please!) BLAME THE TEACHERS.
Stay tuned. I will discuss how things went in an upcoming post.
It just seems no matter how hard I try to be blogging more often, something gets in the way. But anyhow, at the time of this writing my district is one week away from having us return for seminars, meetings and the all inclusive convocation.
This year it seems my campus has decided our slogan will be “We are ALL IN”. I wonder what we are supposed to be “ALL IN” on? Oh wait…I think it will somehow be connected to raising student scores on the STARR test. After all, according to a newly minted report from the Texas Education Agency my campus has been rated at “Improvement Required”. So yes, I am thinking it will be a fun staff development where we will be told we need to improve our teaching practices. We need to make sure the scores go up, we need to raise the bar, blah, blah, blah. We need to be committed (ALL IN) to the mandates handed down by the corporate giant Pearson and their consort TEA.
Funny thing is that this week I attended a seminar on AP readiness/awareness. The instructor, much to my delight, echoed a frustration that seemed to reverberate in every teacher’s voice in the room. Science (what I teach) has become a non-important subject because of the narrowing of curriculum and the fact the the CCSS (Common Core State Standards) or CC$$ as I like to call them, place emphasis only on math and reading. Yes, Texas has not adopted CCSS, but pretty much, districts place the pressure, in 3rd, 4th, 6th, 7th grades, on those two subjects. And then the districts complain when, in 4th, 5th, 7th and 8th, with the addition of tests in writing and science and history, students don’t get passing marks.
The instructor emphasized that Science needs to be driven to be much more inquiry based, that we as science teachers need to develop higher order thinking skills. We saw a number of videos of Harvard graduates not being able to solve basic science problems, like explaining the cause of the seasons on Earth. Why? Because we are not having students learn to solve problems, but to simply be good test takers, and sometimes, not even that. Not because we don’t do everything that district admins ask for…Tutorials…Pull-Outs…Benchmarks…but because these are designed for one thing and one thing only…having students pass the STARR test. So these kids study to pass STARR, but not necessarily an AP exam, which as we saw in the seminar, has NO MULTIPLE CHOICE QUESTIONS on some sections. And as shown in this video clip, our students are trained on that type of question only!!!
So I find myself thinking…are we ALL IN? Are we going to declare that enough is enough with the dependency on high stakes testing? Are we going to kick out Pearson and all other for-profit entities trying to sell our state all sorts of snake oils and magic silver bullets, and put the 500 million dollars from their contract back into our classrooms?
Food for Thought!