Friday, December 30, 2011

Another Brick in the Wall

A long time ago it was inherently assumed teachers wanted the best for their students. It was assumed teachers develop their own systems, procedures, assignments and grading policies. As a principal, you didn't tell teachers to track kids' progress. You didn't tell teachers to assess student skill levels on the first day and then teach accordingly. Times have changed.

Today, New York City teachers are told what to do and how to do it, even when we are already doing what we're being asked to do. It's as if principals now assume teachers only want to be teachers for the pension, which by the way is shit, you could do a lot better in the market on your own. If a bulk of principals think this way, I can only imagine what the people above them think of teachers: a greedy bunch of fat cat bums that assign problems out of a textbook and merely grade them. This type of thinking is toxic and unproductive, and only hurts the kids in the long run.

It starts with preparation for the Quality Review, a multi-day visit from a committee that gives public schools a letter grade (like restaurants have in NYC). Unfortunately, this letter grade ultimately drives principals' decision-making process and usually overrides their own educational philosophies. They jump through whatever hoops the committee throws at them to stay afloat and get a good grade, even if what the committee asks for is bullshit.
Side note: don't let my link above to the official definition of a Quality Review fool you. Yes, the committee is made up of Department of Education employees and perhaps they were "educators" at one point, but to me that just means most of them were failed teachers that needed to find another job. Now they're judging administrators, teachers, and schools. Some of these people have never legitimately taught for more than a year in a classroom. A messed up system indeed.
Last year, our Quality Review committee decided our school didn't track our students' performance well enough (bullshit). In their report, they used a lot of buzz words to basically tell us they want us to use benchmark assessments on a school-wide basis. Benchmark assessments are basically tests within each of the main subject areas (Math, Science, etc.) administered throughout the school year to give teachers (but in reality administrators) feedback on how students are performing. In layman's terms: you give a test in the beginning, note the results, then retest, and then assess. Wait, what teachers don't do this already?

Without question, our school implemented the exams. We had to come up with new exams on top of the assessments we already have. The thing is, students at my school are not students who simply sit there and take bullshit. They see right through, from the teachers' attitudes to the made-up requirement that they needed to sit for these tests in order to graduate. My students have nothing to lose. Their GPAs aren't high enough to fight for. Their parents aren't involved enough to protest more standardized testing. Their general attitude toward the broad education system is negative. The only thing this system has ever done was tell them they weren't good enough.

So what happens when you force a bunch of tests down the throats of students with nothing to lose? Here are some interesting responses from the math benchmark assessment.

Exhibit A: The student makes a good point. Critical thinking skills: check.

Exhibit B: Honesty is essential in every learning environment.

Exhibit C: See caption for Exhibits A and B.

Exhibit D: Real-world problems allow students to connect to the material.

I imagine if these tests were given to students at any private school or strict charter school, "the powers that be" would see the results they wanted. However, if you remove from students the investment of education, the pressure to succeed, and the habit of doing what you're told, things suddenly become brutally honest. Kids aren't cattle, they will tell you how they feel even if it costs them later in life.


Anonymous said...

Great writing, as always.

Anonymous said...

"However, if you remove from students the investment of education, the pressure to succeed, and the habit of doing what you're told, things suddenly become brutally honest."

The best line of the post. Keepin it real buddy.