Monday, March 29, 2010

Fourteen Going On Common Sense...

As I mentioned before, last week I spent time with one of my BFFs and her brand new, totally adorable baby. However, what I did NOT mention was that I also spent time with some family and, in particular, my fourteen year old cousin.

Why bring up babies and now fourteen year old cousins on the old blog?

BECAUSE MY FOURTEEN YEAR OLD COUSIN IS ABLE TO GRASP A CONCEPT THAT SOMEHOW CONTINUES TO ELUDE ARNE DUNCAN.

No lie.

You see, in a lovely display of family solidarity, my cousin wrote a book report about my book for his english class. My first thought was, "that is insanely sweet!" My second thought was *gasp* "Please tell me you warned your teacher about some of my, um, language and she approved this book." And my third thought was, "Did she at least buy a copy after she read your report?"

Here is his thesis: "Mrs. Mimi's experiences prove that public school teachers in Harlem need versatility, creativity, and most of all love for their jobs to get through each day."

(He also called Mrs Mimi a "miracle worker." Um, hello? Insert tears here people. I am the proud cousin of a phenomenal writer.)

I mean, SHUT THE FRONT DOOR! This kid is fourteen!! And. He. Gets. It. (My cousin also got a 95 on his book report...I'm not sure the same could be said in a report of the head of the firing squad, Mr. Duncan.)

Then, as I scrolled through the various blogs I read, I stumbled upon this piece in the Washington Post.

In a nutshell...if you can put any of the drama that is the current state of public education into a nutshell, the authors are arguing that Obama (and his boy, the Dunks) basically did a 180 when he went from bashing NCLB in campaign speeches to basically initiating a war cry of, "Let's test the crap out of them! Yeee haw!"

(Was the "Yeee haw!" too much? I couldn't decide. I think maybe just some fist bumping would have been sufficient. Either way...Obama and Duncan are celebrating ridiculousness. Bumping fists with one hand and firing teachers with the other.)

This whole testing testing testing mentality has killed my inner teacher along with any sort of flexibility teachers may have had to do any sort of actual, you know, teaching because it makes test prep the All Mighty. For some reason, the Non-Teacher Powers That Be assume that more testing equals better insight into what children actually know, which I guess is true if we are curious if children actually know how to bubble in bubbles and select a nice sharp number two pencil. However, I'm not convinced that a parent will be impressed with these results in their next parent-teacher conference. In all my years, I never had a parent sweat their child's ability to color in bubbles. They seemed more concerned with stuff like, oh I don't know...reading. Just off the top of my head.

Does more standardized testing equal more information that will actually help us be better teachers? Uh, no. No, more testing equals more test prep with equals more mind numbing hours teaching children about the tricks of a test rather than to be inquisitive beings capable of independent thought. We are robbing teachers (and their students) of the creativity, versatility and love of learning that my cousin (Did I mention that he is only fourteen?) clearly sees as key ingredients to a rich educational experience.

A few quotes from this opinion piece:
"In the classroom of any reasonably competent teacher, student progress is being evaluated constantly, each time he or she looks at classroom work, not to mention frequent quizzes, papers, projects and discussions.

"[T]he feds should help states that develop systems that build on the assessments teachers already do...That will enable teachers to go back to teaching, not running test prep programs."

Hmmmmm, sounds right on to me. And pretty flexible...what was the word my fourteen year old cousin used....ah yes! "Versatility."

Well said, my friend. Teachers need versatility. Not fear of losing their jobs. Not a script. And not more tests.

Granted, I don't LOVE that these authors keep referring to "reasonably competent teachers." Kind of makes me want to go, "WTF? Aim low enough?" However, I think their points about testing more than make up for this error in wording.

If we had "reasonably competent" people in positions of power (Should I nominate my cousin?) (Or a teacher?) perhaps we could get back to square one and fix this mess we've gotten ourselves into.

*P.S. - More square one talk thinking to come...

10 comments:

jonathan said...

OK,

I know your most loyal readers won't agree, but I really love the new militant Mimi.

Go get 'em!

Jonathan/jd2718

Mark said...

How much time are you spending on test prep? The test is a reflection of the state standards being taught. Are you teaching to the standards? Trust your teaching, match the standards, spend a month or two on test prep and let the results speak for themselves. That's just my experience though.

Stu said...

In one of my comments to your fabulous blog I talked about the Secretary of Education...with very little respect on my part (and then turned that comment into a blog entry of my own!).

And to think...Linda Darling-Hammond was inches away from being Obama's Sec of Ed. If only she was a few inches taller and had a jump shot!

I'll say it again...why don't we have an educator at the helm of the Department of Education? How many non-doctors have been surgeon-general? How many non-attorneys have been attorney-general? Cabinet members are supposed to know SOMETHING about the department they lead aren't they? Duncan is a Political Hack...who wouldn't know a fourth grader if one came up and bit him on the leg.

Kudos to your cousin.

sheldinski said...

Florida passed Senate Bill 6 last week, though it hasn't passed through the House yet. If passed, 50% of teacher pay will be tied to test scores in the state of Florida and tenure will disappear, which means that a veteran 30 year teacher and a new teacher will make the same base pay. All this to qualify for the Race to the Top funding.

I don't understand why politicians are making education so punitive.

Dislike!

Jennifer said...

I am about to start two weeks of district mandated test prep (boot camp -- district words, not mine.)

All my kids will pass even though some of them can't think their way out of a box. I want to weep just thinking about it.

Tracy Novick said...

I'd nominate you to succeed Duncan, but I think you're going to be busy once that baby comes.
In seeing things Duncan does not: when told why the teachers in Central Falls were crying ("they lost their jobs because their students' test scores weren't good enough"), my six year old gasped and said, "But that's silly! It isn't their fault!"

And Mark, that doesn't work everywhere. It isn't just about the standards; it's about coaching kids on how to take the test, something required by some districts.

Vanessa Cassie said...

Excellent post! Again, you hit the nail right on the head :)

When will the powers that be take a statistical analysis course and realize that correlation does not automatically equal causation. To dumb it down a bit: an decrease in test scores does not automatically mean the teacher is doing a 'bad' job -- there are too many other variables to factor into this equation.

*sigh* Just one of the many reasons that I got frustrated with education and left -- too many inauthentic references to my teacher (good and bad) directly impacting test scores. Just let us teach! :)

The Reflective Educator said...

Thank god for the WaPo's Answer Sheet. There are still a few decent education journalists out there.

J^3 said...

LOVE your banging blog... just saw Dr. Yong Zhao speak. He'll provide you with a great deal more ammunition if you like. The book: Catching Up or Leading the Way.

More info here: http://web.me.com/jorobert/A_Teacher’s_Kaizen/Home/Home.html

Keep writing!

Rowan Schaefer said...

I think I'd like this cousin of yours. Is he single? You ought to introduce him to me...

P.S.
You rock, Mrs. Mimi! you kick administrative butt!

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