Wednesday, September 29, 2010

My Head Hurts...

I was under the impression that NBC planned on dedicating an entire week to this big Education Nation business, which, you know, made sense that it would be at least a week since there is so much to talk about.

Wait.  What?

It seems to have ended yesterday?

There aren't any other scheduled interviews or panels?  No other non-teachers to talk to?  Brad Pitt wasn't available for comment?  The local barista at Starbucks?  No?

I was all set for a week's worth of blogging, venting and yelling at my television.  I had popcorn and everything.

Fortunately, a lovely reader (Thanks Laura Swain!) dropped this little 'ol bomb on me and bingo!  I'm all fired up again.

Evidently the LA Times has taken it upon themselves to do some value added analysis of ten years worth of standardized test scores in order to determine each teacher's general effectiveness and then (You guessed it!) point some fingers.  Very public fingers.  With pictures. 

(I will pause for you to at least read the beginning of the article linked above.)

(I will pause some more for you to finish yelling and maybe shaking your fist at the computer.)

(It's no problem, I totally get it.)

In the spirit of being Zen in 2010 (I mean, it rhymes so i HAVE to do it!), I shall start with the (relatively few) points with which I agree and/or find interesting without being inflamatory.

Well, okay.  Let's see.  The author FINALLY recognizes that urban schools are not pits of teacher waste, brimming with irresponsible adults hell-bent on widening the achievement gap.  I know that WE knew that, but the media just loves to harp on that one, don't they?  (Nor are we all clad in leather.)  (Michelle Pfeiffer, I'm looking at YOU!)  If we consider the very contraversial statistical analysis of the LA Times to be remotely telling, this is one thing I'm happy has been brought to light.  Teachers in urban areas kick ass.  Teachers in suburban areas kick ass.  Teachers in rural kick ass. And you know what?  The crappy ones are EVERYWHERE!  (Which is probably part of the problem, but I digress.)

I also found it interesting that the author would suggest that the teacher a child is assigned contributes more to that student's overall academic success than the school itself.  See above.  Pretty obvious if you ask me.  We are one of the MOST IMPORTANT PIECES TO THE PUZZLE YET ARE CONSTANTLY IGNORED. 

Dude, we just want a place at the table.  Just give us a say and I will totally stop with the all caps. 

I think this article (no matter how ridiculous it is to rely on these numbers to tell such a HUGE AND COMPLEX story) brings to light an interesting question for us all to ponder regarding student engagement too.  If there is teaching, by no learning is happening, is there really any teaching going on?  Very if a tree falls in the woods, very chicken and egg.  I'm going to go ahead and say no, there is no teaching going on if all the students are disengaged.  But I would also like to suggest the following mental cluster f*ck for your pondering pleasure: If "reform" and mandates abound, but no real progress is made, is it really reform?

Boo yah!

And now, on with the venting.

ARE THESE PEOPLE AT THE LA TIMES ABSOLUTELY INSANE?!?!?  THEY ARE GOING TO PUBLICLY HUMILIATE TEACHERS BY PUBLISHING THEIR TEST RESULTS IN THIS MANNER?  THIS IS HOW WE GO ABOUT REWARDING THE BEST TEACHERS?  BY PUBLISHING THE NAMES AND PICTURES OF THE BAD ONES?

I mean, can you imagine the aftermath of this puppy?  Parents running to the school to insist their children be removed from certain classes? Students deciding to totally check out because their teacher was written up as ineffective by a newspaper reporter? Administrators giving jaded feedback because they read the morning paper too?

Ah, sweet, sweet accountability.

Now, I'm not saying that ineffective teachers should remain in the classroom or be quietly shuffled to another district to become their problem. No, No, No.  HOWEVER, I do not see how this type of jaded, anti-teacher, anti-progress, inflammatory reporting is going to make anything better.  Yes, ineffective teachers need to be dealt with.  But no, they do not need to be publicly humiliated nor does their existence need to be spread all throughout the media masquerading as accountability when we can all see it's just another attempt to shit all over us. 

And for the love of Somebody With A Brain, when are we going to stop making test scores the be all and end all?  When are we going to actually use this data in ways that make sense?  When are we going to realize that the tests were not designed to measure teacher effectiveness and therefore should not be used to measure teacher effectiveness?  When are we going to stop minimizing the goal of schooling?

Um, hellooooooo?  TEST SCORES ARE NOT EVERYTHING.

They are convenient.  You know what else is convenient?  Nursing bras.  But you don't see me trying to remove a hot casserole from the oven with my nursing bra just because it is convenient in another context, do you?

But perhaps the saddest bit to this article?  The brief section where a teacher admitted that being held up as a successful teacher often makes you an outcast amongst your peers. 

It's sad.  And kinda true.  At least it is where I used to teach.  It's like if an administrator says anything positive about one teacher, there's another group of teachers that assumes this compliment means something negative about them.  And aren't we all supposed to be in this together?

Oh, my friends.  My head hurts.  Can't we just all get along?

12 comments:

ChrisinNY said...

That's just wrong- publishing individual info like that. I always thought that doing that would lead to more "teaching to the test" which is a bad thing in my book.

PamelaTrounstine said...

THERE'S THE MIMI! I was wondering why you were being so quiet on this one.

No telling of this story would be complete without this news:
http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gWPvyAFlYCJSuFjMApjZbgORWhTAD9IH2S4O0?docId=D9IH2S4O0

My heart is aching for this teacher's family, his fellow co-workers, and his STUDENTS. Can you imagine the kind of grief counseling kids (who admittedly often did not care about the tests before*) who were in his previous classes/in his class now are going to need, knowing their teacher is GONE because their answer-bubbling did not cut the LA Times' mustard? What impact is THAT going to have on their ability to learn and concentrate and prepare for this year's test?


*There are no "personal consequences" for CA state testing for elementary school, and there are plenty of kids by 3rd grade when the testing counts that have trouble with these tests. Maybe they can't concentrate for that length of time, maybe they are having a bad day, maybe they showed up for school too late to get breakfast from the cafeteria, maybe they are more interested in art and want to fill in bubbles for a design, and -gasp- you know it happens! maybe they just don't want to do the dumb test. And, then, of course, are the problems with the test itself, with poorly written (there is no oversight over this!) questions that should for this age group, have ONE obvious right answer (i.e, in this story about a gorilla, who is the main character? A) Sammy Snail B) Jerry Giraffe C) Golda Gorilla D) Carly Crab) there isn't one. Really, the people who write those questions should be ashamed of themselves. But they are not.

No, the only shaming here is of the teachers that work in struggling schools in a giant district in an urban area with more problems than we can count on our fingers. I know I'll never be a classroom teacher like that again.

Tracy Novick said...

And, while we all know that people commit suicide for a whole host of reasons, there's some question of this being enough to push one poor man too far:
http://articles.latimes.com/2010/sep/28/local/la-me-south-gate-teacher-20100928

Carolyn said...

What is even more sad...this report is said to have been the reason one of those teachers committed suicide. Wow. http://www.mediabistro.com/fishbowlLA/general/la_times_implicated_in_teacher_suicide_174283.asp

Stu said...

The LA Times stuff has been printed and perused by many. Good teachers were labeled poor because their kids didn't score well on the test. Poor teachers were labeled good because they taught what was on the test.

Not only does this cause dissent among the workers...not only is it inappropriate use of tests...but it's inappropriate because public humiliation is - or should be - no longer practiced in our society.

Maybe the journalists who did this should publish all personnel reviews they have received over the past seven years, any notes from mental therapy, and the results of all their physical exams. That way we will know how much to believe them.

Mimi said...

I don't even know what to say to that. His poor family and students! I'm sick just thinking about it.

Toomanyotters said...

When the value-added article first came out, I said to my husband, "Just watch, some teacher will grow despondent over this and commit suicide." He responded, "Don't be so dramatic...that'll never happen." Well, it did. People don't realize that you pour your HEART and SOUL into these kids and this job and FOR WHAT?! To be publicly humiliated because you chose to focus on the WHOLE kid instead of making them feel dejected and deflated because they didn't know the answers to most of the questions on the tests. :(

Laura Swain said...

I had a feeling you would get fired up about this. It is sickening.

It bothers me that a newspaper would take it upon themselves to introduce "accountability" to education. It's just another person at the table of stakeholders about whom we wonder, "Why are THEY here?!"

I think teachers, students, parents, and administrators are the ones who should be in the thick of this discussion. They are the ones who should be calling for accountability.

Edris Goolsby Harrell, Ph.D. said...

Whatever happened to confidential personnel files? How is it that the newspaper was able to get those class lists with teachers' names? Do they also have all the students' names too?
There are also articles regarding a state (I forget which) that wants to make teachers' home addresses public information. We can't get this kind of information on our doctors, who frequently have our lives literally in their hands. It's starting to feel like a witch hunt.
As a school psychologist, I do like statistics and large groups of data, and I believe that the test score analysis that the newspaper ran does have value. But let's use it for good, not evil. Let's focus on the high performing teachers and learn how they are different from everyone else and then share that information. (That is what Bill Gates is doing with his three year study.) With all our focus on research-driven instruction, we don't know what truly makes an effective teacher--so then how can we tell teachers to go make themselves an effective teacher when we don't really know what that looks like! Then, let the principals and districts use the statistics to find which teachers need more support and professional development. With continued monitoring, and the flexibility to make hiring/firing decisions, the teachers who are just not going to improve can be let go.
Mimi I also loved your comment that we need to improve recruitment into the ED departments to get quality graduates. I've often said that Teach for America should start out of high school to get those smarties into the educational program so that they'll have real training when they arrive in the schools, instead of a summer crash course.
The problem with education is it is political, and political wants soundbytes and easy answers. There are no easy answers to the education question. It requires a major paradigm shift in our country to put a priority on our children--and we have never done it. Look at our healthcare system, daycare system, family-work rights, etc. Until our culture realizes we need to put our money where our mouth is, we will continue with the soundbytes and bandaids.

The Tenacious Teacher said...

I am at a loss. I just can't understand the thinking here. We know shaming doesn't work. You wouldn't dream of shaming a student in order to get them to improve. In fact, if you did you would probably have an irate parent in the principal's office demanding you be fired. How do they expect shaming a teacher to improve their teaching? Good or bad teacher, I feel for this man. No one deserves this treatment.
And, the worst part is, it does NOTHING to solve the issue. If anyone should be ashamed, it is the Times. This is irresponsible journalism. As others have said, I can't imagine the fallout from this. There are more intelligent, productive ways to address this issue.

A said...

Where on earth did the LA Times acquire this data, let alone photos of the teachers in question?

Free Printable Attendance Forms for Teachers

Toomanyotters said...

The reason that they were able to post these publicly is BECAUSE the scores were not currently a part of the teachers' evaluations. Had scores been even a SMALL percentage of the teachers' evaluation process, then it would have been considered confidential personnel files and could not have been posted. Some think that this was purposely done by both LAUSD and the LATimes in order to push the issue and GET scores into evaluations. Suddenly Duffy (LAUSD union president)wants to negotiate to make test scores part of evaluations so that next year they can't post them publicly again.

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