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A concerned member of the human race

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The "Reformers" List of School Supplies

Do you hear the refrain, "If only schools could be supplied with highly-effective teachers..."?  Now, we hear it in the NYC tenure suits.  Teachers make convenient scapegoats.  "Reformers," with ears closed to teachers and parents, limited classroom experience of their own and seemingly unlimited hubris, dictate educational solutions detached from educational realities.

Tests, and the statistics they generate, are high on their list of educational supplies.  Tests are supposed to be objective measures of student and teacher performance, but they are anything but that, for many reasons.  The teacher sees a three-dimensional child.  The tests do not.  Children become statistics which may be turned as weapons against their teachers.   

The demand for standardized tests has skyrocketed.  Yet, it is "grossly ineffective" to force everyone who has the monetary means and/or the patience to prep themselves or be prepped (at so many high-stakes points in their life, starting in the early grades) toward one definition of success.  Curriculum, test prep materials and tests these days are written by people who profit greatly, but who seem to have very little practical understanding of childhood development.    

In my mind, people are pieces of a puzzle.  No two are the same.  When we all fit together, the picture is lovely.  Someone else's strength may be my weakness.  I may be the strength that someone else lacks.  Just as I wouldn't try to force a square peg into a round hole, I wouldn't try to deny the diversity of talents and interests that make our society a better place.   I see it in my classroom every day.  Schools need to allow students to succeed at different levels, along different paths, and in different ways.  To tout that I have the one correct formula for success in life, and I've bottled it in a battery of tests, makes me truly a charlatan.

Furthermore, "reformers" do harm by asserting their mistaken belief that the only progress that matters in school is academic.  Most teachers and parents will tell you that children have so many needs that must be met, above and beyond the mastery of an agreed-upon set of facts and skills.  Some of these needs interfere with a student's ability to learn.  If we fail students here, society will fail.  

Just as a general should work himself up from the ranks of soldier, I believe educational reformers should hail from the ranks of career teachers and administrators, people who know and understand realities of the day-to-day classroom.  Similarly, administrators should have a proven record of reliability and competence in the classroom.  They stand on the front lines of ensuring only qualified teachers earn tenure.  Tenure is a necessary added protection to help ensure academic freedom, an honest discussion of current issues and the protection of student services as well as a a safe learning environment, free from corruption.

With the reigning philosophy of the Bloomberg years, we saw corporate-minded individuals assume positions of educational leadership.  Yet, schools are not and should not be businesses.  Children are not commodities.  We need to educate productive citizens, not profit or award business-style favors.  We cannot discard individuals who do not meet the grade.    

My list of school supplies is significantly different from that of the "reformers."  There's no common core on my list.  I don't put punitive, test-based accountability on my list.  I'll take some glue to hold society together though, some crayons to color my world and a supply of erasers to try to amend the many mistakes of educational "reformers."   

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