Saturday, February 19, 2011


Teachers in Wisconsin are in open revolt, trying to prevent the governor and his minions from stripping away in one bill all the rights that public employees have won over the past 50 years. Why are they under attack by the Republicans? Now that the Supremes have ruled that corporations are people and can donate unlimited sums of secret money to political causes, those who stand to benefit most from those corporate donations are trying to shut off any funds that might be donated in opposition to corporate PACs.

It seems unlikely that the voters of Wisconsin knew what they were voting for when they handed over the entire state government to the Republicans. Or perhaps this election turned on the apathy of those who could not be bothered to get out and vote, and who are now shocked, shocked that their government has shown itself to be so radical and vindictive towards teachers and other public employees.

One of the provisions of the bill strips teachers of any participation in the decision making process in local schools. As practitioners, they will have no say in curriculum or anything else. They will be relegated to the role of factory workers.

As a comparison, consider an example cited in the film "Food, Inc." which looks at the meat packing industry over the history of this country. Meat packing was at first an extremely dangerous occupation, but through organizing and unionization became much safer and well paid - a true step into the middle class. Now, due to union busting by the meat cartels, it is once again horrifically dangerous, with low-wage workers risking life and limb while cutting meat on a fast moving line.

Before unions, teachers had no rights, could be dismissed for no reason, and did not earn much in salary or benefits. Today, teachers have protection from arbitrary dismissal, due process rights, better compensation, and health and retirement benefits.

Why are teachers targets now? One reason may be that we are dangerous because we try to teach children to think. How does one eliminate that type of teaching? Put in place a testing system that labels schools as failures if their students do not do well on exams that have nothing to do with creative or analytical thinking. Brilliant. Then target teachers, keeping them in such fear for their jobs that they will fall in line.

How is this good for education? It's not, but perhaps those who are engineering these changes in public education do not have open or honest agendas. Which children in this country attend public schools? Which ones are home schooled or attend private schools? Is there some correlation between the latter two and those who wrote the punitive testing laws and who now want to attack teachers? I think the answers might be surprising, and not in a good way.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Thoughts on Testing

The state test scores arrive, and most correlate to the level of work I've seen from the students who took the test. Three very low scores seem out of whack. I check the state exit exam results and find that all three students have easily passed, so I decide to investigate. After discussing the discrepancies with my administrator, we decide to call the students in one by one to find out why they scored at the lowest level on a test that politicians want to use to evaluate teacher effectiveness.

The first student arrives in a foul mood, admits to "being bored" and deliberately tanking the test, bubbling whatever, then taking a nap. Since her score will have no impact whatsoever on her ability to pass her classes and graduate, she feels no need to make any effort during the annoying state testing season.

The second student had been out sick before the test, but dragged herself in to take it, with negative results. Schools can be punished if not enough students show up for testing, but can also be punished if students that come to school ill score poorly, a lose/lose situation.

The third student breaks down in tears, saying her mom had thrown her out of the house right before the test and refused to speak to her. She had been an emotional wreck, and unable to focus on the test. Nor had her life improved, as she was still staying with relatives.

Now if I were being judged on test scores, theirs would have lowered my ranking considerably, no matter how hard I worked or what curriculum I used. Did I have even an ounce of control here? Obviously not, but neither the press nor the educrats are looking at students as individuals with problems to match, so the cold hard data rules.

I'm all about the story. If a teacher can raise scores, despite the hidden hells that overwhelm some students' lives, then good for that teacher. If not, we need to take the time and make the effort to truly understand why that student or those students did not or could not succeed on that test before we plaster labels on their teachers.

Hold me responsible for that which is within my control, but do not vilify or demonize me for what is not. Yes, teachers need to be evaluated, but there has to be a better way, one that does not treat students like widgets, but which honors their individuality.