Thursday, January 20, 2011

What's this about education reform? A teacher's perspective

Ah yes, EDUCATION REFORM. Every politician promises to "fix" public education. Public schools and teachers are the current punching bags.

In case you haven't heard, Tennessee raised their standards last year. Without knowing that, one look at the schools' report cards across the state one would think that we have a bunch of failing schools where kids just show up and teachers play tiddlywinks all day. But you have to know more. When I say they raised the standards, it wasn't just a little. TN made huge jumps in the curriculum, and last year, the first year of the implement, we were told we had to teach the old standards and the new standards. For example, I am now teaching slope-intercept form in 7th grade. Do any of you remember when you learned this? Probably high school algebra.
And some of my students can't tell me what the opposite of multiplication is. It's not because our schools or teachers are failing. I think it's because we are cramming more on more on our kids earlier and earlier.

Look, I am all for accountability. I am a great teacher. But tell me if there is something I can do to improve my teaching and I will try it. This new evaluation model that we are having to go through is enough to make me question my career choice at times. We had to fill out a 40 page (yes, FORTY page) Self Evaluation, ranking ourselves on a scale of 1-4. Our principal was told, and relayed the message to us, that "There should not be many 4s." Really? So this person comes in believing TN doesn't have many exemplary teachers. Thanks for the vote of confidence.

And testing. Dear, sweet TCAP test. Now the government has decided that they are going to use the scores from a test that is given once, before the school year is even over, and taken by creatures of free will, and count those toward my evaluation. Please keep in mind that these scores have no bearing on whether the kids will move on to the next grade. This is not the fault of the school. How could they have any bearing when we don't get the scores back until summer? Now this is different in the high school where some of the subjects give an End of Course test and the score counts as part of the final grade. But in the elementary & middle schools the students have this idea that the "TCAP doesn't matter" so they don't have to try. I can be the biggest cheerleader, motivator, etc., but if a kid doesn't want to try, or is mad at someone, or has had a bad morning and just doesn't want to try, they won't. And there isn't anything we can do.

But this counts against my evaluation.

Also, keep in mind that our Value-Added scores change. Let me explain. Let's say in 2007 my value-added score for math was 3.5. (Yeah, I don't really know what that number means either, I just know if it's in the green, it's good. Go with it). So the next year I get my value added scores-which shows three years' worth-and my 2007 scores have changed to 2.8. How is this possible? I didn't have those kids. How was I able to take knowledge away? I've not been able to get a straight answer about this yet and I've been doing this for 15 years.

And tenure- I am tired of tenure being knocked with the old "We don't give doctors and lawyers tenure" Do you know what tenure is? It's DUE PROCESS. It says that the school system cannot dismiss a teacher without cause. My first year of teaching was not in my hometown. I was hired a few days before school started & was an outsider. At the end of a school year all non-tenured teachers are up for re-hire. The school board at this school postponed until the last possible day making their decision. And they decided not to rehire any of their non-tenured teachers. Then picked who they wanted to hire back. They don't have to give a reason, however I asked my principal and a few others. There were several local kids who were fresh out of college and needed jobs.

Can you imagine? Not knowing from one year to the next if you were going to piss off the wrong person and not be rehired. Or if someone in administration has a niece who needs a job. Tenure doesn't protect bad teachers. If a teacher is "bad" and is still in the system, the admin may not be doing enough. If the teacher is not doing his/her job and won't try to improve, then get them out of the school. But don't punish the majority by taking away tenure.

I love my job. I love teaching middle schoolers and being a part of their dramatic lives. I love teaching math and talking to kids about books. But I am tired. I am tired of all the teacher bashing and jumping through hoops to prove that I am a good teacher to people who have never stepped foot in a classroom.


Tiki Fire said...

Preach it sister!!!

David Macinnis Gill said...

The whole concept of value-added assessment is fundamentally flawed. The research behind it was done on the UT Ag campus on the effects of crop production when methods were changed. Humans, being much more complex than an ear of corn, can't be assessed in the same way because once a child learns something, she can't unlearn it so that she can be taught with another method or another teacher to determine which is more effective. Corn, on the other hand, can be grown again. It is impossible to create purely empirical data about human unless you use a double blind study, and that is impractical in a classroom. VA data only tells you how good the students are, not how good the teacher is.

ttulizzy said...

Well said.

sandi said...

David- I have always wondered why people thought Value-Added was such a good thing in the schools. As someone who has had a TVAAS score every year, I still don't quite understand how they come up with the number, why it changes, and why they think scoring children using this method is the same as scoring pigs (that's what I had always heard it began with- pigs).

Anonymous said...

Agree! Actually the t-cap scores will be used in the students' final report card. This is something our school board needs to vote on, but we have not as of yet. We have to decide what % of the grade it should be. The lowest % is 15%. That is what we will vote on, but right now the board disagrees with this idea. We have just tabled the vote until we can talk to some legislators.

Laurahtje said...

I don't know anything about what it is like to be a teacher or what exactly tenure meant to teachers.
Because of course tenure is never mentioned unless someone feels they are "abusing" it. Just like everything else I guess.
Thanks for explaining all of this and I hope the new changes don't make your job un-enjoyable and unbearable for you.
I don't understand why any job should have a "fire for no reason" aspect to it. That does not seem fair.
Good luck.
*much love*

TeachENG said...

We have an SOL test in Virginia. We have benchmarks we are supposed to meet with our tests. It is set for 100% in 2015. Not sure what the benchmark will be after that... 105%? Or perhaps we'll have to start setting benchmarks for the number of kids who earn pass advanced. craziness. You're blog made me laugh. Awesome. You're principal sounds easy-going. I won't comment on mine. Great blog. Look foward to reading more despite school being over.

sandi said...

I don't know what they are expecting. I believe we are supposed to be at 100% by 2014. It's crazy!

Thanks for commenting :)