Bob Shepherd writes on the absurd demands now placed on teachers and principals by politicians, who expect to see higher test scores every year. Step back and you realize that the politicians, the policy wonks, the economists, and the ideologues are ruining education, not improving it. They are doing their best to demoralize professional educators. What are they thinking? Are they thinking? Or is it just their love of disruption, let loose on children, families, communities, and educators?
Bon Shepherd writes:
OK, you are sitting in your year-end evaluation session, and you’ve heard from every other teacher in your school that his or her scores were a full level lower this year than last, and so you know that the central office has leaned on the principal to give fewer exemplary ratings even though your school actually doesn’t have a problem with its test scores and people are doing what they did last year but a bit better, of course, because one grows each year as a teacher–one refines what one did before, and one never stops learning.
But you know that this ritual doesn’t have anything, really, to do with improvement. It has to do with everyone, all along the line, covering his or her tushy and playing the game and doing exactly what he or she is told. And, at any rate, everyone knows that the tests are not particularly valid and that’s not really the issue at your school because, the test scores are pretty good because this is a suburban school with affluent parents, and the kids always, year after year, do quite well.
So whether the kids are learning isn’t really the issue. The issue is that by some sort of magic formula, each cohort of kids is supposed to perform better than the last–significantly better–on the tests, though they come into your classes in exactly the same shape they’ve always come into them in because, you know, they are kids and they are just learning and teaching ISN’T magic. It’s a lot of hard work. It’s magical, sometimes, of course, but its’ not magic. There’s no magic formula.
So, the stuff you’ve been told to do in your “trainings” (“Bark. Roll over. Sit. Good Boy”) is pretty transparently teaching-to-the-test because that’s the only way the insane demand that each cohort will be magically superior to the last as measured by these tests can be met, but you feel in your heart of hearts that doing that would be JUST WRONG–it would short-change your students to start teaching InstaWriting-for-the-Test, Grade 5, instead of, say, teaching writing. And despite all the demeaning crap you are subjected to, you still give a damn.
And you sit there and you actually feel sorry for this principal because she, too, is squirming like a fly in treacle in the muck that is Education Deform, and she knows she has fantastic teachers who knock it out of the park year after year, but her life has become a living hell of accountability reports and data chats to the point that she doesn’t have time for anything else anymore (she has said this many times), and now she has to sit there and tell her amazing veteran teachers who have worked so hard all these years and who care so much and give so much and are so learned and caring that they are just satisfactory, and she feels like hell doing this and is wondering when she can retire.
And the fact that you BOTH know this hangs there in the room–the big, ugly, unspoken thing. And the politicians and the plutocrats and the policy wonks at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Secretary of the Department for the Standardization of US Education, formerly the USDE, and the Vichy education guru collaborators with these people barrel ahead, like so many drunks in a car plowing through a crowd of pedestrians.