A principal in a Midwestern state wrote this to me offline. She asked that I remove her name, her school, her state, and I did. a few weeks ago, she told me she was looking for a dissertation topic, and I suggested she read my next to last book, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System.” Then she wrote me the following comment. I expect what she relates will sound familiar to many readers who are teachers or principals. Everything she describes is so mechanical, so inert, so lacking in spirit or vivacity. What madness has been loosed upon our schools in the name of “reform”?

She wrote:

‘The Death and Life’ hit so close to home it made me a bit sick.

I am living in the midst of a district desperate for reform glory. The last 2 years have been fever paced implementation of a multitude of last minute initiatives (a pacing guide for the common core, several new assessments, new reading text, new writing requirements, workshop model in all subjects, student self evaluation, new digital learning system, new teacher evaluation system, competency based grading, new lesson plan and unit plan requirements, new handwriting curriculum, new building plan process, new data teaming requirements…those are off the top of my head).

Thankfully, so far, we have escaped most of the Charter aspects of reform because we are rural enough, but we are full speed ahead on top-down initiatives to micromanage, narrow, and limit the professionalism of teachers.

Upper administration walks through the building looking to see if teachers are on the correct week of the balanced literacy pacing guide, comment on the writing samples that are required to be outside every classroom, and question students to see if they can use the correct vocabulary about their learning. Just this week a member of the leadership team suggested a conference happen with a K teacher because displayed K writing only had pictures, there were no words (day 11 of school for those children- they’ve been holding pencils for 8)… We march to a rhythm of accountability, keep score, and model our structure after corporate America.

Our curriculum IS the Common Core and nothing else. We use Scholastic reading to teach science and social studies to at-risk testers, students get 50 minutes of art, PE, and music each week, and ‘library’ is now ‘media’ which is really just typing plus other skills required for Smarter Balanced assessments.

Our building principals are serving as middle management and teaching isn’t fun anymore – neither is learning.