Sunday, February 26, 2012

Teacher: “It is as bad as you think and probably worse”

Commenter “Another Chris” posted a comment on the previous post (“Are liberal homeschoolers hypocrites?”) that deserves a post of its own, so I’m reprinting it here in full:
Chris, I have to side with you on this one and I am a public school teacher. From an insiders perspective it is as bad as you think and probably worse in many respects. Teachers have lost all control over what happens in the classroom.

In many places we now have “walkthroughs” which is the latest fad quick-fix and principals and boards love them because they are all about keeping teachers “accountable” and under control.

Administrators and district employees do frequent, short drive-bys in classrooms with checklists of what they “should” be seeing in “effective” classrooms. There is no discussion before or after in most places but rather a notice in your mailbox of how badly you were out of compliance and how short a time you have to remedy this error.

The very idea that a 3 - 5 minute inspection provides even a tiny snapshot of the dynamics of teaching and learning with a group of diverse children is offensive yet this is a major tool in evaluating teachers now in most of the country. Horror stories from teachers abound, from kids hiding under the desks when the “scary people” come through to kids challenging the visitors on their rudeness in interrupting their learning.

Curriculum is carefully controlled from on high and one of the checklists’ major foci is to make sure each teacher is doing the prescribed lesson in the prescribed way at the prescribed time. You will be penalized if off track no matter how well-reasoned your explanation, such as individualizing instruction.

Our president, whom I campaigned and voted for, stated in his big education speech last month that teachers need to “stop teaching to the test!” which was very cognitively dissonant since his own education department’s Race to the Top program has required all participating states to make test scores anywhere from 40 - 60% of a teacher’s evaluation, which elevates a single test score to prime importance. So we’re supposed to ignore the biggest part of the decision on whether we get to remain employed or not and/or even retain our teaching license and risk losing years and years of college education, continuing education, and thousands of dollars invested in both?

Discipline was married to test results by the political and business “experts” and created such monstrosities as PBS. Teachers are held accountable for everything from reducing incidents to attendance as part of our yearly evaluation and pay package. I guess we should awake before dawn and make home visits to make sure kids are awake, fed, dressed, and sent to school?

You already know about the time crunch test prep has created in our day and how recess, arts and crafts, music, and PE have suffered. We are told quite frequently that we are free to leave and find employment elsewhere if we don’t like the current models since they are based upon “research” (which is anything that is published and uncritically accepted as gospel truth).

Hucksters by the dozens are making millions off school boards by selling untried, unproven, and unfounded reforms that sound politically appealing but have no basis in reality. The new Common Core Standards are a good example -- they will be in full force by 2014 and they have already subsumed every educational publisher and training system yet they have no proven record of success.

Because I care so much about children I would urge any parent who can to remove their child from public school. It is a sick, deteriorating system that is only getting worse and the forces arrayed against it, from Bill Gates to Arne Duncan have billions of dollars backing their interference. There will be no good change anytime soon, at least until they succeed in destroying the system completely and losing a generation of children in the process of proving their political theories.


Chris said...

Another Chris -- I don't know if you're from Iowa, but these trends are sufficiently widespread that I intend to send this post to my state legislators, who are currently debating various education "reforms," many of which reflect the same kind of thinking you describe here.

An applicant for dean of the law school where I work, when asked his management philosophy, once said: "Get good horses and give them free rein." When it comes to K-12, we've apparently decided to scare away good horses, then to distrust the remainder and micromanage their conduct to the nth degree. But nobody cares if it's unwise, as long as there's a "study" they can cite.

marcs said...

Have you seen this NYT article yet?

Apparently Tennessee is evaluating their P.E. based on their students standardized test scores. Just pure insanity.

Another Chris said...

Thanks Chris! I’m humbled that you chose to post my rant.

I respect very much the role parents play in the education of their children. Unfortunately, as a teacher I bear the brunt of parental anger for doing what I am forced to do by my school district and it hurts because I’ve always had great partnerships with my kids’ parents and involved them in as many ways as I could in my classroom.

I teach in Florida right now. I have 15 years classroom experience at the elementary level and I taught college level English and adult education for 10 years before that, I’m National Board certified, I have 2 graduate degrees and a year towards a PhD and I have been named a Teacher of the Year twice.

I have no doubt that at the end of this school year, however, I will be rated as “needs improvement” because I work (by personal choice) in Title I schools exclusively.

My principal has already been instructed by the superintendent that no more than 10% of our teachers may be rated “highly effective” (that’s 4.3 for our faculty) and that no one will be rated even “effective” if we fail to make AYP this year -- which we failed to do last year by 3.5 points.

The worst injustice is that the 60% of my evaluation that is based upon test scores will come from grades 3,4,5 despite the fact that I teach grades 1 & 2. In other words, my fitness to teach is to be largely determined by a single test score from children I have never taught nor even met, since I am new at this school this year.

You see there is no 2nd grade test available for this year or next so my evaluation will be based upon those other grade levels who have tests in place. And at the end of these 2 years if I have 2 “needs improvement” evaluations I will be fired and lose my Florida teaching license.

I am sickened by what is happening to public education and frankly don’t have any idea what I’m going to do since I’m 15 years from retirement age. All of my highly experienced colleagues who can have retired already. The rest of us are just waiting to be fired.

I’ve always admired Iowa’s education system but I see the same horrific changes that were implemented here in Florida permeating even there. Arne Duncan has made both RTTT and NCLB waiver participation contingent on states adopting the same policies Florida has had in place for the last few years. God help you!

Josh M said...

Chris and "Another Chris": I, too, am a public school English teacher, and daily draw inspiration from a few of the greatest English teachers teaching anywhere, who have all since retired within the 10 years since I graduated from high school. On Facebook yesterday, my former English teacher was inveighing against Rick Santorum's declaration that parents should home school. My teacher retired in 2001, though, and I was heartbroken to have to explain to him that when I have kids, I wouldn't trust them to a public school, either. It was crushing to have to tell him that I've lost faith in the field that his example inspired me to pursue.

It also crushed me to agree with Rick Santorum about anything, even though he and I don't believe in homeschooling for anywhere near the same reasons.

WendyN said...

Well, ok then......I guess I get to easily add this to my "reason why we should homeschool" list I'm accumulating as we struggle with the decision. As I read more and more of these type of accounts from teachers it makes it harder and harder to believe that any one story is an outlier, a single teachers bad experience versus a wide spread epidemic.

TeacHer said...

The part of this post I identified with the most was the part about the "walk throughs."

This entire school year I've had exactly one observation. It lasted 3 minutes. My department administrator came in, marked off what she saw going on in the room on a checklist, and left. Her remarks were positive, but incorrect. She checked off things that she couldn't possibly have seen because they weren't there (ex - the "Word of the Day" - stupid shit I don't waste board space on) and didn't check off things that were there (ex - student participation. A student gave a REALLY insightful answer to a question about why free press is important in a democracy while she was there but she was so busy with her stupid checklist she wasn't listening.)

I think a lot of teachers are opposed to being observed. I honestly don't care either way about being observed - if a principal wants to come by for a lesson, announced or unannounced, I'm fine with that. But it is offensive to me as a professional who spends a LOT of time putting together my lessons that an administrator would deign to "evaluate" me on THREE MINUTES spent in my classroom.


Anonymous said...

I am a public school teacher in Iowa. My principal walks through at least once a week. He openly talks about what he sees and what I am doing in my class. I believe my evaluations are fair and accurate because I am asked to turn in a self-reflection that serves as the basis of my evaluation. I get to grade myself on my performance, and that is the basis of my administrator’s evaluation. I am encouraged, enriched, and nurtured as a teacher by my administrators. I LOVE my job!

My children attend public school and I am actively involved with their school, through PTO, a parent-teacher advisory, and through a grant-funded Parent Involvement program . The teachers there are not evaluated on a three minute walk-through. Test scores have put the school on the “In Need of Assistance” list, but the staff’s goal is no to teach to the test; they work beautifully as a team to help each child grow. Each child has a data binder showing where they start and how much they’ve grown during the school year as readers and mathematicians. Teachers and students are evaluated on a growth model (both student growth and teacher growth in the profession,) not on a test-driven, 3 minute walk-through model. The teachers in my children’s school LOVE their jobs. They are a close-knit community that is supported and nurtured by the principal. I love the public education my children are getting, and I love the public education I am providing to my own students.

Instead of knocking all public schools, maybe you need to be more specific about criticizing your own school/district. There are many places that are wonderful, nurturing environments--both for children and for teachers. All of the negativity about schools in general makes it nearly impossible for those of us who work in good environments to keep our heads up. Please acknowledge that one description does not fit all schools. There are wonderful things happening in education--they just don’t get much attention anymore.

Chris said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone. Sorry it took me so long to get back here and respond.

Marcs – Thanks for the link. Here it is in clickable form. I don’t understand how anyone can genuinely believe that this system of one-size-fits-all teacher evaluation makes any sense.

Another Chris – I agree that one of the worst aspects of these so-called reforms is that they have pitted parents and teachers against each other. I think we’d all be better off if parents and teachers both had a lot more influence over educational policy, because they’re the ones who are actually there with the actual kids, and so are much more likely to treat them as full-fledged human beings and not just numbers on a spreadsheet. In the meantime, though, I don’t think there’s any avoiding some level of tension between teachers and parents; teachers are the face of school system and it’s only natural that they are going to be a focal point of parents’ concerns about what’s going in the schools. I like my kids’ teachers and I know that a lot of them do whatever they can to resist the worst aspects of today’s educational policies – but unfortunately they can’t avoid doing some things they might rather not be doing. The whole point of top-down policies like we’re seeing now is to coerce teachers, schools, and school boards into doing things that they otherwise would not choose to do.

Josh – I believe you when you say that something has really changed in the last ten or twelve years. My kids didn’t start school until 2005, but even since then our school has changed dramatically. My youngest daughter never experienced the “old” elementary school, but my oldest can remember when things were very different.

And yeah, Santorum is one very strange bedfellow. But homeschoolers do seem to come from all parts of the political spectrum. I think the liberal and conservative homeschoolers have more in common than people think – I think the desire to have your kids treated more humanely and as individuals plays a big part in all homeschoolers’ motivations.

Chris said...

Wendy – Good luck with that decision; I have a friend who is wrestling with the same question. I’m not so starry-eyed about homeschooling as to think that there aren’t any drawbacks – for one thing, it’s got to be the most expensive kind of schooling there is, assuming that one parent is giving up an income to take it on. But I can also see how it would be very tempting to those who are willing to make the necessary sacrifices.

TeacHer – It’s really interesting to hear about how teachers are evaluated in practice. Three minutes seems truly ridiculous. One of the things that always so striking about these accounts is how the teachers get treated so much like the kids – a three-dimensional person boiled down to a score on one form of assessment or another.

Jen – Thanks for the comment; it’s good to hear that some teachers feel that they’re being treated well. I’m sure that there is variation from one school to another (though I think a lot of education “reformers” wish there wasn’t). On the other hand, I know from our previous exchange that you and I can look at the same thing and have very different opinions about it. So it’s hard to know whether I just don’t realize how good things are in schools like yours, or whether I just have different values than you have, and want different things for kids in school.

I hear you when you say that it’s a drag for teachers to hear so many people complaining about schools. But that doesn’t seem like a good reason for people not to speak up about the things they’re concerned about. That may mean that the negatives get more attention than the positives, but that’s inherent in the nature of debate on policy issues and in news generally. Nobody expects the headline in the newspaper to be “No Earthquakes Today.” (I see an Onion story: “Area Man Breaks No Laws”.) If I write a letter to the editor complaining about an elected official, no one thinks I’m duty-bound to also write some letters pointing out the good things that elected official has done. Of course people who are concerned about problems are going to focus on the things they want to change. Why should public education be immune from the kind of commentary that every other institution in America is subject to?

KD said...

Jen....I think Chris has been very specific in his criticism of public schools on many occasions...writing letters to school officials, getting documents etc., to better inform himself about the issues.

I don't agree with everything he says, but I think it is fantastic that someone is willing to blog about the issues and discuss them with others.

While I think there are many things the ICCSD does well, it could stand some improvement, and I think it is okay to talk about these issues. I know I've witnessed things at our school that could use improvement from time to time.

I think it is also okay to talk about general trends in education that one finds concerning.

Mandy said...

I'm glad that you love your job and that you have only praise for your children's school. I wish it were my experience at the school my kids attend in your same district. Like Chris, I like my kids' teachers and the do what they can with curriculum with what little autonomy they have. The trend is sadly all about test scores. All you have to do is read the Governor's Blueprint for Education or browse through Iowa's NCLB waiver request. The biggest debate right now is which method to use to evaluate teachers based on test scores, not whether or not to use those test scores. I think we can agree that Iowa City as a pay attention to whats going on in the schools. I would guess our turnout for schoolboard elections is above average and I know that having gone to several of the meeting about redistricting that there were large turnouts. I have heard parents discuss the changes in ICCSD and talk about the Blueprint and the NCLB waiver. Where are the voices of the teachers? I haven't read one thing the local teacher's union has said about either of these issues. Are they burying their heads in the sand or too afraid to speak out?
I am also continually outraged that by trying to discuss what's broken and how to improve our school I am labelled as unsupportive and negative. I don't think attending a PTA meeting or two and taking the path of least resistance is accomplishing what I would like to accomplish. I don't hate public school, I would them to be better and and I would like it if educators and parents were making policy, not business people who have little to know experience in education and are trying to run schools like a factory.

SCF said...

Jen has written on her blog that she is the only teacher at her alternative High School. Just a wild guess here, it's the special circumstance of her school that requires her principal to walk through her class weekly. Does the principal have an on-site office?
Next, Jen has responded on her blog comments concerning students not taking bubble tests seriously, "I've seen that bubble-filling technique myself. Many of my students draw patterns. I have to beg them to try their best because now those tests will be reviewed by administrators as a reflection of my teaching skill."

I've read on the "Vent" forum on many posts over the last few years that go something like this, "Principal did my in-class evaluation on the first day of school!" or "Principal did walk-through on last day before X-mas break!"
And others which echo TeacHers' experience.

Anonymous said...

My comment was geared toward "another Chris" who teaches in Florida and encourages any parent who can to remove their children from public school. I was not critiquing Chris, who most definitely specifies that he is talking about issues that are very local.

Another Chris and Chris: I would not remove my children from a school in Iowa because a teacher in Florida says all schools are bad. I understand that negativity sells more papers and gets more hits on blog posts; but that negativity doesn't mean that 100% of the public schools in our nation are bad. There is a lot of good work happening. If 50% of the schools are doing a poor job I agree that is 50% too many! But it also leaves 50% that are doing things well! Lumping/stereotyping every single public school into one negative description is inaccurate, and it really bothers me--the same as lumping people into generalized/stereotypical categories really bothers me.

SCF-->This semester I am spending half days in traditional high school setting with the same principal (he is off-site from my alternative program.) He walks through every classroom at least twice a week in the h.s. building. It is his standard practice. My comment about bubble tests came from a concern I had after conversing with Jason Glass about his idea of mandating value-added assessment. That idea has not yet passed the legislature and it does concern me, but it is NOT how I am currently evaluated and NOT how I have ever been evaluated in my 15 years of teaching. However it will be the method of evaluation if it passes the legislature. I visited Des Moines this week and spoke to several legislators who say that such a move will not pass. However, there will be some new requirements for students to graduate from h.s., as well as new requirements for people who want to enter the field of teaching. Some of those proposed ideas are very troubling to me.

Mandy--I believe that criticizing from the outside is not the best way to instigate change. Change comes from within. Somehow you have to be in the school, actively working towards changing whatever it is you don't like about it--and I believe that attending a PTA meeting or 2 is a great place to start.

Chris--I don't think schools should be immune to criticism IF the criticism is accurate. Saying all schools are failing, that all principals evaluate teachers unfairly, that ALL of anything human can be described in single stereotypical terms is horribly inaccurate and sometimes offensive. In our previous interaction I tried repeatedly to make that same point--just because things are bad at your school, doesn't mean they're bad at mine.

To all of you in the ICCSD who dislike your schools, I strongly encourage you to visit and perhaps request a transfer to Kirkwood Elementary! It is a wonderful, supportive, caring environment for ALL of our children. It gets a lot of bad press because so many of the students come from situations of poverty or have brown skin. Many people in our community lump "those kids" into one category and think that high poverty schools are "failing" or "bad." Many insist that other schools in the district are much better. But as I read all of the complaints about those other schools on this blog, I realize time and time again how lucky I am to have my children enrolled at Kirkwood. You really ought to visit and see for yourself! It is a very, very special place.

Mandy said...

I'm hardly on the outside looking in. I've volunteered countless hours at my kids school and although our PTA provides a valuable service, it is largely fundraising and doing some community service projects. I have participated and I contribute time and money. The PTA is not the forum to discuss the issues I have. As I have said before, my kids have had and do have fantastic teachers and they are doing what they can but there is only a little bit of room to vary from the prescribed curriculum or individualize instruction and have to answer for it later.
I can hardly believe that Kirkwood is a much different place than any of the other elementary schools in the district and the issues I have with our school are largely mandated by the district, not at the building level.
My interpretation of what Another Chris' point is is that what is happening is Florida is going to be and is happening all over the country. There are federal mandates and lots of big money pushing the "reform" movement.
I was looking over the parent participation part of the NCLB waiver. The state was looking for input specifically from parents of special needs children. It sounds great. Dig a bit past the surface and you find the real reason for the request. The state is not interested in what parents have to say, its just a hoop to jump through to complete the waiver process and to say they talked with parents of special needs kid so the the waiver request gets that box checked and we're that much closer waiver approval.
I think Chris is right, I think we have very different ideas about what we want our kids' schools to look like and how to go about making change. I'm glad that you and your kids' experience at school is one you feel positive about.

Doris said...

I really wish you would actually read, carefully, what the other commenters write before you start pontificating at them. Chris, for example, made this astute point in response to your previous comment: "So it’s hard to know whether I just don’t realize how good things are in schools like yours, or whether I just have different values than you have, and want different things for kids in school." You don't address that point at all but instead resume your not-so-veiled accusations that people who disagree with you are bigots.

Chris said...

Jen – I think people understand that discussions about education inevitably have to involve generalizations, and that no one could ever make blanket statements that apply to every school in America. It would be impossible to discuss trends in education in any other way. But I also think it’s wrong to suggest that we would all agree with you if only we could see what you see. In fact, it’s quite possible that some of us would disagree with you about some of what you think is good about your school – PBIS is certainly the example that leaps to mind.

What is the evidence for the statement that “change comes from within,” or for the idea that it only comes from within, or that people can’t try to change it from within while also talking about it publicly? Moreover, this post, and several of the comments on it, are from teachers themselves. Don’t they count as people within the system?

You’ve hit on a kind of sensitive subject here, and maybe we’re overinterpreting your initial comment. There have been a number of comments here from people who seem to think that any criticism of schools is somehow a grievous violation of social norms (especially in front of the kids!). I know I speak for more than just myself when I say that I have no patience for the view that speaking up about problems is somehow “unsupportive” of education or of hard-working teachers. The comments from Mandy and KD seem right on the mark on that topic.

One of the great things about the blogosphere is that has enabled different views to break through the apparent “consensus” represented by the narrow range of voices that dominates the mainstream media. To suggest that everyone should work within the existing channels – many of which seem designed precisely to keep parents and teachers from aggregating their voices – doesn’t seem like a realistic way to achieve positive change. But again, I may be reading too much into your comment, especially since you say that you yourself are concerned about some of the governor’s education proposals and have spoken to your legislators about them (and of course, you also blog!). I do think it’s useful for people to hear from teachers who like what is happening in their schools; I just don’t think it follows that there is anything wrong with people, including other teachers, speaking up about the problems they see.

And I can’t resist adding: if I was driven by a desire to generate blog hits, I can assure you that I would be writing a very different blog!

Anonymous said...

Chris-you are over-interpreting my comment. Constructive criticism can be very helpful if it uses evidence and example as its basis. You and Mandy can both highly doubt that you'd see anything different at Kirkwood if you visited, but you don't KNOW unless you actually go. I encourage you both to visit and see for yourself if it's the same as your school.

I remember our previous conversation where you goaded me repeatedly to give you empirical evidence. I am asking you to visit another school--heck, come to mine!-- and then present evidence of what you see. Not just "I doubt," or assumptions that "we don't see things the same way so I won't see what you see." Visit! Maybe you'll be surprised! But the fact of the matter is, you won't know unless you go see for yourself.

I think that is what bothers me the most--blanket statements that aren't based on any factual knowledge or first-hand experience. When you say things that are the virtual equivalent of "If Kirkwood is in the ICCSD and uses PBIS, then it can't be any different than Hoover that is in the ICCSD and uses PBIS" I see only faulty logic. There are so many other factors to consider! And you won't know about them unless you go!

Those blanket statements do not mean that you don't support your child's education. It just means that you are making uninformed statements with little or no evidence. It is the same as making uneducated, uniformed statements about any number of people or jobs (i.e. "All Asians are bad drivers" or "All farmers are redneck hicks). I take issue with that One Size Fits All kind of thinking, whether it's about people OR schools. Not every person fits any stereotype, and not every school fits the description of Another Chris' school or your description of Hoover.

Chris said...

Jen - Again, nobody is saying that "all schools" are a certain way; that's just a silly straw man. Nor are the people here making "uninformed statements with little or no evidence." It would obviously be impossible for anyone to say anything about education if they were only allowed to do so after personally visiting every school in America. Is that really your point?

Do you really think that no one could comment, for example, on the use of corporal punishment in schools, because (who knows!) maybe if we actually visited the schools where they beat the kids, we'd see how wonderful it is? Say what you want about PBIS at Kirkwood, the fact remains that PBIS has certain elements to it, including the use of material rewards to get behavioral compliance, that some people disagree with and object to. To suggest that we can't raise those objections unless we visit every single school that uses PBIS is not a serious critique of those objections, it's just an attempt to shut that discussion down. Again, why should schools be immune to the same kind of public commentary that every other aspect of American life is subject to?

I have never, for example, argued that PBIS cannot possibly be *any* different at Kirkwood than at Hoover -- only that it would still have characteristics of PBIS that I object to. If you can't make arguments without distorting what people who disagree with you are actually saying, why bother?

Mandy said...

Can you at least concede that someone else has a valid point? Again, many of the things that I have issue with are happening not just at Hoover, but all over the district, all over the state and all over the country. Taking a looksee at Kirkwood elementary isn't going to change my feelings about those issues. Sure, things may be implemented differently at Kirkwood but that doesn't change the fact that the things I don't like are still happening. It's just the same thing fixed up differently. As Chris mentioned PBIS is an excellent example. How about special services? I would be playing the same chess game I play now no matter what school in the district my kid attended. Iowa Assessments. It wouldn't matter where in the state I went, my kids would be taking them. I don't think they measure much about my kids, I don't think they are helping my kid develop a passion for learning or to become a critical thinker or to be the least bit creative, things that I value and that I think be prominent in education.

KD said...

Jen...I looked at the Kirkwood website, and I see the words Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring and Citizenship, as well as a takeoff on the SOAR motto.

Maybe it is just me, but including "trustworthiness" in a motto implies that it is something that is a concern, as if we don't give the kids the benefit of the doubt. Seeing that would probably bother me.

While your idea of visiting the school is a nice one, simply visiting the school only gives you a limited amount of information. As others have pointed out, Kirkwood sill has features common to other schools in the district...same administrators, same curriculum, same Board of Education.

In any school, you can have families that have diverse opinions of the school, based on different experiences within that school. Just because someone has different experiences/opinions that what you conceive our district to be, it doesn't make those experiences less valid.

Anonymous said...

"I would urge any parent who can to remove their child from public school." <<<< This is what I have issue with and what my comments are about. Another Chris does not say "Any parent who can remove their child from the school I teach in" or "Any parent with a child in Florida schools." He urges any parent with a child in public school to remove their child. ANY CHILD...and ANY public school. There are nearly 100,000 public schools in the U.S., and Another Chris' advice is for any parent with students enrolled to remove them. That is a broad statement and I take issue with it. That is all I have attempted to say in numerous ways. One size does not fit all. Blanket statements are inaccurate. Stereotypes hurt--whether they are about schools or people. Urging ANY parent to take their children out of public schools is what I disagree with. It assumes that all public schools are bad, which is a faulty assumption.

I have no problem with constructive criticism. I have no problem with people voicing their opinions. I have no problem with people writing, commenting, or blogging their concerns about public education. I have a huge problem with faulty assumptions, blanket statements and stereotypes. I have a huge problem with someone urging "any parent who can to remove their children from public school."

Please stop over-analyzing and misconstruing my comments. Another Chris made a blanket statement that I find bothersome. There is no hidden meaning that needs to be eked out of my words--I dislike like his suggestion that ANY parent remove their child from public school.

KD said...

I have one more comment about why I think this blog(or any other blog) is important.

The area I used to live in had schools that did not perform quite as well as those in the ICCSD. The school board was a bit livelier, and at one time there was even a school board member who took legal action to make certain school documents public. Can you ever imagine someone on the ICCSD school board doing that? I don't know, maybe since that district didn't have the outward appearance of being a top notch school district, it didn't try quite so hard to keep up appearances like our district/board seems to want to do.

When my child started school here, I started noticing that many seemed to have the general consensus that because the ICCSD had good test scores overall that meant everything was going well. It seemed any sort of criticism would result in defensiveness...or more often silence, especially from the school board. It was a sort of see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil approach. It didn't at all match what I saw going on in our school though.

At that same time I also had the impression that our local media was incredibly soft on most school issues. I think the P-C could do a much better job on education reprting. For whatever reason(perhaps more geographical area to cover), local TV news stations don't have much coverage of local school issues.

So my point(which I think Chris also is making), is that the blogosphere does allow one to have a voice to talk about what isn't going well or what you are concerned about. I think the approach of many past board members to think overall test scores(or athletic and other achievements) are all that matters simply doesn't work.

Also when you have at least one board member who seems to want to lessen the opportunities of the public to participate... it seems like a blog like this is more necessary than ever.

KD said...

Jen, regarding the comment by another Chris, I think that just speaks to the intensity of his feelings on the matter.

One thing that he gets at, that Obama and Duncan have moved at an incredibly slow pace to reverse NCLB...I could completely see how that would be frustrating for someone in the teaching profession.

Anonymous said...


You just wrote this: "One size does not fit all. Blanket statements are inaccurate."

Now, go back and reread what you wrote earlier. Here's an illustrative excerpt: "To all of you in the ICCSD who dislike your schools, I strongly encourage you to visit and perhaps request a transfer to Kirkwood Elementary! It is a wonderful, supportive, caring environment for ALL of our children."

Anonymous said...

KD--I believe every opinion stated here is a valid opinion. I visit here occasionally and express one that is different than all of the other commenters' opinions. When I do that I am told that I am insensitive, my opinion is invalid, I lack sufficient evidence, I have no understanding of what I am saying, I am out of touch, I pontificate without reading other people's comments, and I can look at the same thing as all of you but somehow see things differently (meaning wrong.)

I have never ever said that Another Chris's school is a fabulous school and that parents should keep their kids there no matter what. I've never ever disagreed when people have written that they are homeschooling or considering homeschooling. I truly believe that all children learn differently and have different needs. Families need to do what is right for their children. I have not once said that public education is perfect. I've only said that my school is not like others; that Kirkwood is not like others; that not all schools are terrible. There are good schools! Your point is valid. But so is mine.

If I have disrespected any commenter here, I truly apologize.

Doris said...

I inadvertently posted a comment as "anonymous" above--the one that juxtaposes two statements by Jen. Sorry about that. Sloppy mouse clicking technique.

Jen, I did not accuse you of pontificating without reading other people's comments. I did accuse you of pontificating without reading those comments carefully.

Chris said...

I'm with KD; I think Another Chris is expressing his completely understandable frustration about what is happening not just in his own school but at state and national levels in education, and acknowledging that home- or private schooling could free people from much of it. I can also understand Jen's disagreement with that view.

The irony is that I get the sense that Jen would agree about just about every specific thing that Another Chris is complaining about, and is just disagreeing about how prevalent those problems are. I have to assume that anyone making the decision about homeschooling would naturally check out their own public schools first in any case -- and that many of the liberal homeschoolers did exactly that when they made their decision, as some of the commenters on the previous post indicated.

WendyN said...

I think the most frustrating thing is that school isn't like most other things in life that you can choose. Hey, the service at this store or repair place or doctors is crappy but at this other place they are great so you should go there instead. For most people the local public school is choice. The school in the next neighborhood could be the best place in the world but unless I can sell my house and afford to buy a house in that district I'm out of luck. So great that you work in a wonderful school but for everyone that doesn't the options are pretty limited. You can voice your opinion, even if it's not always positive, and try to make a difference. I did that for 3 years as PTA president, there wasn't anyone more involved in school then me. I was asked to be on some school committees, like the safety/security but not once in 3 years did any of my concerns, thoughts or ideas ever make a difference in school policy. I got polite nods and thanks for your voice but no change. Unless you count me getting to choose what fundraiser we used as having input in school. I'm not sure what it will take to get true reform in ALL our schools but after 5 short years of dealing with schools I'm about ready to jump ship and homeschool. Seriously, I can't do a worse job then the school is doing.

Chris said...

Wendy -- I think the number of parents who could do better by homeschooling their kids greatly exceeds the number who do it -- if only because it is so much easier to work with one or two children than with twenty or thirty. That's not a criticism of teachers, who are stuck with classrooms of twenty or thirty, or of parents who choose not to homeschool, since it's not something everyone's willing to do and entails a lot of sacrifices. But it does make you reflect on the costs inherent in any kind of institutionalization of kids -- especially where those institutions seem currently to be headed.

I think part of the appeal of private schools is that, although they are also institutions, they are smaller institutions and thus maybe more likely to be responsive to individual needs. The more federal and state governments dictate policy decisions to individual schools and school districts, the worse that disparity in size becomes. A genuinely locally-controlled school system would might at least mitigate the problems inherent in very large institutions, and would thus give people one less reason to choose the private option.

I think a lot of people who are predisposed against homeschooling would be quick to admit that, when they're too old to live on their own, they'd prefer to be cared for by their families in a home setting, if their families could do it, than to be put into a state institution for the elderly. Most people would probably prefer a private institution to a public one as well. It's not because they aren't public-spirited; it's just a recognition of the realities of life in large, often poorly-funded public institutions.

SCF said...

After looking at Kirkwood Elementary's ranking of 2 at Great Schools website, and it's abysmally low scores for the sub group "low socioeconomic status"

I'd advice any poor parent (like myself) to not rely on this school to educate your children.

Transfer them to a better school.


Buy, beg, borrow or steal a computer for your children and get them on the net.

Don't trust people who claim to be data driven and focused on math and reading if outside sources and impartial state test scores show otherwise.

BTW Jen, thanks for inviting me to take a closer look at Kirkwood.
Those poor kids.

Chris said...

SCF -- Jen can be provocative, but, in her (and Kirkwood's) defense, I don't see how you can evaluate a school solely on its test scores, especially since a school's population is not a random sample of kids.

Chris said...

From today's Times: "Confessions of a 'Bad' Teacher."

SCF said...

Hey, I don't think high test scores are proof of a great school. There can be a few obvious reasons schools can get a high score without actually providing a great education.
But now the other way..... low scores? Year after year? Unless we're talking about a school for intellectually disabled children....and we're not in this case, are we?
You tell me, Chris, give me a rational reason to call a school good or even passable, if the low socioeconomic status students do bad at reading and math tests year after year?

Chris said...

SCF -- Scores may be able to tell us that the students' reading and math abilities are below the average, and maybe well below the average, but that could be largely a function of SES. I'd be surprised if low-SES kids didn't have lower test scores, on average. Can we really conclude that the school, or the teachers, are inferior, whenever they don't bring disadvantaged kids up to the same scores as higher-SES kids?

Of course, it's possible that the school could be doing better by its students -- but that's true of higher-scoring schools as well. But you'd need something more than scores to draw that conclusion, wouldn't you?

It's also possible that the entire district could improve its curriculum, but that it's the low-SES kids who are likely to suffer from curricular inadequacies, because they may be less likely to have the kind of parental support that helps them fill in the gaps. But that would be the fault of the district, not the individual school.

I don't blame teachers for being upset at the idea that they are to blame whenever the kids who happen to be in their classroom score poorly on standardized tests. There are so many other factors in kids' lives.

SCF said...

"Can we really conclude that the school, or the teachers, are inferior, whenever they don't bring disadvantaged kids up to the same scores as higher-SES kids?"
The students aren't expected to score the same as high SES status students.
According to Great Schools, "The ITBS is a norm-referenced test, which means it measures how well students in Iowa score in comparison to their peers nationwide. Students who score at the [b]40th percentile[/b] are considered proficient."
Personally, I do expect my sons to do every bit as well as any other kids. Don't you expect your school to teach well what it purports to teach in the seven hours/day, 177 days/year of your child's life it has?

Average salary for a teacher at Kirkwood, $47369

Grant link for Kirkwood-

Chris said...

SCF -- Then, by definition, forty percent of students will be considered non-proficient. Does that mean that the teachers of those kids are doing their jobs poorly? If so, then the best way to improve your job performance is to get a job at a high-SES school.

It's just very easy for me to imagine how kids might score poorly despite the best efforts of good teachers, given the other factors that could play such a large role. Even the best teachers don't have super-powers.

Again, that doesn't mean the schools and teachers are doing their best -- just that the scores alone can't tell us whether they are.

SCF said...

Chris, I love this paper by Martin Haberman. Every now and again I reread it, and meditate on it a bit.

Your attitude about low scores for this school reminded me of this particular observation Haberman makes, "It cannot be emphasized enough that, in the real world, urban teachers are never defined as
incompetent because their "deprived," "disadvantaged," "abused," "low-income" students are not
learning. Instead, urban teachers are castigated because they cannot elicit compliance."

SCF said...

Oh and, if you read Jen Marshall Duncan's blog about her students in particular- She consistently does all the sorts of things that Haberman calls "Good Teaching," in contrast to the pedagogy of poverty.

Chris said...

SCF -- Thanks for the link; here it is in clickable form.

I know that there are many people who would react to the argument I'm making by accusing me of "the soft bigotry of low expectations," or of "edu-nihilism." I disagree; reality can't be completely removed from the debate. The reality is that a group of students' relatively low performance on standardized test scores cannot be presumed to be attributable primarily to bad teachers, and that even the best teacher would have trouble significantly raising the test scores of kids who have disrupted or chaotic home lives, little or no parental support, trouble just getting decent food and shelter, etc., not to mention possibly learning disabilities to boot.

I can't say enough times: God knows I think our schools (and not just the low-SES ones) should be doing a lot of things differently, and your quote from Haberman sounds right on the mark. But just because teachers of low-SES kids aren't ever castigated for poor teaching doesn't mean they're all guilty of it. All I'm saying is that you can't figure out whether someone's a bad teacher purely by looking at the test scores of his or her students.

Anonymous said...

Websites don't say anything accurate about Kirkwood's environment. You'd really have to visit and see what it's like. In person. I really do think people should visit. I am not being facetious...there is a wonderful environment, a wonderful staff. And open-enrollment to a SINA school would probably be really easy... The only families who SINA transferred out last year were kindergarten families who had never set foot in the building. Anyone who visits and gets to know the kids and the staff stays. Visiting and getting to know the Kirkwood community a little --not just a looksee--would surprise many of you, I think.

Test scores do not define anyone or any school accurately. One of the main arguments people (parents and teachers alike) have against NCLB is its reliance on test scores. Yet the first thing anyone does when trying to gauge the success of a school is go to a site like Great Schools and examine the test scores. Pretty ironic, I think.

Thankfully, the community at Kirkwood only worries about test scores as one indicator out of many that a child may need some extra help or an extra challenge (tests are an indicator for struggling learners and gifted learners--but just an indicator, not the main source of data)...most of their data comes from kids, parents, and day-to-day interactions in the classroom. Differentiation, individualization--these are the common practices at Kirkwood. Teachers build relationships with students and families. My children's teachers come to their recreation league games on weekends--even though their own kids don't play those sports! Teachers have come to children's birthday parties, too! Maybe that kind of differentiation and individual attention is the norm at every school? Maybe you all have home numbers for your children's teachers? Maybe you all hug your children's teachers at parent teacher conferences? If so, then Kirkwood isn't so special after all. But those are the perks I have as a Kirkwood parent. It is a very special place.

FedUpMom said...

Wow, Jen, that doesn't sound good to me. I don't want to hug my kids' teachers, or call them at home, or see them at every athletic event. My kids need a family life which is separate from school. Their teachers deserve a life separate from school too.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, FedUpMom, due to copyright laws I cannot post a direct link to an excellent meta-analysis synthesizing 150 research studies linking academic achievement to positive personal relationships with teachers. Here is the citation, though: Learner-Centered Teacher-Student Relationships Are Effective: A Meta-Analysis
Review of Educational Research March 2007 77: 113-143. There are hundreds of studies showing a very high correlation between student-teacher relationships and academic achievement.

More than ANY other factor, teacher's relationships with their students impact academic achievement. This is why there is such a push to revamp teacher evaluations, get rid of "last in, first out" rules in teacher hiring. Keeping teachers out of student's personal lives actually impedes academic progress. Students who get to know their teachers on a personal level achieve at a higher level. Many studies mentioned in that meta-analysis also argue that the likelihood of any student succeeding in higher education depends on close relationships with teachers in grades k-3!

Anonymous said...

I just read Karen's post about research and had to LOL at myself for posting a citation full of research! But to back up that research with some personal anecdotal evidence--I can think of teachers in my own life who inspired me to go on to do what I do. Can you? Without that teacher caring about more than just assignments and test scores, I would've been a wreck. I also know that in my own classroom, my students are able to achieve more because I really do care about them all and like them as people.

Chris said...

The Times reports today on a survey about teacher morale-- worth reading.