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28.1.07

Opposing continuance of education reform hogwash

Another broad challenge Pres. George W. Bush presented to Louisiana was to continue reforms improving the quality of public education in the state. Despite the fact that some limited progress has been achieved, as typical a number of naysayers needed to vent after Bush’s State of the Union address argued for renewal of the law mandating federal standards, with some increased flexibility in targets and meeting those goals.

One group argues that the federal government doesn’t provide enough resources to enable schools to get children to higher levels of achievement. As stated by one principal, his school has to spend tens of thousands of dollars a year to hire tutors to do this.

But notice the obvious disconnect inherent in this thinking, by following the simple logic: by definition a significant number of students must need extra help either because they are too dumb or because teachers aren’t doing their jobs properly. One would assume the first instance unlikely because why should standards be written that are beyond the typical human child? Thus, schools want more money to make up for shortcomings in their performances that should be their own responsibilities to solve.

In other words, a school needs to demand more from its teachers, do a better job of hiring, or whatever to provide a long-term solution to inability to perform its function correctly, rather than engaging in short-term triage. And if the complaint is the quality of the teaching pool just isn’t out there, that’s still a state problem with its teacher education in its universities, or with inflexibility in alternative certification programs. Again, somebody isn’t doing their job well enough somewhere in the state and thereby is its responsibility, not that of the federal government. This cry for more federal money is but a smokescreen to cover up incompetency within the state’s educational establishment.

This excuse is related to another often heard, that educators in the field don’t have enough control over the process. Of course, this begs the question about the many decades before passage of reform laws where there was no process to control and so it was totally controlled by educators – and look where that got Louisiana, pretty much last in every category of quality of education. So if the state isn’t going to do a proper job, the federal government must oversee the process. (And, of course, if the state truly objects, it could opt out of meeting the requirements by refusing the federal funding that goes along with them.)

(This complaint of lack of local control is a favorite of teachers’ union because it serves to obscure their true goal – protect as many jobs gathering as high compensation as possible with the minimum of work for teachers. This is why they cannot stand the law because it opposes their “money money, less work” philosophy – never be mistaken, no teachers’ union is interested in actually educating children. Their favorite refrain is to ask for more money to be thrown at teachers, never mind that already Louisiana teachers are overpaid for the outcomes observed. The last thing they want is the only thing that would solve for the lack of teacher quality noted above – strict accountability standards that include testing as in already done in many states.)

Finally, the objection least connected to reality is that emphasis on testing causes “stress” to children. Yes, why introduce stress when their adult lives are going to be so free of it? Why stress them now, since as a result of a better education through the testing process they only will be better able to achieve as adults and thus take away stresses such as living hand to mouth, trying to get a job, overcoming bad choices, etc. Sure, keep the stress off of them now so they can have much more of it later for the rest of their lives.

Anyway, why should anybody ever be stressed over such a simple thing as a test? If you have done the best you think you can do in preparation for it, if you take the responsibility in your own hands to maximize your performance, why worry? If you know the answer, indicate it. If not, you’ve done what you could, and move on. Any anxiety coming from this must stem from thinking you’ll be missing stuff that you thought you should have known, meaning you are not preparing yourself as well as you can. If schools are doing their jobs, and are advising students to prepare on their own as well, this should never happen.

Therefore, these grievances are entirely specious. The real source of these objections are, while not a direct form of accountability, that they introduce an indirect means of requiring accountability from educators. And for too long in this state too many educators (as opposed to the more enlightened ones who have welcomed this) have not wanted the extra demands this improvement of the quality of education makes on them – and thus they try to disparage the reforms or pass off responsibility for them to others. Which is why Louisiana’s national lawmakers need to vote approval on renewing the law before it expires, to allow improvement to continue despite the motivations of others.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Interesting comments. They will have more credibility when you walk the talk. The college equivilant would be for you to take in your classes students who cannot read, write or even attend and then the university system hold you and LSUS responsible when they fail. Accountable to the extent the university would be shut down based on the success rate of students you taught, regardless of their actual academic standing.

I actually agree with you on most points related to accountability and reform, but it has to be based in reality. And in reality you cannot improve the schools when a third of kids are not coming or graduating. And those are the real numbers.

In the end I believe the teachers can only be hald accountable for the learning that is going on with the children who are actually there. At that point we can completely agree.

Jeff Sadow said...

I agree, but here again schools can improve the situation. If you are saying teachers should not be held repsonsbile for those who get tested who are often truant, then make truancy standards much more draconian. For example, if a student is truant more than one class period a month, suspend him a couple of days. Second offense, a week, third time, automatic failure for the semester and the student is sent off to remedial classes for its remainder. At first, this would cost some to start up but, after awhile, word would get out and only hardcore cases who are unlikely to want to finish school would comprise these offenders. (NCLB would have to be adjusted because dropout rates might go higher thus penalizing, but better that than have them graduate as functional illiterates.) These students wouldn't be tested and drag down the school's performance rating.

Anonymous said...

That is exactly my point. The current NCLB rules and the LDOE accountability systems punish schools for the very children you are suggesting we "work out" of the system. While I agree their presence in the classroom should be removed where ever possible in order to allow those students who are interested in learning have a better chance, the system as it is now in place just rewards the schools with a "0" when those children are removed. The end result is often those students who remain are actually "making the grade" in terms of accountability but the negative drag of those thrown out results in a net net score of the school as "academically unacceptable" while the true tale of the tape is that those children who are actually attending are learning. Thus, the staff (teachers) are doing the job but the results say otherwise since they include children who are not being taught and who are often not even on the campus. Help get that technical matter fixed and you actually have a very good accountability system that I believe most teachers can communities can live with. Accountability for those actually in the classroom.

It is also interesting to note that different systems across Louisiana have been allowed to report and move students in different manners. For example, in Monroe all the "problem" students are placed in one school, thus removing them from the home school. End result, Monroe has one school in remediation. Natchitcohes has a "magnet" school that neighborhood children attend all day full time and yet those scores are then routed back to the neighborhood schools. The magnet school does not truely exist on the state accountability scores and you cannot find it.

Here in Caddo we have a magnet program where the children are removed and the scores go to the magnet school. End result: we lead the state in four and five star schools. We also remove kids for various reasons but the score, often a "0", is routed back to the home school. End result: we lead the state in low performing schools. We have it wrong both ways.