February 1, 2010
Someone ought to tell the leaders of the Chalkboard Project that no one uses a chalkboard anymore.
And someone should also tell them that schools are about educating kids not teachers. There is a great confusion in educational circles that the major problems in the schools can be solved by better educating or evaluating teachers. Yep, we need more realistic education in our university teacher-training programs, and mentoring young teachers is a good idea. But spending millions of dollars and stealing time from children’s education in the form of half days and stealing hours and hours of time from teacher classroom preparation to do in-service to make teachers incrementally better, and sometimes worse is an educational travesty.
Most education takes place in the classroom and within schools. Improving education should focus on these two things. How do we make the school run better? How do we make the classroom work better so kids can learn more? These are not questions which will be solved in Washington D.C. with Race to the Top bribes or by school reform based on suspect, supposed educational research.
School problems need to be directly addressed by the staff in that school working together in an open manner which focuses on the problems particular to that school. Sure, the staff can ask for help upstairs in the administration office (which might include such requests as we need a librarian), and sure this can include training the staff thinks they might need. But, training in the latest educational trends, mostly designed to cover the backsides of administrators, is not particularly helpful. (This doesn’t mean an administrator can’t write down ideas and give them to his or her teachers to consider.)
Same goes in the classroom. Each classroom is different. Each is a little world unto itself with an infinite number of interactions and nuances. Spending hours on imparting national trendy reforms isn’t really much help. But that is what we do. Instead we should create an atmosphere which allows real communication between staff, including administrators, about ideas which teachers might find useful, including ideas specific to that particular classroom or the teaching of that subject. This doesn’t mean evaluating more, it means encouraging and supporting more.
My fervent hope is that PPS and the State of Oregon will figure it out. The Chalkboard project isn’t helping.
Steve Buel has taught in public schools for 41 years. He served on the PPS school board (1979-1983) and co-authored the 1980 School Desegregation Plan. He has followed PPS politics since 1975.
February 1, 2010
Recently, The Oregonian has published a few articles about the new “Race to the Top” grant that Portland Public Schools has signed on for, along with many other Oregon school districts. The grant stipulates that a student’s test scores will follow teachers, and be part of a teacher’s professional file. Indeed, a teacher will be evaluated based on a student’s standardized test scores. The state’s willingness to sign on smacks of desperation and ignorance.
Besides the obvious, that “one test does not a good teacher make”, there are numerous other reasons why this clause in the grant is ludicrous. One is that not all grade levels are tested. Indeed 3rd-8th and 10th grades are tested consistently in math and reading. If you teach K-2nd grade, or 9th, 11th, or 12th grades, you just may have dodged a bullet. In addition, if a teacher teaches subjects such as art, P.E., or social studies, which are not currently tested, then the testing does not apply to them. I would hesitate to bring this up to the state, however, as their answer might very well be to test in every single subject, every, single, year.
I know fabulous teachers who teach at schools that have not traditionally done well on standardized tests. I happen to teach in a cluster in PPS that typically has low test scores. I could teach in another cluster, but I choose not to. Does a teacher magically become a better teacher if he or she moves to a school with higher test scores? Apparently the state of Oregon thinks so. I cut one of the Oregonian articles out to pass around to the staff at my school. Many teachers said that they would like to consider withholding their dues to the OEA, as our state teacher’s union has signed on with this as well.
There are many, many influences in a child’s life. A teacher is just one of them. This heinous grant asserts that a teacher’s sole purpose is to get a child to pass some contrived, intrusive test that has little to do with what he or she does on a daily basis, while also asserting that a teacher is the only one responsible if said child passes or fails. I’m sorry, but “No Child Left Behind” is starting to look like a picnic. We need to run far away from “Race to the Top.”
Sheila Wilcox is a PPS parent and K8 teacher.
November 15, 2009
Susan Nielsen had a pretty decent article in today’s Oregonian (even a blind squirrel stumbles upon a nut!). Teachers, Nielsen finally realized, aren’t a bunch of lazy, incompetent, know-nothing idiots – they’re actually hard workers, pretty sharp, and — get this — really like kids! What did these teachers list as problems?
- Class sizes too big to manage.
- Lack of backup during the school day.
- Parents who can’t or won’t help.
Small class sizes. Adequate staffing (so teachers can, say, have a 5 minute bathroom break). And let’s get parents involved. Some parents are too busy to visit the classroom regularly – but the school-home partnership is absolutely essential in education.
Now, oh dear Oregonian reporters and editorial board writers, go back and review your fawning over Race to the Top and NCLB-like reform proposals. Do they address ANY of those three problems teachers are currently facing in the classroom?
Nope. And that’s why you have a shitty newspaper.
Kenneth Libby is an independent education researcher and a recent graduate of Lewis and Clark's Graduate School of Education and Counseling. He writes about national education issues, testing and philanthropy on Schools Matter and Global Ideologies in Education.