A Southern Teacher's Take

Monday, November 27, 2006


I'm frustrated.

My principal wants to exempt students (even Advanced Placement students) from course final exams if they pass the state standardized test (a minimal skills assessment).

My district wants to elimiate Enriched level courses, which serve as a buffer between regular classes and Advanced Placement. Enriched classes have been very valuable in providing dedicated students with a deeper look at class material without burdening them with the load of AP courses.

My curriculum coordinator (who I like very much, actually) creates all semester exams and final exams (at the request of someone higher than she); autonomy is slowly slipping away.

My district implements widespread changes almost every year, which disrupts...well...everything.

I could go on and on. I still have a passion for teaching, and when I close my classroom door I can forget about all of the other stuff. But it's becoming increasingly difficult to do so.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Leaving Children Behind, Part II

The thing is this: as long as education is a political issue, numbers will be more important than students. And not only has education become a political issue, but it's a polarizing issue. Teachers find their way into campaign ads, newspaper headlines read "Teacher Union Supports Candidate X," and educators' associations appropriate millions and millions of dollars, yearly, for the purposes of lobbying.

Enough, already.

All of the politicizing has placed education under a microscope so powerful that our every move is scrutinized by people who've not been in a classroom since they were students.

Sort of a new topic: Quick! Name the Secretary of Education!

Okay, don't worry about Googling it; I'll tell you. Margaret Spellings.

We can name the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, the Vice President, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Secretary of Labor...but most people (the vast majority, likely) have no idea who the Secretary of Education is. Most teachers likely don't know who the Secretary of Education is. Yes, we live in a time when the Secretaries of Defense, State, and Homeland Security are in the news far, far more often than the education leader.

And yes, public education is, at its core, run at the state level. And I'm not advocating a change in that regard. The thing is, though, that we need stronger federal leadership. Not in the form of mandates and directives, but in the form of a person. How is it that education is under such scrutiny but no one knows anything about the Secretary of Education?

So we're leaving children behind because we're scrambling to meet goals, goals that have been established to appease our critics...critics who generally know little or nothing about how educaiton really works. And I'm not saying that politicians are necessarily our strongest critics. Anyway, we're leaving children behind, children who have fallen, so that we may remain positively accountible.

Margaret Spellings, this is a mess. WHERE ARE YOU?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Leaving Children Behind

State education agencies place a high premium on school districts' accountability ratings. That's a fact, it's reality, and it likely won't change anytime soon. And frankly, I don't fundamentally oppose testing kids yearly, whether to benchmark their progress or to determine the effectiveness of a school's/school district's instruction.

But there's an alarming trickle-down effect at play,here, and I'm interested to see how widespread it is.

A school district's rating is tied to its individual schools' ratings, which are determined based on test scores. And most campus principals' jobs are tied to those test scores, as well. The problem is this: principals will act (understandably) out of self-preservation and do what it takes to make the numbers more appealing. It's a product of the system.

What happens, then, when these test scores are disaggregated? We've got the Hispanic kids, the White kids, the African-American kids, the Asian kids, the special education kids, the economically disadvantaged kids...all types of kids. And these accountability ratings are predicated by satisfactory scores across the sub-population board. And then we find ourselves in situations where the principal is mandating that the teachers target Hispanic kids or African-American kids or kids whose parents don't make much money.

Suddenly, then, it's not about the kids. It's about the Hispanic number, the African-American number, the economically disadvantaged number.

Suddenly, then, we've got school administrators answering questions about a specific student by saying, "Don't worry about him; he's Asian."

Suddenly, then, we're only concnetrating on students whose scores are borderline; they'll take the least amount of time to bring to a passing level.

Suddenly, kids who have passed the test are being ignored. Kids who are Asian are being ignored. Kids who are white are being ignored. Kids who failed the test miserably and have seemingly no chance to pass this year are being ignored.

Suddenly, it ain't nothin' but a numbers game.

Soon, kids will be identified as Girl 907 instead ofAnna or Boy 125 instead of Jack. Images of Dickens' HARD TIMES dance before me. Something's gone wrong, folks. Kids have been relegated to figures, to statistics.

What happened?

Monday, November 06, 2006


I'm an English teacher at a suburban high school in the South. I love my job. A teacher of 14- and 15 year-olds, my patience is tried, my head sometimes aches, and if I don't maintain a sense of humor, I will die. But I love my job.

I find, though, that I need a place to talk about what's going right and what's going wrong in public education. I'm noticing some alarming trends in education, and I don't think I'm the only one. The push for small schools, high-stakes testing, career-intensive instruction...just a few issues...some I like, some I don't.

I have been teaching for several years, and in addition to my B.A. in Literature, I've earned an M.S. in Education. I also teach night classes at a local college. There. Credibility established (anonymously...ha!).

In the next day or two, I'll post my first...rant? Essay? Call for action?

This is going to be fun.

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