Friday, April 23, 2010

Save Us!!

This may all be invalid, coming from a teacher and all, but I would like to take this opportunity to defend my profession, even if only to myself (since no one reads this blog.) More and more, our profession is under attack. Some of these attacks are valid: bad teachers are keeping their jobs because of the teachers' unions. Most of the attacks are invalid: the teachers are the reason kids are failing, teachers only work 9 months a year, why do they need to make so much, charter schools are the answer to our "horrible public school system," etc.

Yes, bad teachers exist everywhere. It's impossible to avoid a few bad apples in the whole bunch. Look at any job, there are those that do and those that don't. Even if the job is not unionized, the "bad apples" are everywhere and they are just as hard to fire in corporate America as they are in education. If one steps back and looks at any group of people, there will always be people who slide by under the radar and do the minimum to complete their job...or less than the minimum.

I wholeheartedly agree with the idea of teachers being held accountable for the success of their a degree. I think everyone who is a public servant should be accountable for the success of the public they serve, that's the name of the game. The real question that remains to be answered, is how do we measure success? The resounding answer from those in the know teachers is unclear. I personally believe that students should be evaluated on their complete body of work from the time they enter my classroom, to the time they leave. Usually this looks like some sort of portfolio where work is kept and reflected upon by the students throughout the year. This presents a problem when it comes time to evaluate however because the rubrics that would be used are developed by the teachers.

This is not the best option when it comes to explaining the process to the public. Evaluation of these portfolios would be costly, subjective, and time consuming to say the least. I don't foresee this happening, not in my state.

We also know that the current standardized "one size fits all" test is also not the answer. These tests put certain demographics at a disadvantage, they place too much weight in just one test, and, at least in my state, are given in April, which cuts short the amount of time teachers have to teach to the test prepare students for testing. Not to mention the overall environment of the school changes in the 6 or so weeks after the test. The kids don't see the point in finishing the year with their best effort since, according to the state, their knowledge of their grade level has already been tested.

These tests make much more sense to the public because they can assign a number to a student's performance and that number can then be compared to dissimilar students throughout the state (or nation, as it will soon be.) The problem with this then, is that students' understanding of a topic can occur on many levels and in many areas, and a single test question may not be is not the best way to gauge a student's understanding.

So where does that leave us? How can we successfully, accurately, and fairly evaluate student performance which takes into account all of the special needs and situations of every student? I don't know that their is an answer to that question. How do we then evaluate teacher performance? I have supplied a suggestion in a previous blog post. (There are only two before this one, you should be able to narrow it down.)

Perhaps the answer to our failing public schools is charter schools. Charter schools provide an environment where no unions exist and teachers are sometimes paid based on their students' performance. They can be micromanaged run privately and are held more accountable.

If you believe what you just read, go to 5 charter schools in your area. Sit in on some classes. Look at the facilities. Then go to 5 public schools in your area and do the same. I think the differences will astound you. I served as a substitute for a year, mostly in various charter schools around the Toledo area. I know for a fact that charter schools are not the answer, at least not entirely. That isn't to say that charter schools are ALL bad, because there are some that are very successful and are models for what education can look like. But for the most part, charter schools become dumping grounds for students who get expelled from public schools, or who's parents want to escape what they see as bad in the public schools.

I think we have enough to think about so I will stop here but there will be more to come.

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