Are teachers hiding something?


 I spoke to a group of teachers in Los Angeles the other night, educators in LAUSD, and asked a very simple question: How many people in this room believe the bubble tests give an accurate portrayal of your professionalism? Not a person in the room raised their hand.

And the thing is, if you know teachers, you know that they will, for better or worse, tell it like it is. This is not Congress voting whether or not to give themselves a raise where you’ll get universal agreement because self-interest rules the roost. Teachers, if they believe in something, will say so… even if it hurts the feelings of other teachers in the room.

That’s because, IMHO, the kids, to most educators, are more important than the feelings of their peers.

But when nary a hand gets raised in a room that big and no one is willing to say, “You know what… I don’t love the bubble tests but at least I do think they are 1) well-written 2) on point 3) fair 4) reasonable in their scope and weight and 5) equitable so, while I have my small gripes, by-the-by I do think they reflect a truism about my own craft as a teacher and those that don’t well… I just think they are simply hiding something.”

I don’t know any teacher that believes this point of view. And I know scores who do not.

Are we hiding something? I mean the politicians have painted educators as if we have this dark, deep skeleton in the closet that we will, at all costs, defend from public view. Is that really the case? And then, by putting teachers in this role, they get to put on the cape and swoop in like a superhero to save the day for kids and parents.

ETS isn’t a multi-billion dollar “non-profit” corporation with their money-vaccuming tentacles poised to stretch into every American classroom at a greater pace than ever before; they are a white knight saving taxpayers from the rogues and scoundrels who are milking the government for entitlements and benefits while harming the needs of our kids.

Are teachers hiding something and do the bubble tests excavate our dark, dirty, deeply-closeted secrets?

I ask because year after year we are seeing our schools morph more and more into bubble test test prep factories… and is this not part of the sentiment driving that ship?

Suicides and the “I never meant for that to happen” excuse

United States Flag at Half Staff

United States Flag at Half StaffIs “I never meant for that to happen” an excuse? Because this past week, we have seen the ol’ “unintended consequences” motif pop up in two tragic suicides… and I am not sure how much water this defense holds.

The first is the case of the Rutgers student who committed suicide after his roommate allegedly posted secret video tape of a sexual encounter online. A gay sexual encounter.

Now of course this brings up about a zillion different things to talk about. Bullying, cyber-bullying, intolerance, social media and the right to privacy, and on and on.

But let me bounce over to the other tragedy which struck also, the teacher that killed himself allegedly as a result of being publicly shamed by the Los Angeles Times for having low test scores. Even though this was, by many accounts, a teacher that was beloved by kids and parents and peers – and a teacher who hadn’t missed a day of work in years – the L.A. Times “outed him” as an “ineffective educator” and the attendant despondency finally culminated in a fifth grade teacher taking his own life.

Both cases are just a real lose/lose/lose scenario for all parties involved. But what do the roommate and the L.A. Times have in common?

The snickering that took place in privacy before the deed went down. The commonality of both being driven by a “ooh, we are gonna get ’em” mentality.

Sure, neither party probably thought that their actions would trigger something in others that would push them over the brink. But when you wittingly set out to create hurt for other people in an effort to draw attention to yourself, trouble is oh-so-often going to follow.

The college roomy? Though I don’t know, I imagine he probably thought, “I am gonna look so cool in front of my friends for outing my roommate – did you know he was gay? – with this secret footage. Hee-haw, hee-haw.” And any thought process beyond that was probably minimal to non-existent.

A roommate dead. His own life forever stained. Ugliness an outrage everywhere over what might very well have been nothing more than a stupid, ill-conceived prank with… yep… unintended consequences.

The L.A. Times motives seem more transparent to me: they want to increase viewership by increasing readership so that they can increase ad sales so that they can make more moo-la. I mean hiding behind “doing the public good journalism” would wash for me if there were not so many glaring shortcoming and holes in the value-added data the L.A. Times published. And coming out with this gigantically controversial stuff about teachers when the pie is, by their only admission, not really fully baked, shows that their motivations were driven by something other than “making sure we get the story right before we go to press with it”.

A teacher dead. Scores of other professional lives tainted. Researchers at RAND (and parents who read the L.A. Times) being able to infer from the L.A. Times data that… (click here to read the full text)

…black teachers have lower value-added scores for both ELA and MATH. Further, these are some of the largest negative effects in the second level analysis – especially for MATH. The interpretation here (for parent readers of the LA Times web site) is that having a black teacher for math is worse than having a novice teacher. In fact, it’s the worst possible thing! Having a black teacher for ELA is comparable to having a novice teacher.

All of this brings me back to the original point. Is “I never meant for that to happen” an excuse?

I am not sure if I know the answer but I do know, that when you willingly and knowingly set out to create problems for others in order to make your own self look good, it’s a very combustible substance with which you are playing.

Blame? This is not even about assigning it because at this juncture, what’s the point? The damage is done. But we all have to look in the mirrors at our own selves at some point and my advice to others would be, “Don’t trouble trouble til trouble troubles you.” Because sometimes BOMBS go off when you never meant for that to happen.

Education moves more into the spotlight – plus, the pink elephant I have yet to hear mentioned: Parents!

Teachers and Students

Teachers and StudentsThe movies, MSNBC, Congress, and Oprah are beginning to really shine their light on the mess that is public education in the United States. And indeed, it is a mess.

Now let it be known that I am a big fan of us lifting up the rocks and letting the public see the dysfunction that goes on because my feeling is that at the end of the day, parents make the kids and parents make the schools – and until more parents take more of an active role in their local schools and their kids (our country’s kids), things are not going to change.

Educators (like moi) have been squawking as loudly as we can for quite some time saying, “This is SMACKED UP!” But conveniently, we get pigeonholed as whiners by the folks who should be having their feet held to the fire to institute real change.

The truth is, almost all of the most highly functioning schools in our country which have a track record of a decade or more’s worth of Attaboys under their belt (I say let the Honeymoon shine wear off of a place before you crown it king; sustainability is critical) have active and supportive parents. And all the lowest performing schools – places about which I think I know a wee bit – have incredible holes in this area. Now sure, there are anomalies because America is a big place but in large parts, when teachers are forced into playing the role of educator, role model, disciplinarian, tough guy, nice guy, confidante, taskmaster, social worker, and on and on, it sets up problems for the school that are beyond legislating from the state capital, D.C., or Arne Duncan’s desk.

When a child’s very first teacher doesn’t – or can’t – step up to the plate to be the first and primary teacher that a child needs them to be (I am talking about PARENTS!) then a kid is already playing a round of golf without every club they, in an ideal world, should have teed off with in the bag.That stuff catches up when you are educating millions of young people every year.

Of course, on another note, tenure does seem to be broken. That’s clear. However, we need some sort of tenure system because a good teacher at the top end of the salary scale earns as much as 2 1/2 the pay as a new teacher and in this day and age of bean counters pulling all the strings, chopping excellent teaching vets from the payroll to save on school budgets thinking, “Hey, a teacher is a teacher is a teacher, right? So let’s cut that 19 years-of-experience gal cause we are paying almost triple to her what we’d have to pay this only-been-at-it-8-months guy”. I’m not joking either! That’s just the kind of folly that district folks would try to pull if there weren’t protections again such foolishness.

Oh yeah, bubble testing the kids into oblivion is preposterous. That’s clear as well. Yet, we do need some form of assessment. I am not going to deny that. (Project-Based Learning in concert with growth model portfolios anyone? Forget it, I’ll save that for another time.)

Oh yeah, what about trying to turn the screws on teachers without holding admins to the same level of scrutiny, a HUGE issue, no? Has anyone seen how poorly run some of our nation’s schools are? Has anyone seen how poorly run some our nation’s school district offices are? (For instance, go ahead, blame the teachers when some schools have been in session for almost four weeks and the master schedule still is not yet set. Sheesh!)

But the schools that are NOT poorly run, what’s their common thread?

Parents. Active, involved, informed parents. When parents partner with the local school the school achieves at a much higher level than when parents abdicate the responsibility of their children’s education to the people that work for the local district.

This is not to slam the working poor. They are the ones who are oh-so-often on the wrong end of finding “good” schools for their kids. (Tough to go to a Back-to-School Night when you are trying to hold down two or three jobs and all of them a hourly wage positions. I’ve seen this for a long, ling time.) So really, while I am trying to remain compassionate, the fact is capitalism is a culprit here and a sad by-product of living in a land of Haves is also seeing the impact that this has on the Have Nots. By talking about parents I am not accusing anyone. (Well, maybe I am a little… cause some parents simply STINK!) But really, I am just calling a pink elephant a pink elephant. Parents are the common link.

Gotta say, this makes for good television though.