Ultimately, if I was a principal charged with the task of distributing my teachers, I think I’d try the following…
(Caveat: my thinking below is just part of the reason why I have little desire to be a principal in this day and age. I mean hats off to the people that tackle this task — it’s crazy, grueling, almost thankless work — but the way you are almost forced to think doesn’t seem like it always harmonizes with the way I believe kids ought to be taught or teachers ought to be supported… and yet, NCLB forces an administrator’s hand with almost draconian threats.)
And so, at the risk of being called every name in the book, here is what I would do…
1. I’d talk to my teachers and see where each educator felt they could best succeed.
Can’t really say I see this being done in too many schools across the country, but I do feel as if there is a sense that a teacher would assume the greatest amount of ownership over the course they are charged with teaching if they got to choose/self-select their own class sections. Now for the “best” teachers, ownership is rarely a problem and for the Lemons it might be an incurable problem but for those in the middle, every little edge I can get/provide seems wise to try.
Go ahead, let’s see if we can get everyone to pretty much choose their own classes and then take responsibility of the classes you selected in a big, great way. But they would have to buy into the idea of “we are a team” and that their ultimate placement would depend on a few other mitigating factors. This leads to point 2…
2. I’d put my “best” teachers in the classes that would bring me the highest API and AYP score benefit.
(Before you start in on the name-calling, read why…
Look, if I am a principal (and again, this is part of the reason why I am not) my whole raison d’etre can best be summarized by those that hire me and evaluate me in one core way, above and beyond anything else: what are his test scores? Personally, I think it’s foolish and short-sighted and I have little faith in the assessments being used to evaluate schools or teachers these days. (Have I ever mentioned “growth models” as the only real, true indicator of student achievement/ teacher performance? Another time…) So if I am an organ monkey being forced to dance to the silly tune being played by the federal government’s bubble sheet mania, I am gonna be forced to play the cards in my hands as best as possible. And that means placing my best teachers in the places where they can raise the most amount of student test scores to the highest level.
Sad but true.
And in looking at the way things shake out, it would not be the “lowest, most challenged” students who get my “best” teachers. Now as a teacher or a parent or even a citizen, I think I have conflicting beliefs about this distribution of my best teaching talent. But as a principal, not at all.
My best teachers need to serve two masters. First, they need to make sure that my “best” students are still scoring in an “Advanced” manner on those silly, but all-important bubble tests. I must remember where my bread gets buttered and not screw that up. Their scores carry my school.
And to lose sight of this might cost me my job.
Second, I need my best teachers to raise the test scores of the most reachable kids, the ones who, if properly pushed, will rise to the challenge and move up a category, from either “below basic” to “basic” or from “basic” to “proficient”.
That’s money in my test score bank if I can only unlock the passcode and my best teachers… well, they are my best safe-crackers.
All this means that since 12th grade doesn’t take NCLB tests that count towards my AYP and API, seniors would not get my “best” teacher. Yep, I know that sucks for everyone. But really, until my school’s scores are unassailable, putting my best teachers in front of the classrooms that don’t count for NCLB makes no strategic sense. Why? I’ll say it again…
As we all know these days, test scores are the tail that wags the dog and if you have ever seen the look of a principal or Ass. Principal in the halls of a school that’s on NCLB probation for their test scores (my school is currently at Dante’s Level of Hell Probation Circle #4 right now — consultants are now on the district payroll though to remedy this problem, so never fear — and if we hit Level 5 supposedly the entire staff can be replaced, tenured or not, so heads are turning) you know exactly what I am talking about when I say that test scores are the tail that wags the dog.
Or how about the idea that 2nd graders are being given pep talks, “Let’s go give our BEST on these tests this week!” (I’ve never heard such enthusiasm being dispersed in almost mantra like tones by the admins about minor things like “character, values, work ethic, responsibility and so on… but test scores… they have become worthy of elementary school pep rallies!)
Therefore, in the factory model of public education in which this bonkers assessment model lives and breathes, I am forced to think about where I can reap the most test score rewards. And while the “most challenged kids” are the ones where my may heart call me, my mind knows that if test scores are the end-all, be-all of neighborhood property taxes, the district’s measurement of my job performance, the local newspaper’s flaunting of my relevant performance and so on, I gotta go for the scores first and foremost so that I can get everyone off my back and then try to serve the “whole child” at a later date (as if it is some kind of luxury).
Because if I try to serve the whole child first and take pride in the fact that I raised the test scores of a 10th grade kid with 5th grade skills and elevated him all the way to an 8th grade level in one mere academic year (happens all the time with a good teacher at the front of the room), my school’s ranking ain’t gonna receive no love at all (because these silly tests do not measure student growth from start to finish.)
But if I can get the kid with 9th grade skills to hit the 10th grade mark, then I am covering my bases. And if I can get the kid with 8th grade skills to hit the 10 grade mark, I am in the money. But if I spend too many of my resources trying to get the kids with the 5th grade skills trying to reach the 10 grade mark, it just seems like bad strategy.
I am thus literally “teaching to the test.” Kaplan, The Princeton Review and so on have made billions on the strategy element of standardized testing performance and only a fool doesn’t try to figure out how to “crack” these “crackable” tests in order to elevate their school’s NCLB evaluation.
Critical thinking. Citizenship. 21rst century skills. Come on, those are platitudes and buzzwords. Right now, it’s all about who can get the most correct bubbles.
As a principal I know that unless I take care of my test scores, I won’t live to see another day and while one might assume that the two ambitions of serving the best needs of kids and serving the school’s needs to have high test scores are the same, I do not believe they are.
Of course, NCLB doesn’t allow for nuances. Or moral quandary. Your kids are either proficient or they are not. And your damn subgroups better be as well.
Data driven instruction… feed it to me.
And so there it is, my answer to where, if I were a principal, I’d be placing my “best” teachers. And the Lemons, yep, I’d do what most principals are forced to try and do right now themselves — try to hide them in classes that won’t weigh down my test scores.
It’s like being the captain of a school baseball team. My best ball players play the infield, pitch and bat at the top of the order. My weakest players sit the bench, play right field and bat last — and when they do step up to the plate, I, the coach, close my eyes and groan about how I wish I never had to have this kid on my team in the first place.
It’s ugly stuff. And yet, it seems to be a conversation that too few folks are really having right now.