What’s Wrong? Look In The Mirror

Today’s New York Times carried an article about Paul Villas  and his travails with the citizens of Bridgeport, Connecticut.  As a veteran School Superintendent from cities such as Philadelphia, Chicago, and New Orleans, why should Bridgeport be so tough?

The answer probably is that Bridgeport is no tougher than Philly, Chicago or New Orleans.  When a school districts have problems (like not enough money, failing grades, and low graduation rates), mysteriously no one is to blame and no one is allowed to make any changes.  Hmmm.

For silver bullet wannabe educators, there must be a handle, someplace to rest their change plan upon.  It must be the teachers, or it must be the inadequate school funding, or how about the absence of progress measures (testing)?  Or how about all three?

Vallas was appointed by a State take over board.  This is strike one with respect to local control.  For strike two, Vallas wants to institute standardized testing.  His third strike is he wants his administrators to spend more time class rooms in order to evaluate the teachers.  Those recommendations did not go well with the teachers union.  Now there is a food fight.

In a school district (according to the NYT) where 49% of the students are Hispanic and 39% black, Vallas does not strike a cord of “he’s one of us”.  So the stranger must be wrong.

Logic should be clear that doing nothing different will not lead to improvement.  And certainly testing by itself will only confirm what is known already.  But what about getting rid of poor teachers?

This idea seems on the right track… until one asks, “how do we know which teachers are good teachers, and which ones are not”?

The chain of command is the answer.  But, how do we know the chain of administrators are qualified to separate the wheat from the chaff?  Hmmm.

In failing schools it is extremely difficult to separate “good teachers” from the rest.  Of course, with observation, one could detect the totally disinterested teacher.  But the rub comes in identifying good teachers when there is a need to first establish proper class room discipline before any type of teaching can effectively take place.  So, are the best teachers, the best disciplinarians?

This quickly begs the question, why do so many students not come to class thirsting for knowledge?  Why is there a classroom order question at all?  And why do parents not hold their children to account for their learning or lack there of?  And why are not parents insisting upon test scores so they have some evidence that their children are learning?  Hmmm.

A mirror for anyone?

In my opinion, these thoughts are getting close to pay dirt.  The problem in American education begins at home.  Parents who want their children educated find a school they trust if at all possible.    Unfortunately far too often that is all the parents do.

It would seem to me parents should demand testing and be especially interested in two test scores.  (1) How well is my child doing compared to other children (locally, nationally, and internationally)?  (2)  Is my child improving versus his/her peers each year?  One measures the overall school performance and the other measures the child’s personal achievement.

Given these results, parents could then responsibly support changing or leaving unchanged union seniority and teacher work rules.  School superintendents would also have ammunition to support training their subordinates (developing more competent and accountable administrators or weeding the weaker ones out.  And at the end of the day, test scores would support changing the superintendent and ultimately the board of education.

Oh, and one last thought.  There should be no class room preparation for the “test”.  No teaching to the “test”.  Teaching should be aimed at igniting the individual spirit to learn.  And if there is one measure of what a good teacher is, it would be the student seeking to learn on their own.  Hmmm.

 

 

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