Another Letter from the Inside: Two Active Teachers Describe the Effects of Ed Reform on Their Teaching
“What follows is a piece that my co-teacher and I put together in response to the ‘ed reform’ that has been shoved down our throats… We are sending this out to several publications, but fear that it won't get published because of its length…” —Two Illinois High School Teachers
“Dictates, mandates, and data, data, data have overwhelmed day-to-day education. Common Core; PARCC; Type 1, 2, and 3 Assessments; NCLB; ACT; SAT; PLC; RTI; CEC; VAM; IEPs; SIPs and a dozen other local acronyms and initiatives buzz about, but new evaluation models create more of an avalanche than an annoyance for classroom teachers.
“We will be buried, dig our way out, or be dismissed.
“The sad reality is that none of the above transforms the essence of teaching. This white noise often pulls teachers out of class to learn the latest educational à la carte solution. After brief introductions, we incorporate the few kernels that we can mine out of the buzz. But, we often deflect. We fly under the radar. We do our real work, teaching, while trying to pass the straight face test in managing the above list. And despite our resistance, our students still find success on standardized tests but, more importantly, send us letters of gratitude for making them think in ways that don’t show up on those tests.
“Unfortunately, most education ‘reforms’ will succeed in making schools, students, and teachers more ‘common.’ So we have a ‘common’ experience, a ‘common’ set of expectations, and no ‘common’ sense. Teachers are herded out of the classroom for their own indoctrination, then sent back into the classroom to slash instructional time in favor of more testing—all in the name of the sacred cow: data. This is a corporate model. Education is not a corporation despite those who see schools as ‘growing, untapped markets.’
“Is anyone listening to the classroom teachers today? Not really. In about 2-3 years another slew of solutions will be purchased; another set of acronyms will be dumped on us—at a cost in the hundreds of millions—by the Educational Corporate Complex. Aspiring administrators and politicians, searching for the magic bullet, will succeed in shoveling more down our throats because not enough teachers, not enough parents, not enough journalists, and not enough honest politicians have the courage to engage in candid conversations about the root causes of student failure.
“Teachers are not against reform; we are for honesty. The ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach may seem the easiest to implement, easiest to measure, and the easiest to comprehend, but life is hard. Life is complex. Learning is complex. The mysteries of the human brain are complex. The matrix of factors essential for success is complex.
“Dare we say in a data-driven environment that it is impossible to quantify? Please try to quantify your own childhood. Please try to put into a spreadsheet those experiences that have made you who you are. Educational reformers, and all of us, may just uncover and be humbled by the fact that our education—formal and informal, positive and negative—can’t be displayed in a spreadsheet.
“And instead of a common ‘target’ (or college) for all that removes the dignity from certain careers (the trades) and one that is measured by a limited common measuring stick (as in standardized tests), we should ensure basic skills, encourage critical thinking, and emphasize common sense. This sort of common sense should be tackled on the community level, the way the US Constitution demands it.
“What we might find, despite regional differences, is that honesty and a true commitment to egalitarianism could still lead to an umbrella of common sense values. We might all embrace the concepts of hard work, accountability for ourselves and the greater good, and individual dignity.
“Instead, our common values have been undermined by the causes and effects of poverty, the disintegration of the family, the promotion of a mass media that glorifies consumerism, the effects of the abuse of technology to access that culture 24/7, an absence of parenting and a growing dependence on institutional solutions for poor individual choices. Of course these ‘one-size-fits-all’ reforms would work if students didn’t face these challenges, but these are the complex conversations the reformers, the federal government, the state government, the school districts, and the building administrations avoid.
“The lack of common sense is real. One ‘hot trend’ in education is that we want and expect student output to increase; yet students should not be held accountable for homework. This academic ‘practice’ should never count toward a ‘grade...only the final output should count.’ In fact, students should retest until they reach ‘mastery’ of the common ‘target.’
“So when the ‘burden’ of expectations are ‘lifted,’ will children choose to engage in challenging material? Translated into teacher understanding: work ethic and ‘the process’ no longer matters. It is only the ends that matter, not the means. What kind of lesson is this for our young people?
“Thankfully many educators are still engaging in this debate in their classrooms and with one another. And this is why teachers still love their jobs. Step outside the classroom and these conversations become taboo. Honesty is replaced by fear.
“Teachers’ careers are on the line in our testing, data-driven culture: Subgroups. Categories. Pie charts and Graphs. Value-added models. Education has turned into a business, and production targets must be measured; quotas must be met. It is tunnel vision feeding the public’s appetite for easy solutions to complex problems in our hyper-paced world, but our formulas are becoming robotic and are eroding our humanity.
“Teachers and parents have solutions: the system of public education must be returned to the communities they serve. Parents want teachers in front of their kids, not in endless in-services. Parents want their students taught more and tested less. Parents want their sons and daughters to build human bonds with passionate, thoughtful, creative, and compassionate individuals. Parents want their son’s and daughter’s experiences in education to be more than data-driven. They want it people-driven. Teachers want the same goals for their students.
“This may be difficult to measure, but human beings know it when they see it and feel it when they don’t.”
—Two Illinois High School Teachers