Thursday, January 15, 2015

Keeping Up Appearances in the Age of Educational Deformity

This Age of Educational Deformity is all about appearances.  It is not about substance.  We play a high-stakes game.  Most of us are just pawns, including some of those persons who fancy themselves generals.  If enough pawns unite, however, they can overthrow any king.

The growing concern over bulletin boards has everything to do with keeping up appearances.  Are you displaying student work with effective feedback?  I have learned over the years that student art works better in the classroom than rough and final drafts strewn with comments.  People take the time to look at it.  It livens up the atmosphere and can be readily digested.  Few students will find the time to read a paper hung on the wall.  Some students don't want their papers hung on the wall.  I don't want to hang a paper with a grade on it on the wall unless I ask a student first.  I don't want to go around the room asking students when I know it is all for show.

Teachers must also appear to have a rubric for this and a rubric for that.  I'm here to tell you that rubrics are not harbingers of objective grading.  I prefer to ask students to give me a well-written paper with separate paragraphs for an introduction and conclusion.  The introduction must state the thesis.  The body paragraphs must defend it.  There must be a clear line of organization.  The conclusion must not leave the reader disappointed.  There must be an overwhelming amount of factual information provided.  This last point is very important to me:  "hammer it home with good specifics!"  I could attempt to put all this into a chart with thirty boxes, but it is a waste of my time.  No student wants to read thirty boxes of stuff.  When I grade, I balance and weigh factors.  It will never be a science, but I try to grade fairly.  My mind has more than thirty boxes in it.

For those who demand showy lesson plans, aligned with tenets of the Core, again, I say it's all about appearances.  When we submit our lesson plans for Danielson-based evaluations, they are supposed to refer to certain NY State or Common-Core bullet points.  They should show differentiation.  My lesson plans are happy sketches.  They are malleable.  I fill in spaces as I react to the interests of students.  I wouldn't want it any other way.  I wouldn't want to plow on with a pre-packaged plan if I had lost the interest of my students.

There is nothing that points to the importance of keeping up appearances more than statistics.  Everything is about stats.  Take graduation rates, for example.  During the Bloomberg years, teachers citywide were encouraged to push more students along to save schools from extinction.  There was a ballooning of credit-recovery schemes.  Diplomas were cheapened.  We had an "Education Mayor," but at what cost?  D.C. had a Rhee.  Her test scores skyrocketed, but at what cost?  Blue skies, smiles and merit pay.  Then, along came a seeming scandal of unsavory erasures.

Some charter schools appear great.  What Success!  But do they work with the most disadvantaged of the disadvantaged?  Do they work with those with the biggest language obstacles or the most special needs?  Or, do they fail to recruit and accept those who do not meet the grade?  Do they push out students who fall short academically and behaviorally?

In so many ways, we are about appearances.  In so many ways, these appearances are often deceptive.  They distract from the real business of teaching.  In the last decade, appearances have become more important than realities.  I would rather be honest and, if necessary, say, "Please excuse our appearances.  Under renovation.  Under reality."
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