Thursday, July 30, 2015

Another Fatality of Ed. "Reform"


Perhaps you've read the recent story of a NYC principal who committed suicide on the eve of being exposed for filling in answers on students' 2015 Common-Core NY State Exams.  Although the news is certainly dramatic, and you could view it as an isolated incident, it is not.  It is symptomatic of the gross failures of more than a decade of ed. "reform."

By promoting the idea that standardized tests, now aligned with the Common Core, are the best ways to measure students, and that the quality of teachers, administrators and schools can best be judged by these standardized tests, stupidity has been turned into a "science."  This stupidity fosters a sense of desperation and, ultimately, it destroys lives.

Desperation has exhibited itself in various forms.  Many experienced teachers have jumped at their first opportunity to retire.  And how many more might have chosen the 55-25 option several years back, if they only could have predicted the direction things were headed?   How many others might have turned to another profession twenty years back if they could have seen what was coming?  How can you blame anyone though for failing to predict that stupidity would be turned into a "science"--and their Union would appear to buoy the worst of it?  

Many teachers have thrown their arms up and quit.  The average years of experience now held by the average teacher has taken a dive.  Fewer people flock to the profession.  Others, stuck in the middle of their careers, wonder what changes will come with each passing year.  How much more stress will be thrown into a community built on nurturing young people and helping them become lifetime learners?  Who wants to be made to feel after a life of relative success that they are personally responsible for the failures of kids (some under-privileged and others over-privileged with time-consuming devices) with whom they spend forty minutes a day?  Who wants to feel a failure when the test questions, themselves, sometimes seem the work of frazzled brains?

Desperation exhibits itself when schools try to meet statistical goals.  Not many of us became teachers to try to manipulate statistics.  Grades must go up or schools will close down.  Remember Rhee's smiling face, handing out big checks to "miracle" teachers who helped kids' scores soar--albeit at the expense of an ungainly amount of erasures from wrong to right on student answer sheets? Remember Atlanta?  There are other reported cases in which schools seem to have fixed scores.  Doubtless, many more cases go unreported cases.  

Desperation exhibits itself when kids must be made to pass at any cost.  Classes are created to help kids recover credits.  Some of these classes may be legitimate, but far too many in the Bloomberg era seem excuses for manufacturing the wrong kind of "miracles."  Read about them online.  "Education Mayors" are apparently built on such stuff.  Teachers feel pressure to raise kids scores.  It is now more the responsibility of teachers to raise student scores than the students themselves.  How ironic!  Is it any wonder that cheating scandals--which used to involve just students--sometimes now involve teachers, principals and superintendents driven to acts of desperation?    

Given this new climate, teachers are forced to spend increasing amounts of time on prepping kids for tests.  Forget about textbooks, works of literature or newspapers.  When statistics are supreme, academics are out the door.  All you need these days are review books--and just the right ones.  Forget about projects to help the community.  Forget about focusing on current events.  Forget about it all, even though such things might make learning more meaningful to your students and possibly rebuild lives and/or the environment.   The school could be shut down for your idealism.  Get with the program!

So, while it is sad that a principal was driven by desperation to acts of dishonesty, it is no surprise.  Rather than face penalty and shame, she took her own life.  The recent example could only have been possible against the backdrop of ed. "reform."  Ed. "reform" is killing the teaching profession; it kills the will of some students to learn.  It closes schools, rips communities apart and, apparently, takes lives.  I would argue its long-range damage will be far more severe and, sadly, that damage remains to be seen.
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