On The Issues...
Responsibility for education is a local concern, and the strongest schools are those governed by elected school boards that are responsible to the citizens of their communities. It is no coincidence that every instance of “mayoral control” or “emergency management” of schools in our state has taken place in communities in which the majority of students were black and brown.
• What can we do to reduce the staggering levels of child poverty, not just in our cities but across demographics? Over 25% of American children are now living in poverty, and this has a devastating impact on the ability of these children to come to school ready to learn.
• Why have we become obsessed with measuring things that don't mean what we think they mean, and using those measurements to punish children, teachers, schools and communities? There is nothing wrong, per se, with tests—except when they are the sole tools used to determine judgments about schools or teachers.
• Why do we endorse a curricular model that privileges science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) when a comprehensive education has always included the humanities, arts, and physical education (STEAM)? Again, there is nothing wrong with math or science—but education is about helping children develop in well-rounded ways, not along narrow, one size fits all pathways.
• When did the notion of learning morph from the building and nurturing of personal relationships between teachers and learners into a mere banking transaction, a simple matter of deposits and withdrawals? Learning is about a lot more than moving bits and pieces of data around—it’s discovering things about ourselves in varying conditions and circumstances, and developing personal relationships with colleagues and mentors.
I’ll finish up here with a quote from one of my education heroes, Dr. Elliott Eisner: “Our schools, teachers, and students might be a lot better off if schools embraced the idea that education means learning what to do when you don’t know what to do.”
This, to me, is the great power and promise of public education—because, when our schools are functioning well, they can provide the means for our students to figure out what to do when they don’t know what to do.
And that should be what we want for all of our children.
Vouchers are overwhelmingly unpopular with voters, contribute to school segregation, don’t help poor families attend the “school of their choice,” and the most recent research on vouchers suggests that the students who use them perform worse academically than their peers in public schools. Betsy DeVos and other voucher advocates have begun using terms like “education tax credits,” “education debit cards,” and “neovouchers” to try to throw citizens off the scent of their true intentions.
In Florida, the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program offers a neat end-around to avoid the impression that tax dollars are going to subsidize private and religious school tuition–which is exactly what the program does. In essence, the Florida Tax Credit program is a state-sanctioned money laundering scheme. Knowing that citizens would object, as they have in the past in the state, to the idea of public tax revenues going to support private institutions, former Gov. Jeb Bush and his friends in the “ed reform” movement devised a scheme in which tax revenues that were slated to be deposited in state coffers–such as corporate income taxes–could be redirected as “donations” to private and religious school scholarships. In exchange, the corporation making the donation receives a dollar-for-dollar tax credit–a win-win for the corporation, and a lose-lose for the state’s public schools.
Testing can be an excellent way for teachers to learn more about what their students know and can do, and to improve their own practice in the classroom. But for these things to happen, testing needs to be the responsibility of the teacher—not multinational corporations whose agendas focus more on market share and profits than on children, teachers, and learning.
If we are going to use data to evaluate what our students know and how well our teachers are meeting students’ needs—and I believe we should—then that data must be appropriate and meaningful: the data must be discipline specific, should not be the only part of the evaluation process, and the use of school-wide data (standardized test scores in math and reading, VAM) should be avoided.
We also need to understand that in-school factors only account for around 10% of the differences in student achievement results, with out-of-school factors being responsible for over 70% of these differences. In other words, if we are really interested in making changes in student learning outcomes, focusing on rooting out “bad teachers” by the use of standardized test scores is the equivalent of tinkering with the placement of the deck chairs on the Titanic. We need to address the root causes of the problems with student learning, which have more to do with out-of-school factors such as systemic child poverty, food insecurity, and access and exposure to books, technology, the arts and culture, and travel—all of which are strongly related to socio-economic levels and poverty.
Charter schools are technically public schools, so should be expected to follow the same regulations regarding transparency as all publicly-funded schools are expected to follow.
That said, while the original notion of charter schools as “laboratories of innovation” came from teachers unions, that original purpose has now been lost; lost to predatory charter management organizations, education “reformers,” and politically-motivated special interest groups. After studying the effects of the proliferation of charter schools in Michigan over the last 10+ years, I see no evidence of “innovation” in the charter sector, and would support not only a moratorium on the approval of new charters, but much stricter oversight and accountability measures for existing charter schools.
Charters tend to pay teachers less, pay administrators more, remove local control of neighborhood schools, and provide a fertile ground for financial mismanagement, fraud, and more.
I have published a number of scholarly articles on the issue of high-stakes teacher evaluation (HSTE), and would suggest the following: There are serious issues associated with using statistical models, such as value-added measures (VAM) to make high-stakes decisions on teachers and schools.
It is worth noting that the American Statistical Association, and numerous other professional societies and organizations, have issued position statements condemning the use of high-stakes teacher evaluation systems in general, and the use of VAM in these systems specifically—and yet Merryl Tisch, former Chancellor of the NYS Board of Regents, recently came out in favor of increasing the use of VAM in the New York’s teacher evaluation system. Its almost as though policy makers don’t care whether or not the approaches they are using are valid or not, and are simply designing tools to get rid of veteran teachers.
So, what should we do? What kinds of evidence make the most sense for use in the evaluation of teachers?
Acceptable Forms of Evidence
Standardized test scores—NO
* Provide discipline-specific professional development support for teachers in the HSTE process
* Eliminate the use of VAM in teacher evaluation systems
* Return the focus of teacher evaluation to capacity building and improvement of instructional practices, instead of the myopic obsession on “accountability” (i.e., ranking and sorting of teachers)—and, accordingly, change evaluation reporting protocols from numerical to narrative
* Substantially reduce the amount of paperwork, documentation, and record keeping required of teachers—and administrators—by HSTE procedures
* (Re?)Align the goals of teacher evaluation with the professional knowledge base (i.e., research findings and “best practices”) in education
As a teacher educator, I believe the minimum level of educational attainment and qualification for beginning teachers should be a bachelors degree and initial teacher certification as granted by the state in which they are employed. I am all for making teacher credentials more “portable,” and streamlining reciprocity requirements between states. Our children deserve committed, dedicated, highly-qualified professionals—not lightly-trained and uncertified “edutourists” who spend a year or two in the classroom, and then use that experience as resume fodder for positions as congressional interns, entrance to law school, or jobs at ed reform “think tanks”.
The current teacher shortage is no excuse to lower the qualifications needed to become a teacher in our state’s schools—rather, we need to see this as an opportunity to address the underlying causes for that slow motion exodus of professionals out of the classroom by improving salaries and working conditions for public school teachers.
While virtual/online schools may provide an option for some students, I think that one of the takeaways from two years of “emergency” teaching during the Covid pandemic was the failure of online learning for most children.
For me, education is about the development of relationships—between teachers and students, and among learners. Those relationships are best nurtured in classrooms, face to face. Virtual learning is a pale imitation of in-person learning.
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