In the wake of this year’s report on standardized test scores, and the oncoming tsunami of the upcoming school year, I’ve had more than one teacher-type person ask me: alright Scot, what are we gonna do?
Damn good question. In part it’s a good question because the question isn’t the same for all of us. Some want testing done away with altogether (“blow it up, blow it to Hell”). Some want it tweaked a little, others a lot. Then there’s the area to tweak, and whether that tweaking focus should be at the federal or state level.
Those who’ve at least tried to put up with my verbosity here know that I definitely stand on the tweak side of the blow up-tweak continuum, both in terms of what’s realistic (in my mind) and actually good for our students. Given my slant, and realizing that it’s a position and course of action that doesn’t address the “blow it all to Hell” folks, I’ll just roll a few ideas and see if we can start a discussion that goes beyond verbose bitching/bastarding (I’m trying this new word out to take the gender aspect out of bitching), moaning, etc., and gets us to some real action.
- At the federal level we should bother in a loving and supportive way Senators Bingaman and Udall. Senator Bingaman is on the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, and on that outfit’s Subcommittee on Children and Families, which deals directly with No Child Behind. Senator Udall is a good guy who knows Washington far better than all our newbie Congresspeople. Both Senators need to know more about how NCLB is being implemented in New Mexico, how it differs in implementation here from other states and that is unfair, uninformative and unhelpful in its current implementation both here and everywhere. I think we should be both specific with our personal tales of horror (e.g., watching Special Education kids take the tests) and general in offering useful solutions nationwide, not just in New Mexico.
- Attention should especially be paid to these fine folks immediately after the health care debacle ends. Various guesstimates have put discussion of NCLB Reauthorization as coming after health care is dealt, or not dealt, with.
One little side note on the State situation. Notice how 99 percent of the attention in the last score report news cycle went to the graduation rate? That’s a good thing (the attention, not the lousy graduation rate). Kinda like the steroids “debate” in baseball, the whole AYP thing has grown stale to many folks. Of course, we as teachers (and students) still have to deal with it. But now’s the perfect time to tweak it at the state level and make it better. And who says I’m a naysaying, cynical curmudgeon?
- I urge as many folks as possible to contact the NM Public Education Department, especially Secretary Veronica Garcia’s office and the Assessment and Accountability Division. Get to know what both the Secretary’s office and the “accountability” division do. Find out how decisions are made on testing procedures and rules. Offer to work on developing new rules. Use your experiences as evidence for why these rules and procedures must be changed.
- Press the Governor. Bill Richardson has made it clear: legacy = education. And he doesn’t have much time left. Regardless of what you may think of him or his “graduation initiative” the 2010 session promises to be the perfect time to strike on new initiatives across the spectrum of K-12. Go for it.
- Talk to your legislator. Ask him or her what they know about these issues and offer to both help them better understand and “help them” decide how to act in next year’s session. The education budget is a huge part of the State’s finances. Teachers and other participants in education have, to this point, done far too little to both help and cajole decision-making that applies to us.
- Believe it or not, I think the Union is as much the problem here as a solution. And that’s outside the performance of the Union itself. A big problem, in my mind, is that the Union is relied on far, far, far too much to “solve” things. This is especially strange as just about no one really expects the Union to be able to solve much of anything. We teachers tend to use the Union as a place to clean our mental plates of issues too complicated to bother really thinking about ourselves. And that’s bullshit. A teacher’s union might be sufficient to work out a collective bargaining agreement with a district, but enacting real change requires more from individual members of both the Union and the workforce. Quit waiting for the Union to do something. Let’s do it ourselves.
- I could be wrong here, but my sense of Superintendent Brooks is that he doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the NCLB requirement that “100% of students be proficient by 2014”. And that’s good. He talks about meaningful, but realistic academic growth as the goal, and what we have to do is make him (and the District) follow through on that goal versus the stupid NCLB goal. Pressure needs to be exerted to point out all the stupid things we have to do based on the stupid goal. These include having three short-cycle assessments every year, the whole idiotic “continuous improvement” crap “failing” schools have to endure, and the use of curriculum-in-a-box solutions that involve radical schedule changes that help gut non-“testing” academic programs (music, etc.). Why should we do these things if we don’t believe in the NCLB goal? If we’re making realistic growth goals why can’t we just continue to do the successful things we’re doing?
The School (now comes the scary part)
Another short note: Teachers are some of the nicest folks you’d ever want to meet. And that’s a damn shame. We tend to be more malleable than gold and more easy to manipulate than Gumby. That’s gotta stop. Please make it stop. To that end, here’s a suggestion or two:
- We should fight having all these “short-cycle assessments” at every turn. Three is too damn many assessments, especially given that’s on top of the standardized test itself. We need to argue with our administrators, head teachers and whoever else has any line of communication with “central office” on this point. We need to complain about how these assessments result in schedules for kids that leave them with no elective, and urge parents to better understand both the assessments and the result they have on their children.
- We should avoid participating in the curriculum-in-a-box solution foisted upon us whenever possible. We should not sit idly and let this get dumped in our laps. I know administrators are desperately trying to find teachers to teach “Math Navigator”, etc. Sorry, find somebody else.
- We need to get better informed on what all this testing means. Naturally, my suggestion is that every APS teacher spend 1500 hours reading this stupid blog. But maybe that’s too draconian. How about I merely suggest teachers get to know the ins and outs of the testing rules, the statistics behind it all and the methodologies employed. I know, I know…there’s a whole bunch of math-phobe teachers out there. And yes, I’m looking at you, dear Language Arts/Social Studies colleagues. But Hell, if a Mathematically deficient Political Science major like me can learn a thing or two, ANYBODY can. We need to stop that ostrich-head-sand tendency and get to know what we’re really dealing with here. When you do, you realize this system is even stupider than we originally thought and that knowledge can give us the power to change it.
- Most important of all, we need to communicate with each other. The lack of teacher knowledge about what goes on in other classrooms down the hall, down the street at the next school, etc. has been perhaps the single most astounding thing I’ve encountered as an educator. We don’t know ANYTHING about what ANYBODY is doing. Well, I hear tell there’s this new Internet thing, and it has like this email thing where you can write to folks and hear back from them. How about we use it and ninety-eleven other ways to keep up with each other? Getting serious, how about we use it to let others know how the fight is going at our school? That we aren’t alone and that we can learn from each other how best to handle, change, obliterate negative policies? And maybe make our own practice better along the way? I know, crazy talk….
As per normal, I’m gone on far too long, and in this case written to an extremely small audience (outraged teachers willing to read stuff that goes on far too long). Still, maybe just maybe we can really do something this time. And they persist in calling me a cynic.