With All Due Respect – Redone

I have been going through my old blog posts to create a favorite list in the Navigation bar for my new theme. While going through them I re-read my “ With All Due Respect” from January 24, 2010 and believe that I what I wrote then is still pertinent.

As part of my leaving the teaching profession for semi-retirement, I thought it was a good time to update and re-publish this post.

RANT ALERT

With all due respect to:

  • the President of the United States and his staff
  • the Congress and their staffs
  • the State Governors and their staffs (Maine for me)
  • the State Boards of Education (Maine for me)
  • the Teacher preparatory programs at the University/College levels
  • the Educational Consultants
  • the Corporations who sell educational products
  • and everyone else who thinks that they have latest answer to the problems in our classrooms
JUST SHUT UP!

and start listening to educators, who are currently in the classroom.

What do you really know about what really happens in the public, charter or private classrooms when you are not there?

NOT AS MUCH AS YOU THINK!

When was the last time most of the above people were actually in public school or any classrooms for more than a few minutes or hours and at best a day or two?

Then usually it was in a carefully selected and “prepared” classroom or school.   Most of these visits are what I classify as dog and pony shows and/or photo ops, especially when the “bigwigs” are involved. They get to see everyone on their best behavior, with everything all cleaned up.

These people don’t get to see what is really going on in that school or classroom that they spend a few minutes or an hour in – it is a totally artificial atmosphere, where everyone is on pins and needles and the “students” that are likely to be an issue, have it suggested to them or their parents the day before, that they might want to stay home that day or are taken to a different place during those V.I.P. visits. Woe be the teacher or school administrator that doesn’t have a neat as a pin classroom or “allows” misbehaving students during this visit – it will be “noted”.

After all we don’t want to embarrass ourselves when powerful or influential people visit a school, it would be wrong to actually show them the warts and the reality of how things are in our schools.I know that it is unreasonable for high profile leaders to actually be in one place for any amount of time, most of them rely on their staff for information on educational policy proposals.But I wonder how many of these staffers provide honest and accurate appraisals of what schools need in today’s world, not how it was when they were teaching. Do have a pie in the sky theory of how they think things should work or are they influenced by a certain dogma be it political, educational or corporate.

How often are the real needs of today’s students ignored in the interest of political talking points, yearning for the way they think it used to be, how it was in their school or someone with a particular agenda advising their political boss a certain way?Far too often it seems, in the political and corporate world of standards and standard assessments.
Who is this post directed at?Most of this post is directed at those staffers, consultants, and others who advise and influence the elected officials who vote on these laws, regulations and rules that affect education, but don’t have the background to make an informed decision without their staff’s or “others” input.In order for those staffers to provide pertinent information to the leadership, in my opinion they first must have experience in the areas they are advising people on, i.e. relevant educational experience in today’s world. If they don’t, how can they realistically provide accurate or pertinent advice on education to their bosses?

What would a staffing analysis reveal on how long it has been since:

  • Political staffers who’s job is Education policy;
  • Department of Education personnel at the Federal and State levels;
  • University/College professors and all the others who provide input to K-12 education policy;
  • Consultants
  • Corporate Advisors

actually taught in the K-12 classroom.

I believe that that data (we in a data driven educational model – right?) would be very enlightening to many of us who actually do care about education and give it more than lip service. This information might just show how out of touch many of those policy advisors are with what the real impact that their policies and proposals are having in the K-12 classrooms of today.

Today’s educational environment is not how it was when many advisors/consultants were last in the classroom 5-10 to even 20 years ago, there is a different demographic/cohort of students, home environment and tools available in and out of the classroom, which have changed significantly in that short time. Are their recommendations and advise based upon a different set of issues, data points or as a result of some “study” that was designed to provide a data point for further study or are they giving their advice based upon what is happening in today’s classroom.  I have a feeling that far too many are basing their advice on how things were and data that is questionable at best.
NOT A NEW IDEA, BUT A GOOD ONE
I would love to see a requirement that every other year Department of Education (Federal & State), University/College teacher preparation program professors, consultants, etc., be required to teach (not just observe or “study”) for at least two weeks in their education specialty in a so-called poorly performing K-12 school/classroom. This could be a win-win for the public servants/advisors/consultants who need current experience in the classroom and for the schools who need extra experienced help in many of their more difficult classrooms.  It might also open a few eyes to the reality of what public and other schools are becoming in our drive to be driven by data.This opportunity would be not just be them observing and making suggestions – which is quite easy to do and is not very experiential. It should be a practicum in teaching where they would do everything that is required of a teacher in today’s classroom for that period.

I can hear the howling now – “but we don’t have time for that”, “it would be beneath us”, etc. – howl away and then shut-up. In my opinion you need to have been in a classroom recently, to properly advise or teach people about our current educational system, not just some theory or pet idea that may or may not work in reality.While they are teaching, have the regular classroom teacher(s)/administrators observe and critique them in action and have those observations become part of their annual evaluation where they work. This would cause some hackles to rise wouldn’t it?
This would also be a not so gentle reminder to those advisors/staffers or professors of the unique difficulties or challenges and also the rewards of teaching in the K-12 classroom.  I don’t believe that a career bureaucrat or consultant has all the answers, just based only on data that has been collected or their visits to schools or classrooms (after all teaching motivated or at least semi-motivated adults is vastly difference than teaching student who have little to no choice anymore about being in school and what they are learning while there.
By now you know that I do not believe that a one or two day seminar for staff or administrators or a classroom observation/visit doesn’t cut it for finding out first hand what is happening in a school. I believe that you would find out so much more after that first week, your newness wears off,  the glitz is gone and the intimidation factor of “who” you are, isn’t as big a factor – you have become just another struggling teacher. A reality check so to speak.I do have a great deal of respect for the hard work, knowledge and dedication that many politicians, DOE staff (Federal & State) and preparatory program professors and educational consultants have. Most of you work very hard and believe you think you are doing the right things when you suggest or implement many of these changes.

However, if you do not have recent experience in the classroom, how do you know what you are proposing is the correct or right solution for all classrooms or students in today’s world?

Quite simply you don’t.

If you disagree in those back room meetings where the decisions are really made do you speak up or do you go along with what your boss wants and ensure that the statistics back up that position.  I wonder?Teachers and local Administrators all know that there are problems in the classroom and education in general. Most are working our butts off to try to fix them as best we can at the local levels. While at the same time, continue to teach our students the best that we can, given the limitations there are in time, money and personnel.However, in my opinion many of the regulations and laws and regulations have been passed recently or that “leadership” are thinking about passing are not and will not do what is expected in our classrooms – improve them.

They have become part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Your solutions are meant to satisfy the “big” picture, they are a macro view of education, from a centralized government perspective, where data and tracking have become more important than the individual students that they are supposed to represent. Trends and data points are different than individuals.

These trends and data points do not take into account the micro view at the school or classroom level and the difficulties that schools have in figuring out how to implement those required changes, so they cause the least amount of damage to our students. Those general standards or test results do not take into account the individual abilities/needs and motivations of student – they are simply data points and generalized/standardized expectations of what the “perfect” student should be able to do.
Do you think about the negative effects of those policy decisions and loose sleep over whether you are doing the right thing or are those issues dismissed as necessary to “school improvement” or reform.  Do you justify to yourself that you are doing the right things, but don’t try to think about what the negative impact is to those implementing your policies in the classrooms or the possible affect on the students that don’t or can’t meet your standards or assessment expectations in today’s classroom. Is the attitude you have of “Just Do it” and don’t bother me with unpleasant “details” that are actually student’s futures.Well out here we do think about how your decisions affect our students and schools every day and too damn many sleepless nights.  Those decisions you have championed affect us daily because we are attempting to implement the laws, rules and regulations, your policy makers have implemented and that you have championed, whether we agree with them or not. We don’t get to pick and choose what ones we will follow – we have to do them all in order to keep our jobs as teachers.

Have they made a difference?
Increased control of education at the Federal or State levels or Centralized control from my point of view has not made education any better in the classroom, where most K-12 education happens. State or Federal educational standards have not made our students any smarter, standardized testing has not made our students better students,. I wonder how many students will remember 10, 20, 30 years from now how they performed on some standardized test or that they achieved a certain Common Core Standard.What are you doing to make education a fun and memorable experience, instead of promoting drudgery and more and more assessment.

These educational policies may have sounded good initially,  had great intentions, but are they working? Have they actually made a difference in the students education? Are our students better prepared for their lives after they leave high school.

I don’t believe so and I haven’t seen that any of these standards or assessment reforms have made much of a difference in what our students actually learn or don’t learn.

They have simply taken funds away from the classroom or schools and put them in the hands of others, in the guise of accountability and making education “better”.  Unfortunately, none of these reforms have made education any better at the classroom level than it was 20 years ago, it simply provides data to “prove” how things aren’t improving. Very ironic isn’t it?

Instead of admitting that these policies have not and are not working, it has become much easier to blame teaching staffs and local administrators as being incompetent or worse – uncaring. After all the problem couldn’t be bad laws, rules, and regulations could it?  It couldn’t be that those who wrote or championed these “education reforms” for whatever the reason, would have to have to admit that their ideas didn’t work and should be changed.

That is very difficult for most people to do, after all “it should have worked, because I believed that it should have worked”.  “They” just didn’t implement or follow through correctly or they are incompetent, because my plan was supposed to work.

 

In order to make it look as though they are successful in these reforms efforts, how many times were the stats cooked, the bar lowered, so that it appeared that schools were meeting the artificial and arbitrary standards that had been set by bad laws. Which in turn made it look as though there was academic improvement, when it was really a mirage, to ensure that you looked good or that your agenda looks to be the correct one – too many times it seems from recent investigations.I didn’t mind trying new things when I was a teacher, but when laws, rules and regulations obviously are not working, then it is time to admit it and move on towards something that will or at least works better.
But that is the problem, no one wants to admit when they are wrong.
IT IS TIME TO MOVE ON
Everyone in education, government and the corporate world needs to stop posturing, grandstanding that they have all the right or correct answers and everyone else is wrong about the proper solutions, to help improve public education in America.
We all need to shut up, do more listening and start discussing openly and freely what actually works, in real classrooms. Not those pie in the sky schools, where all kids are motivated and avid learners at grade level, there are no behavioral issues, the home life is from Paradise Valley and there are not any Special Education students with Individual Education Plans, who we already know do not meet or fit the “standard” student expectations/standards before the next assessment phase begins.Policy makers and administrators need to do this while remembering to actually listen to those who are in the classrooms – today. Not just give them lip service and then ignore us as the “elephant in the room” who should be silent and do what we are told – even when it hurts our students.If you are going to pass laws, rules or regulations – include educators in the back rooms (where these decisions are really made), well before they get to public hearings, which I do not believe have any major impact on most legislation anyway.

I am a bit cynical when it comes to public hearings, which are artificial, are mostly for show and are a joke when it comes to changing policy – they are held to make those who disagree believe that their voice has been heard, by changing some minor facets of a piece of legislation, while the major parts of a bill seem to just keep flowing along. Also for some strange reason teachers usually can’t attend them most of the time, because they are scheduled for when schools are in session and we are teaching our students. Less discourse or disagreement in the record that way I guess.

Local Control?
For a long time before and when I first became a teacher, I was in favor of a National curriculum with students meeting certain standards in order to receive a high school diploma – however after almost 10 years in private and public school classrooms – now I am not. With everything that has happened in the last 10 years in education under NCLB and the standards movement, maybe it is time to return education control back to the local level.Was or is local control a panacea – no. There were places where education was great and there were places where education was horrible, but are things really all that much different in today’s educational world with more and more centralized control? It still seems as though there are pockets of excellence and educational horror shows, with most schools falling somewhere in between.

But under local control the school boards and administrators are closer to schools, the classrooms, often the individual student and know the local educational needs better than some bureaucrat in Washington or a state capitol.

With local control there is at least the opportunity for more pockets of excellence, instead of an overall mediocrity/malaise that we appear to be heading towards in our public schools.

Our present centralized systems seem more interested in accountability, test scores, rhetoric and finding blame, than actual progress in educating individual students, which in my opinion is the actual goal of education.
The reality is
educational and political leadership need to focus on what our individual students need in their classrooms.  Not what certain people and their personal agendas are, what corporations need or who gets the money (which I think is more of the issue than anyone wants to admit).
Those are the thoughts of someone who has taught in private and public schools and recently left the classroom for semi-retirement.  If you would like to contact me for further information, please use the comments below or the Contact Me form in the navigation bar.
Sorry this became so long, but the future of our students/children and grandchildren are at stake and if we continue to allow the current educational reforms to have a stranglehold on educational policies and discussion.  They are the ones that are going to suffer the results of these reforms, not those of us who already have our education.   There have to be more voices at the table than there are presently and a wider range of views beyond Standards, Assessment and the current misnomer of Accountability.
Education should be about the students in the classroom, is that what our present system is focused on?
Harold

2 thoughts on “With All Due Respect – Redone

  1. Great post Harold, definitely worth a repost. I totally agree that educators are the most qualified to make decisions affecting schools, and are never involved in the decision making process. I am working on a blog post now that addresses this same issue, thanks for your passion!

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  2. Thanks Bill – I didn't change the original premise, but changed the focus a little bit. Leaving educators out of the decision process in their own profession because others think they know best is a travesty. I look forward to reading your take on the issue, you come from the administrators perspective. Thanks again for commenting.Harold

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