saving students from education reform

doing what we can to keep the test prep, teacher-hating, and standardized "education" out of our classrooms

Posts tagged reform

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Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools

This site is heartwarming and wonderful. ReThink is a partnership between middle school kids and organizations in New Orleans whose purpose is to make sure that kids have a voice in the restructuring of New Orleans schools.

After Hurricane Katrina, many students had to attend school elsewhere—and as they put it, “For the first time most of us saw school bathrooms with toilet paper and soap, libraries with books and hallways with lockers. It made us realize what good schools actually look like.”

Horrifying.

The work that ReThink has done looks wonderful—they’ve come up with a list of recommendations for improving schools (focused on restorative justice, local & fresh food, and renewable energy). They’ve also written some articles for local newspapers and created a report on school lunches in the area!

Check it out—well worth it!

Filed under education reform school lunch new orleans charter student voices restorative justice

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0 Plays

I’m a “This American Life” addict, but I can’t believe I never heard this episode from 2004: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/275/two-steps-back
It tells the story of a school in Chicago that was doing something right, until board policies messed it up—and although it’s a seven-year-old story, it’s not an unfamiliar one. It reveals the regenerative power of collaboration and consensus, as well as the destructive force of uniformity and mandates. And it suggests two important lessons: one, that change takes a while, and growth may not show in the course of a year; and two, that when something is working, we need to do everything we can to fight the forces that are trying to take it down.

I’m not asking you to listen if you have an hour. I’m telling you to listen to it. It’s that good. I guess I saw a little of our school in their story, and it made me think a lot differently about planning for next year.

Filed under Education reform teachers teaching teacher evaluation

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clearly, money can't buy brains.

In his op-ed piece in the Washington Post, Bill Gates advocates for better teacher evaluation—something that I have to agree with. The vague checklists I’ve seen in the past don’t help me to grow as a teacher. At best, they are nonthreatening. But then, Gates writes: …”we have to identify great teachers, find out what makes them so effective and transfer those skills to others so more students can enjoy top teachers and high achievement.”

Read that again, and imagine the business-school manual that came from.

This kind of logic is scary. Teaching—and learning—can be remarkably non-quantifiable, difficult to measure and even describle. And this idea that we can quanitfy great teaching and spread it around like a McDonald’s franchise is frightening. 

Even so, this isn’t as bad as the decidedly punitive turn that his logic takes. It’s not that far of a leap from measuring to seek and destroy. Gates compares teachers to “farmers, engineers, computer programmers, even athletes,” claiming that these professionals have made huge advances in their fields BECAUSE “they have clear indicators of excellence, their success depends on performance and they eagerly learn from the best.” See? THAT’S what’s been wrong with education: teachers don’t learn from each other, they don’t know what good teaching looks like, and they don’t have a fire lit under their butts.

Except, we do.

I know what good teaching looks like. Most teachers do; most have been blessed with good teachers who inspired them to follow in their career path. And it doesn’t take a genius to identify a bad teacher at work.

And most teachers DO have a fire under their butts. It may not be the same “performance outcome” that Gates has in mind (read: standardized tests), but we all care if our students leave as better people. We all do.

And we don’t learn from the best? Perhaps. We’ve been trained to teach in isolated classrooms, jealously guarding the secrets to our rising standardized test scores, haven’t we? But we also work at schools (and act as part of online networks) where collaboration is valued, where teachers learn from each other.

I wish Gates would have taken a more supportive tone. He does close his piece with a plea for a system that can “identify great teaching, reward it and help every teacher get better.” But his “help” for teachers is superficial, an afterthought to the punitive overtones of the previous paragraphs. Instead of “punish the bad teachers,” how about mentoring programs where experienced teachers can coach new ones?

(I also wish Gates would have not quoted a study funded by his own foundation. That lacks class.)

Filed under education reform teaching teachers bill gates washington post teacher evaluation