Sunday, September 27, 2015

"Accountability" Might be the Match that Sparks a Revolution in Public Education

Three weeks ago I transferred to an impoverished school because my former school needed to lose another teacher.  Not enough students attend now to support a programming teacher.  We lost our Chinese teacher the month before.  So many teachers over 40 had been constructively dismissed by the administration in the year prior I took the opportunity to escape.  I moved to a new school and I am glad I did.

The administrative team here is supportive.  The teachers are forging a culture of camaraderie to do the improbable. The school offers art, dance, music and socio-emotional learning opportunities which make it a good place to be.  The students are good kids but there are still barriers in place due to the poverty of the population.

Parents are so busy trying get the complex needs of their families met that aren't able to give as many opportunities. If it is going to cost $8 to put everyone on the bus to go to the free day at the Frist. The free day on Oct 18 becomes a $16 day. That $16 may be needed to pay the light bill. The issues these children are facing are not the fault of their families or of the students. Poverty is a handicapping condition.

Stressed out students in poverty do not retain information as readily as their less stressed peers.  For example, I taught them the day before about a blue moon being an event where there are two full moons in a calendar month. The next day they asked me to tell them how the moon turns blue.  They remembered the term blue moon, which is good, but none of them remembered the concept.

They do not have the same baseline knowledge.  I gave them an article on the Pope coming to speak at a poor school in Harlem.  I thought they would be excited to hear about the papal visit by a pontiff who has compassion for kids living in similar situations.  I asked them to write any vocabulary they did not know on the board so we could go over it.  They wrote Pope, Catholic, and Cathedral. I doubt you could understand the text without these concepts.  I used it as a teaching moment.  I may create a humanities center for my classroom.

I gave a Math test using the questions formulated by Pearson because these questions are supposed to be very much like the questions my students will face on the upcoming TNReady, a thinly veiled Pearson exam.  I taught the ways I've always taught. I have high scores so my methods have demonstrated success.  My new students did not do well on this test.

I began to deconstruct why they performed poorly.  The test questions are high level word problems. If you cannot get the meaning out of the text and find the right algorithm, then you never get to show you know the Math.  We will attempt to train them to survive the test but we are told we must.  That's really not a great basis for a full, rich, broad education.

This lovely little school will live or die by these upcoming test scores.  Survival looks bleak with the form of testing we are facing.  I now see clearly how elitist education reforms have become.  For our high stress, low income, students who struggle with reading and vocabulary this test is unnecessarily burdensome and is limiting their education. We need a revolution. We need education that hones each child's unique giftedness instead of forces conformity to an unreasonable testing standard.

Sir Ken Robinson has written a book to highlight the path.  The link to Creative Schools is listed below.

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