I've Worked at Schools on Both Sides Now: Rich and Poor
This week I received the following message from a teacher in the state of Washington. Her experience sheds light on the theories driving current education reforms.
The first twelve years of my career as a teacher were spent at Clear Creek Elementary School in Central Kitsap School District in Silverdale, Washington. Our school was right next to Bangor Submarine Base. Because most of our families were military, we had a very high mobility rate. Most of my students came from two-parent families, but often one or both parents were deployed. Working with students and families so affected by war was very challenging at times, but I loved what I accomplished with those students and I believe their families were grateful for the time, effort, and love I provided their children. Clear Creek had an incredibly dedicated teaching and support staff that went all out to provide students with a first rate education. During my last year at Clear Creek, I teamed with a regional state teacher of the year and I achieved my National Board Certification. Despite our school's efforts to improve, our students performed poorly on state tests. Based on those tests, one could assume that Clear Creek is an under performing school.
Last year, I moved to the Tri-Cities and got a job teaching at White Bluffs Elementary School in the Richland School District. In some respects my White Bluffs students are very similar to my Clear Creek students. They also come primarily from two-parent families, their parents are interested in their schooling, and they are eager learners. My White Bluffs students are also very different. They don't come to school crying because they are worried about their parents serving in Iraq, or Afghanistan. Their parents are doctors, dentists, and engineers. White Bluffs is located in the most affluent area of Richland, Washington and our students have the top test scores in our district. Even though I was new to White Bluffs last year, my students performed on par with the other 3rd grade classes on their MAP tests. Based on these scores, one could say that White Bluffs is a high performing school.
It is because of the two scenarios that I just outlined that I do not believe in tying teacher evaluation to test scores, or merit pay. I was the same teacher last year at White Bluffs that I was the year before at Clear Creek. Both schools even use many of the same curriculum materials, Houghton Mifflin reading, Lucy Calkins writing, and STC science. At White Bluffs and Clear Creek, my teaching partners and I also utilized many of the same teaching and learning strategies; Mosaic of Thought, guided reading, reader's/writer's workshop, district writing prompts, and hands on science. Both districts also have early release days each week for professional learning communities, professional development, educational literature studies, and curriculum planning and development. Both schools also have a clear system in place for identifying and working with students with special needs. At both schools my teaching partners and I communicated with parents on a regular basis, participated in school related activities outside of the workday and brought our students closer to their community through guest speakers and field trips. I worked just as hard at Clear Creek as I did White Bluffs, so why was I under performing at Clear Creek and high performing at White Bluffs? The only answer I can come up with is the fact that both schools serve two very different communities and the students who come to each school bring very different background experiences, beliefs, and concerns.
Again, I am the same teacher at White Bluffs that I was a Clear Creek. How I build relationships with my students and their families and teach has not changed. However, the scores that my students receive on their tests have. Lately a lot of people have placed the majority of the blame for low test scores on the teachers. These same people seem to believe that if we just fire the "bad" teachers and replace them with "good" teachers, all of our problems will be solved. My question is how do we decide who is a "good" teacher and who is a "bad" teacher? I certainly hope it is not test scores, because if that is the measure we use then I should have been fired years ago at Clear Creek and I would have never been able to demonstrate what a good teacher I am at White Bluffs.
3rd Grade Teacher
White Bluffs Elementary School
What do you think of Krista Calvin's experience? How can we make our policymakers more aware of this?