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Teacher Common Sense takes on Education "Reform" Nonsense

The past decade we have seen drastic changes affecting our schools, and many of these changes defy what we know as teachers and parents to be in the best interests of our children. We have allowed technocrats to drive our schools with data. It is high time for teachers and parents and students to challenge the reform nonsense that holds sway.

EdReform nonsense:
Poverty is just an excuse. There is no reason students in poor schools should not perform at the highest levels. If they do not, it must be because the teachers have low expectations. The answer is to set arbitrary performance targets, and if the schools fail to meet them, fire the principal and/or staff, close the school down, or replace it with a charter school.

Teacher common sense:

Poverty matters. When our students' families are in financial trouble it makes a big difference in many ways. That does not mean they cannot learn, but it DOES mean we need to give them extra attention and support. Schools with large numbers of poor students need extra resources and smaller class sizes. They should NOT be punished if their test scores do not go up every year.

EdReform nonsense:
Class size does not matter. Recent speeches by Bill Gates and Arne Duncan have suggested larger class sizes are inevitable and are ok because they do not hurt test scores.

Teacher common sense:
Class size matters in many ways. Why is it that in private schools attended by the children of the wealthy, classes have half the number of students compared to those in public schools? Class size affects a teacher's ability to attend to the diversity of learners, and affects the quality of learning taking place. When students have greater needs, the class sizes should lower, not higher.

EdReform nonsense:
Test scores are the way we measure student learning. If we track test scores over several years, this gives us longitudinal data, and that is how we can tell how well teachers are teaching. Since this is what counts, we can maximize the best teaching by paying people more for better test scores, and we can tell which of the schools of education that produce teachers are doing the best job, and punish the schools that produce teachers that are less effective at raising scores.

Teacher common sense:
When we focus all our energy on this one set of measurements, we miss so many other crucial aspects of learning. Tracking scores over time can be helpful, but it is not a magic formula for success. Rewarding high scores and punishing low ones inevitably leads us to narrowing the curriculum to that which is tested. Some of our schools of education have proud traditions of looking critically at our educational system. They should not be forced to focus on test preparation.

EdReform nonsense:
Reform MUST be driven by external measures such as high stakes tests. If the tests are too clumsy, these deficiencies can be erased by making more elaborate tests, administered by computers, at greater frequencies. We must invest billions in new assessment systems tied to the new Common Core Standards. This will correct everything that was wrong with No Child Left Behind.

Teacher common sense:
Assessments are most useful and reliable when they are closely connected to classroom instruction. Teachers and students can learn best when this sort of assessment is honored. The most powerful reforms are driven by teachers given time and space to collaboratively investigate how their students are learning. This must be done in an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust. At a time when money is short, the last thing we need is to spend billions on new assessment systems.

EdReform nonsense:
Experience does not matter. A six week training course is enough to produce an intern who, equipped with a positive attitude and a toolkit of motivational techniques, can be as effective as a veteran teacher. Seniority protects the tired old veterans, who suck up too much of the school system's resources, without producing the higher test scores that would justify paying them more.

Teacher common sense:
Experience matters very much. Teachers form strong connections with their students and the school community over time, and their ability to teach develops in many dimensions over the years. And test scores are a very limited means of measuring what is happening in a classroom.

EdReform nonsense:
Tenure provides teachers with lifetime jobs, and it is next to impossible to get rid of the deadweight.

Teacher common sense:
Teachers do not have "jobs for life." We have due process. Teachers deserve the right, once they are past probationary status, to have a process by which they are evaluated, and if they are to be terminated, the administration should have to show just cause. This allows teachers to have some professional standing in the school, to speak up when they feel things aren't right.

EdReform nonsense:
Charter schools are deserving of public funds and support. They prove that a no-excuses mentality can yield results, even with impoverished students. For-profit schools can introduce great efficiencies into the education marketplace, showing the public sector how to do more with less.

Teacher common sense:
Actually, charters have not even been shown to have better test scores, on average, than regular public schools. So by the measure chosen by the reformers, they fail. And another thing. We value our public school system. It is controlled by a locally elected school board, not an appointed board of directors. Large amounts of public funds should not be diverted to privately controlled institutions. As we see in the health care industry, the private sector is most efficient at one thing - diverting public funds into their bank accounts. We value the great American common school, the crossroads of the community. We do not wish to see our schools continue to become more and more segregated and inequitable. We must reclaim the neighborhood school as a foundation of local democracy.

EdReform Nonsense:

The heart and soul of a school is in our passion for data. We must have ever more data so we can closely monitor student progress and the effectiveness of instruction. We should protect our data systems from any budget cuts and in fact must invest billions in the next few years for elaborate new assessment systems.

Teacher common sense:
The heart and soul of a school is our passion for children. If we took all the money we are investing in standards and testing, and instead invested it in giving time for teachers to work together, to collaborate and reflect on how students are learning, through processes such as Lesson Study and teacher research, we would be much better off.

What do you think? Is it time for a return to some common sense in our schools?

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