Archive for the ‘controversy’ Category

I’m on my school’s Literacy Committee, and most of the time I find the assignment to be highly enjoyable. Recently, though, we have been discussing something that has turned into a sensitive subject: requirements for reading.
You’d think that it would be an easy conversation–kids need to read, teachers should have kids read. Where we came to disagreement was exactly how teachers should have kids read. What ended up happening was a division into two camps:

Camp one–teachers should use Accelerated Reader (a reading program that comes with comprehension tests and “diagnostics” to tell kids where they are in their reading and what they “should” be reading). Teachers should require kids only to read books that fall within the program (there are many) and insure that each child is aware of their level (as diagnosed by program–the test has never been examined for actual accuracy).

Camp two–teachers should just encourage kids to read. period. full stop. There should be some sort of comprehension check, but the format for that check is at the discretion of the teacher.

The meeting definitely got tense. As a member of “camp two,” I fully understand the attraction of a program such as AR. It spits out results; it tells the kids what books to read; it tells the teachers if the kids are reading.

Of course, what it doesn’t do is have the teachers talk to the kids about reading. A test, requirement, comprehension check, they all keep kids reading for class–they don’t, of course, turn kids into lifetime readers.

We are set to have a (probably tenser) discussion at the next department meeting.

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I went to a “teacher store” today to pick up some new borders (mine had too many staple holes to survive another year), and they had an enormous sign on their door:

All teachers can post-date checks to October 2nd–please just talk to manager

This sign made me stop, and then nod, and then sigh. I stopped because it seemed so bizarre to me that any business would do this; I nodded because if I had needed more than a few borders, I might have needed to do this; I sighed because, once again, teacher salaries were being acknowledged as too low–but only to the teachers themselves. Now, if I’d seen a similar sign at Starbucks–then I would have been impressed.

Whenever someone asks me why I got into teaching, I usually reply with something about loving kids, or enjoying my subject, or just loving what I do, but when I’m in a particularly foul mood (for example, after I’ve just finished grading 180 essays, or when I had to put my car repairs on a payment plan) I answer “Oh, you know, for the money.” But teacher salaries should never be a joke. All discussions of “you only work nine months a year” aside (and, really, how is that true? Most teachers work all summer as well), teaching requires enormous amounts of energy, devotion, and education. For some reason, for all of the calls for greater teacher accountability, getting only “the best and the brightest,” and highly qualified educators the idea of teacher-salaries are constantly left out of the equation. How does it feel to be constantly questioned, examined, and derided and never compensated? Maybe the feeling of ineffectiveness that is brought on by having to struggle to meet ends meet in the classroom and at home is one of the reasons that teacher turnover is so high.

It is hard to describe the frustration that teachers experience because of a lack of resources, a lack of time, and a lack of support. One of the ways that society communicates support is through pay. Why, then, is teacher pay even a question? How could anyone argue that you could pay teachers so little and expect so much? Where does the disconnect between “you’re beyond valuable; you are responsible for so much, and we have to hold you to an high standard” and “well, we can’t afford to pay that much, you understand” occur? How are teachers to convince their students that learning is important when it is constantly demonstrated that education isn’t quite important enough to insure it gets what it needs?

How could it ever be okay that teachers have to post date checks to buy supplies they need for the school year? What message does that send about education?

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I read of this on weblogg-ed. It’s important that teachers/librarians/parents/students all be heard when issues like this come up:

ALAWON: American Library Association Washington Office Newsline
Volume 15, Number 73
July 25, 2006
In This Issue: URGENT ACTION ALERT: Call Representatives TODAY and ask them to oppose DOPA
URGENT Action Needed:
The Washington Office has learned that the House may try to expedite
passage of H.R. 5319, the Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA),
TOMORROW, July 26th.
PLEASE CALL YOUR REPRESENTATIVES TODAY and ask that they oppose HR 5319. Capitol Switchboard number is: 202-224-3121.
DOPA is sponsored by Rep. Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and supported by the
House Republican Suburban Caucus. It would require that, as a condition
of receiving E-Rate support, all schools and libraries block access to
social networking websites and chat rooms.
The bill raises a number of issues:

1) Local school districts and libraries should determine what
content should flow into schools and libraries. Federal mandate over
content control is very problematic.
2) Districts and libraries already have the power to block access to
social networking sites and chat rooms and a number of them have
already done so.
3) DOPA imposes yet another burden on schools and libraries
participating in the E-rate and may deter many from continuing to
4) This bill paints an unflattering and distorted view of the Internet
as a whole, serving to scare away parents, students, teachers and
librarians from making use of all its resources.
Last week, YALSA Executive Director Beth Yoke testified on DOPA
before the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet on
DOPA. You can read her testimony here

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I was distracted from Frank Smith’s Writing and the Writer (also excellent! go read!) by Education and the Cult of Efficiency. This book, published in the 1960’s, details the advent of the “business ideal” of teaching–and the struggle of public education to simultaneously be “efficient” and educational.

I enjoyed this book on a number of levels. I enjoy reading history, and I’m woefully lacking in my knowledge of the history of public education. This book focuses on the time period from 1900-1930 when the “cult of efficiency” and the glorification of business and monetary success first began and took hold of the public education system. Callahan does an excellent job of pointing out the positives of efficiency (breaking up monopolies, creating a public awareness of what business was doing) and detailing the gradual encroachment of business into public education.

The emphasis on “efficiency” affected schools deeply. Much of the direct effect came from the turnover in school boards–which went from self-termed “scholars and civil servants” to being filled more and more by local business leaders. At the direction of the school boards, studies were done to discover the most efficient way to “run” a school.

It must be noted (and Callahan does) that “running” a school efficiently has little (if anything) to do with educating well. In fact, the idea of efficiency was one that encouraged an explosion in class sizes that are still being felt today. What is more efficient than cutting down the number of teachers and allowing them to teach more students? In fact, one principal pointed out that “love of learning is now to be discouraged because it brings down efficiency.” These studies also encouraged efficient building–prompting schools to create cookie-cutter classrooms and losing out on a number of specialized rooms like woodshop, sewing, and cooking that require “non-standard” set-ups.

This book is incredibly relevant today. The echoes of “efficiency” cannot help but be felt in discussions of NCLB and “basic skills.” Nothing is ever truly the root of all evils, and NCLB is no different, it is merely today’s incarnation of yesterday’s demands for all schools to educate students for “the business of tomorrow.” In addition, this book made me question what I am teaching my own students. Do I emphasize success as something that can only be calculated monetarily? Am I doing my part to encourage inefficiency and exploration? In a time when teachers and students are feeling more and more like “cogs” in a machine, what can we do to move the focus from counting attendance to inspiring creativity?

It seems a daunting task.

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I was astounded to see a BBC news headline that read “Testing ‘should be intesified'”. The idea that the high-stakes testing and attitudes that have roiled the US (and engendered NCLB and other “skills” tests) have reached England is not a shocking one–after all, they have traditionally had the GCSE and A level tests. However, as these tests are used to score the schools rather than the teachers, they are not the same sort of *how good is jane at physics* tests that are familiar to those in the UK school system. The responsibility for the pass or fail of the tests has moved away from the students to the teachers. This shift cannot be over-emphasized. Where previously the tests were seen as a test of the students’ abilities, (however short-sighted and lacking that may be) they have now become tests of schools and whether or not they are doing the job.

This article struck me because it means that testing has now become something divorced from the students themselves. Although we continually talk about students needing to show basic skills and learn them before they graduate, the dialogue never includes the realization that tests teach absolutely nothing. Tests are not learning tools, they are assessment tools, and that means that each week spent on testing is a week not spent on learning. The discussion about whether these tests even assess what happens in the classroom aside, we should ask ourselves, as educators, if we can let anymore of our time be taken–anywhere. Clearly this is not a problem just in the UK, and the spin that tests somehow help learning must be addressed here in the US as well. The dialogue and language used in these discussions has been taken away from teachers and students, and it is too important to give up. To have a thoughtful discussion on testing, we must make sure we are not confusing it (or using it as a substitute for) learning.

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