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25 October 2004: Review of Tenure (4 of 4)

And so, I must align myself with John Kerry on this issue. According to the AP article, he ďwants to make it easier for schools to act quickly against poor teachers, provided that educators are protected from baseless firings.Ē Isnít this exactly what we need? Why is it that the measure of a business is its product or its profit, but the measure of a teacher is her tenure? Though Iím still working on how exactly this should work (Iíd love to hear your experiences or suggestions), Iím pretty sure that teachers should be measured by their studentsí achievements. Like salespeople, writers, or even politicians, teachers should not get to keep their jobs without evidence of achievement. And why would they want to? More than bad teachers, I am appalled by bad teachers who donít care that theyíre bad! While I realize that these experiences I write about are probably unique to only the lowest performing districts, it seems an important point that finding something effective and fair in those places will inevitably be effective and fair everywhere else. Just like good teaching, good policy will serve everyone.

26 October 2004: The Schools Are Burning (1 of 6)

On July 17, 2004, the Toronto Star reported a school fire in Kumbakonam, India. Of the 30 teachers and 800 students who had been packed into huge study-hall style classrooms, the only deaths were students--about 90, including those who escaped, but died awaiting treatment for their burns. The principal was arrested for negligence leading to death, and a fire official reported that the teachers had been the first out of the building, and any students who had been rescued received help from local residents. School officials blamed recent cuts in government funding for promoting conditions of overcrowded classrooms and a lack of safety mechanisms.

In an unrelated story, on October 13, 2004, reported that 1,200 California schools are facing federal penalties (that means finiancial punishments) for failure to meet federally mandated test score improvement targets. These schools represent about 13% of the state's campuses, and are in addition to 500 schools already earmarked for take over by the state next fall. These schools are in danger of losing funding, administrators, and teachers because of their failure to meet the growth goals required by President Bush's No Child Left Behind educational reform.

27 October 2004: The Schools Are Burning (2 of 6)

My intention is not to belittle the tragic loss of life in India by comparing it to financial considerations for California public schools. I feel, however, that the analogies presented in these two situations are too great to be ignored.

While No Child Left Behind (NCLB) certainly seems like an idea that everyone, regardless of party affiliation, should be able to support, the incongruous results are shocking. When the results are closely examined, it is clear that this legislation is designed to punish low performing schools. The punishments, not ironically, will inevitably result in even lower performance from these schools. And the students? Are we to believe that it is an accident that the students most affected by this legislation are poor, immigrants, or students of color?

No Child Left Behind has set the scools in California on fire.

28 October 2004: The Schools Are Burning (3 of 6)

So, returning to the image of a two-story brick building with a burning roof and dying children trapped inside, what do we have to expect from California schools?

Like those in charge of the school in Kumbakonam, India, policy makers can be expected to start handing out blame. Blame ineffective teachers and administrators. Blame students for being poor, or coming from undereducated homes. Blame immigrants for not speaking English. These are the things that are preventing student achievement. As our current president insists, it is the "soft bigotry of low expectations," that prevents students from learning. High expectations, along with fewer resources for those most in need seems to be the answer to low student achievement, but it is certainly not the cause.

29 October 2004: The Schools Are Burning (4 of 6)

So, the policy makers, being the ones with access to the microphone, are clearly not responsible for the demise of California schools. Who should we look to next? Administrators.

I realize that I am incredibly critical of those who have chosen to manage public schools. However, I believe this to be an immeasurably difficult while vitally important position. Much like an overcrowded, under-funded school in India, NCLB legislation seems to have stripped public school administrators of the powers that would enable their effectiveness.

Teacher hiring practices, school materials and curricula, standardized tests and school accountability measures have all been created, changed, or affected by NCLB. The end result is most often a principal who spends their time stamping out sparks, knowing that the school is burning, but not having the authority to call the fire department.

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teaching quote of the day

Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Involve me and I understand.

- Chinese proverb

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