May 9, 2012

A school is not a factory

From the Syracuse Times Union

To the Editor:

This week is the annual celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week. Politicians of every stripe and school superintendents everywhere will write letters and make proclamations stating how much they value the service and dedication of teachers everywhere. All of these words are empty and merely paying lip service to something they do not believe. By their actions, these ''leaders'' have made it obvious that they neither appreciate, admire, respect nor comprehend the jobs of the people who spend their days with the nation's children. Nor do they understand the first thing about the children in those classrooms.

On every occasion possible, they talk about incompetent and ineffective teachers as if they are the norm instead of the rare exception. They create policies that tie teachers' hands, making it more and more difficult for them to be effective. They cut budgets, eliminate classroom positions, overload classrooms, remove supports, choose ineffective and downright useless instructional tools, set up barriers to providing academic assistance, and then very quickly stand up and point fingers at teachers, blaming them for every failure of American society, and washing their own hands of any blame.

They make children endure things they would never allow for themselves: nine hours of testing over two weeks, with no breaks during each session for children as young as 8; reading tests for English as a Second Language students who have only been in the United States for one year; math tests for those same ESL students, eligible as soon as they set foot in the school; testing for children with severe learning and physical challenges. And when the scores for these children are not at the top, it's the teachers' fault.

We are taught as teachers to value the individual, that each child learns at his/her own pace, that we should vary instruction and testing to accommodate all learning styles, that all children have differing talents and all are equally valuable. But our ''leaders'' think of children as parts on an assembly line. If we plug in A, and tighten screw B, all will be well, and every child will be a carbon copy of the other — on the same date all children of the same age will get the same score on the same test.

Well, folks, education is not a product, it's a process; a school is not a factory. Children are not identical machine parts, but complex human beings coming to school with a whole variety of baggage, both good and bad. So, stop blaming the teachers and setting up roadblocks to keep us from doing what needs to be done. And keep your empty words to yourself. Your actions have already shown us what you really think.


Capt America said...

This person fails to understand that the schools are intrinsically bad as institutions. Of course it's not his/her fault--as long as he/she does not continue to think that there is a way to make the schools work. Unfortunately, the author seems to treasure that delusion.

No institution should be allowed to both teach and test for record. It is and always was immoral, and it is insane to continue to allow schools to test their own students and expect a different or better result.

Testing should take place at the time and in the secure facility of the testee's choosing. The system could print out grades, credits, diagnostics and guidance on the spot for the use of teacher and student.

The teacher's job should be to help the kids, not to bore them to death with lectures. Classroom teaching should have been pretty much given up 500 years ago with the invention of printing. To expect to carry it on in the age of computers is absurd beyond belief.

Anonymous said...

We've gotten everything mixed up. We saw a man in a factory say, "I can guarantee that if you put piece A and piece B and piece C together according to this blueprint, you will get the following result, and I can guarantee it will happen every time." We saw that, and it seemed good.

And so we took it to our schools. "Put text A and kit B and qualified teacher C together according to this blueprint, and we can guarantee they will all read at level D at the end of one year." We tried that, and it was not good.

-- Eliot Wigginton, "Foxfire" teacher

Anonymous said...

Capt America writes: Testing should take place at the time and in the secure facility of the testee's choosing. The system could print out grades, credits, diagnostics and guidance on the spot for the use of teacher and student.

It sounds as though you advocate atomic testing. Apologies if that's not so. Granted atomic testing is what schools do, but that doesn't make it a good idea, just the accepted one. Real life is one of cooperation, though our rulers try to restrict it to cooperation in their service, not our own. We're supposed to always behave atomically on our own behalf.

Moreover it's not possible, nor desirable to try, to test any significant learning with a paper-and-pencil test.

P&p tests are satisfactory for testing rote memorisation, but rote memorisation is the least-important kind of learning since it doesn't require understanding, only regurgitation. Even low-order species are able to memorise.

Simulation games are potentially excellent test vehicles, but they suffer from being hard to design and build (months of creativity as opposed to minutes or hours of mechanical generation), and from being, well, games! The very idea that kids might enjoy being tested gets ignorant authoritarians highly upset, which would likely have consequences for the creative, highly-skilled teacher.

Anonymous said...

Testing only proves which children test well. Testing stacks the deck against children who don't test well for whatever reason. The general testing of all school children is a waste of money and time. Considering the amount of testing and the conditions under which this testing takes place and that children are expected to suffer it each year, standardized testing is a human rights abuse against children.

Anonymous said...

of some interest to the topic:

"Pearson, one of the giants of the for-profit industry that looms over public education, produces just about every product a student, teacher or school administrator in Texas might need. From textbooks to data management, professional development programs to testing systems, Pearson has it all—and all of it has a price. For statewide testing in Texas alone, the company holds a five-year contract worth nearly $500 million to create and administer exams."

Worth noting, too, Pearson is closely affiliated with ALEC--the picture starts to come into focus.