Monday, February 22, 2010

I Don't Understand Some People's Thinking

I hadn't planned to do another blog but a couple of things had surfaced on the news and I need to clarify my head a bit. The first bit of news is that a popular middle school principal in southwest Washington is being fired at the end of this year because....test scores have not improved. The second bit of news is that Dallas (TX) plan on firing teachers whose classroom test scores do not improve by next year. Damn!

First a RANT then an analysis of the situation. Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury. I could go into any of the Dallas classrooms and improve the test one year. No sweat. But the kids would have learned very little and their mental growth will not have improved much. I can teach to the test but that is no education. And the Dallas superintendent of schools has a doctorate in education! Amazing. I suspect somehow there is some politics involved but I have no clue if that is true.

As for the principal being let go at the end of the year I feel sorry for the community. Middle school level. Test scores are the reason for the dismissal. I don't have any teacher friends in that school district so I can't call and say, "what's up?" The situation is up setting to the community (according to local news sources). Apparently drug usage is slightly down. Behavior problems are also slightly down. What I cannot find out is what the superintendent said to the principal and how long was he given to work on test scores. Does the principal have any power? How big are the classes? Did the school get any budget for innovating practices? Lots of things I'd like to know. But the situation bothers me.

It is a case of "let's get rid of the bad teachers" but no one will tell me what a bad teacher is. The Dallas superintendent said on the TV news that "everyone, including other teachers know who the poor teachers are." I wish he would be more decisive and tell us what everyone is suppose to know. I hate these situations. I wonder if money is involved? End of Rant.

Now an analysis. One of the tasks that a researcher does when addressing a problem is to list all the variables. So let's give that a whirl.

We'll start with the obvious--the teacher. Where was she or he trained? What sort of a teaching certificate? Is the teacher teaching the subject or class that is listed on the certificate? How many years teaching? Does this teacher have any assistance such as teaching assistant, librarian, music teacher, PE teacher, curriculum specialist? Any extra training? What is the age of the teacher?

Next, the environment. How many kids in the classroom OR how many classes per day? And of the latter, are they the same or different classes? How old is the school building? How old is the classroom? Is it wired for audiovisual equipment, computers? How hard is it to get audiovisual equipment to the room? Is there adequate heat or air conditioning? Blackboard, Whiteboard or Smartboard? How old are the textbooks? Is there enough textbooks for all students? Are desks nailed to the floor or can they be moved about? Is there a lunchroom or do the kids have to eat in the classroom? Is there a place where students can keep their backpacks or do they carry they around all day? How noisy are the hallways? Is there a library? Is there a computer lab(s)? Are there adequate playgrounds for elementary schools or gathering places for middle and secondary schools? Is the building/classroom up to standards for handicapped students (i.e. wheelchairs)?

Now we come to the students. How many have a mom/dad family? How many have a single parent? How many are in a foster home? How many live with grandparents? How many have a step-parent? How many of the students need breakfast or lunch? How far do they ride a bus to get to school? For certain parts of our country, how many kids are military dependents? How many of the children/young adults have been in the same school for over three years? How many of the students have a minority background? How many students speak a different language at home? How many siblings?

Then there is the community. How would describe the local community? City, suburban, rural, military, stable, quiet, gangs, urban poverty/rural poverty, good tax base, poor tax base, multiple families, single families? Are the schools run by a school board or a political base? What is the ratio of private (including religious schools) to public schools?

There are other variables one could throw into this pot. We might consider what the curriculum is and is it state mandated or locally controlled. I also sense that we could considered sports in some parts of this nation. Are they wining or loosing? There are many variables that influence what goes on in each and every classroom. Please explain to me how improving the correct choices with all the bubbles in a test sheet explains what the teacher (or principal) is doing. I feel for the teachers of Dallas. Were I teaching either a classroom or music and I heard about the new policy I would be already looking around for another place to teach, certainly not in this district. I remember reading some research on districts that went to merit pay and one of the findings was that immediately some of the top teachers leave for other districts. You loose what you want to keep.

There is another little area of research that perhaps we ought to consider. In my class we would discuss the terms, subjective and objective. In this blog I am quite often if not most of the time....subjective, i.e., it is my opinion. Objective is supposed to be not influenced by opinions--it is a truthful fact. But the problem with objective decisions is that you can make it so difficult that you get a false positive. What this means is that you got an answer but the data is skewed in your behalf. Therefore it is not truly objective....but just wrong data.

I could continue but my mind is tired. I just don't understand people's thinking at times.

To all those teachers who day after day continue to teach their charges, you have my sincere thanks. You and I know you're doing a good job. What you say? You're going to change your approach for the spring quarter and see if you can't get more of them motivated? Good thinking, friend. I wish you well.

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