George Lucas Educational Foundation

I'm mad as **** and I'm not going to take it anymore!

I'm mad as **** and I'm not going to take it anymore!

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I'm not usually one to rant and rave and complain without any solution or silver-cloud (at least usually not often, long or in public). But I've really had it with the test-centered mentality that education has become. My school has been inundated with mandates, scripted programing, strategies, regional visits -- all in the name of increasing test scores. (Which, by the way, DID increase last year!) We need posters on the wall, student work displayed and in folders, fidelity to scripts, speed in delivery - but not too fast that it leaves anyone behind - but not so slow that your class falls behind the others - but slow down so you teach to mastery - but be sure to do at least one lesson per day. Now, to top it off, they have just taken out Science and Social Studies so that we can incorporate more direct instructed, scripted Reading and Math. Yes ... that's right ... we now teach ONLY Reading and Math! And two-thirds of it is scripted! We're becoming "Stepford Teachers". Why do we need intelligent, educated, knowledgeable, experienced professionals when we can have cookie-cutter, mono-toned, amateurs who can read on cue? Silly me for investing all that money in a Master's degree and becoming National Board Certified. I could have saved thousands and just taken a speed-reading course instead. And to make it even worse, we seem to do nothing about it. Seriously, how many teachers are their in the United States? In your State, District, School? Why aren't we protesting? There are so many more of us who actually TEACH yet, it's the few at the top who are making all of the decisions. I know times are tough. I know the economy is bad. I know how difficult it is to stick your neck out and risk your own future. (Trust me, many people would be shocked that I'm posting this.) But isn't this worth fighting for? Aren't our children worth fighting for?

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David Wees's picture
David Wees
Formative Assessment Specialist for New Visions for Public Schools

That really sounds horrible Erika. I remember when I taught in NYC, and it was starting to become very similar back in 2002 to 2005. "Incorporate reading & writing into every subject" they called it. "Here are all of your lesson plans for the year" they said.

What I did in my school was ignore all of the mandates and focus on lessons which engaged my students and kept them motivated and interested. I rebelled against the system and ignored it, and I knew that I was walking a line.

However during the three years I taught in NYC, I was observed by my AP 6 times, my principal 3 times, and the NYED officials twice and the only negative feedback I got was from my very first assessment of my teaching in my first 6 weeks on the job. In other words, all of those people could see I wasn't following the script, but the results I was producing in terms of student engagement (at least after my horrific first year of teaching) were obviously effective.

If what you are doing is obviously working, there isn't much they can argue about.

Ms. Greer's picture
Ms. Greer
Technology Integrator Specialist for 1-12 Boarding School in Philadelphia

"We're becoming "Stepford Teachers". Why do we need intelligent, educated, knowledgeable, experienced professionals when we can have cookie-cutter, mono-toned, amateurs who can read on cue?"

Thank You! What a perfect way to describe what's going on in our schools. I started my teaching career in a classroom of 36 students that had a gifted cluster of 7 students. I'm so grateful for those 7 students... they gave me a legal defense for going off-script from district mandated curriculum for the remaining 29. When we eventually got our test scores back, the data was great. We were a success! But the truth is, I had barely cracked the required texts. Instead we published magazines, held socratic discussions, solved weekly multi-step problems, played games and learned to communicate with each other and collaborate in a small room with a huge group. I'm proud of my quiet rebellion. I could sleep at night. :)

I don't have a classroom anymore. I am a technology integrator now. This afternoon, I had to look at "applications" from students who want to participate in a special after-school SeaPerch robotics program. One of the questions on the application was, "We will be hosting vistors and traveling off-campus for this program. How will you positively represent our school community?" I can't tell you how sad I was to see that multiple students included the phrases, "I will only speak when spoken to" and "I will do what I'm told" in their answers. Yuck. This isn't good. :(

@Michal I think you are in good company when it comes to the feelings you expressed. I don't know if you have read the book "The Courage to Teach" or not, but I occasionally return to it for inspiration and ideas.

Michal's picture
Teacher and ActiveGrade Partner

I love all these stories of teachers doing what works instead of just following the game plan. You guys are awesome!

Ms Greer, I have read "Courage to Teach." Great book! I too return to it when I need. One of my favorite parts is his ideas about the subject-centered classroom (as opposed to the student or teacher-centered classroom). Thanks for the inspiring stories!

Thiago Fernandes's picture

I choose to hide my "credentials" education-wise [this is also my first post in this website's forum]. But the thing that matters is that I am extremely passionate about the Education system and it's progress. Mrs. Saunders' comment is the spark in a very necessary discussion in that topic, so I'd like to thank her.

Personally, I think that the way to a better Education, spear-headed by teachers and students, not job-market demands, is to question old ideas and challenge some very calcified mentalities about Education. Assessment is one of them. It may seem radical to even ask this, but is assessment necessary? If so, why? Is it efficient?

Most people dismiss these questions because a) it is too essential a concept on Education to be changed even if it is flawed and b) they assume it is an efficient method and students need to be measured and quantified. But the hypothesis I'm posing is "what if" assessment is more harmful than helpful? Especially certain types of assessment.

If I steered this discussion to a deeper place than it was intended to go, I apologize. However, I do feel this is one important group of questions often overlooked.

Michal's picture
Teacher and ActiveGrade Partner

Thiago, I think this is a worthwhile question to ask. I think there is a distinction to be made between the kind of assessments that, as you said, "measure and quantify, measure and quantify" as opposed to those that help a teacher determine where students are and how best to guide them to the next spot. The former is about defining and rating each student by a number and teaches them that that number is *the* goal. The latter can help both teachers and students see what has been understood and what is yet to be understood and therefor can facilitate future learning. The goal then is on the process, on the learning, and not on the grade.
Of course, the tricky part is creating assessments that accomplish the latter and not the former, which is especially difficult what with standards and mandates and all putting the focus on the former instead of the latter.
But I think it's doable as long as we, as individual teachers, are very intentional in the kinds of assessments we create and are willing to review and revise our plan along the way. Does anyone have good stories of revising an assessment process to be more beneficial?

The Mad Educator's picture
The Mad Educator
Let's stop talking about fixing public education and DO IT!!

My point precisely, which is why I'm mad!! And not to exacerbate and already tough situation, but who loses in this "race to the bottom"? Who REALLY loses when it comes to meeting state mandates and "chasing the dragon" of test scores and other labels?? THE KIDS!!! And we wonder why so many of them are dropping out or being "socially promoted" from grade to grade WITHOUT the prerequisite basic skills??? It's because many schools have stopped teaching and started to be "drones in the matrix" of the testing mandates and regimes. This madness has to stop, especially when our international counterparts are passing us by on ALL benchmarks when it comes to math and science! I could go on, but I will just tell you to stay strong and keep your head up and focused on students! Peace!

Sam's picture

"Stepford teachers"--wonderful metaphor.

There's a movement in the U.S. to strip teachers of their agency. Some of it is rooted in politics, some in economics, and some in the unthinking desperation to solve the education "problem."

Here's the thing though: teachers make terrific organizers. It's their job to educate and motivate. They're fully capable of creating change, and they do--many school success stories start with one or two people deciding that something has to change. Those seed individuals recruit colleagues, explore ways to improve the situation, build a case for the changes, sway the decision makers to their side, and follow-through on the implementation.

It's a lot of time and work, but the investment pays off in happier students AND teachers. After all, no one becomes a teacher to be a robot.

My question is "Does anyone have any good resource ideas for how to champion change at their school?" There have got to be resources out there that will help people manage the change process without risking their jobs.

Jon Moore's picture
Jon Moore
11th and 12th grade English teacher from Shepherd, Montana

[quote]As a Canadian teacher in North Vancouver I have been following recent proposed initiatives by President Obama to improve student learning. Standardized testing, in my opinion, is not the solution to improve student performance. There is definitely a place for this type of testing if a school or school district wishes to get a general overall picture of student performance and then use this data to implement new curriculum initiatives; however, standardized testing stifles student creativity. We need to prepare our students for the 21st century. That being said, student inquiry and project based learning will enable students to acquire the skills needed to ensure their academic success in this ever increasing competitive world.[/quote]

Blaming one President for the misinformation of bureaucrats is foolhardy.

hblock's picture
English 10 Teacher, CA High School Exit Exam ELA Teacher, News Production

Dear Ms. Erika Saunders:

I applaud you for your post.

I want to know why legislatures and federal law makers are not concerned about developing free-thinking critical thinkers! What is going on?

I have been on contract eight years in a southern California school district (an hour east of L.A.) and teaching (subbing and reading programs) since the fall of 2002.

In my graduate program in the fall of 2007, (University of Redlands) I had a professor of "Equity in Education" who explained that standardized testing was developed more than 100 years ago to separate and exclude the minority groups from the majority. While this infuriated me, I was unable to find substantial proof of this; however, this outraged me enough to see how standardized testing is, as you put it, "cookie-cutter, mono-toned, amateurs who can read on cue."

And, as statistics show, since No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in the U.S. has not proved 100 percent of students measured as "proficient" in nearly every single school, why aren't we vocal in demanding a change, as you put it?

Learning and success isn't measured in a test score, but in proving learning through tasks and problem-based scenarios. Why can't we have an assessment of learning through a test, a project, and a writing sample, for example?

Let's figure out why we don't have actual educators' input in law-makers' offices and have measurable and proven examples in the hands of legislatures before they impose and enact laws which affect our kids in the classroom.

Why can't we look at it from this perspective? There are so many flaws in the way it works now....

It is a shame that education is so reactionary. We, as educators, need to say that laws simply won't make an affect-there is much more to it than a simple, and flawed, law.

We need to have power back to the teachers to teach the important essentials to make the future of today.

You are not alone in your outrage. So many of us are.

Hang in there and do what is right-even if that means incorporating a little social studies and science in your math and English lessons!

Martin Richards's picture
Martin Richards
I train educators to use a coaching approach in their teaching practice

Kudos, Erica Sauders

Kudos, for pointing out that the Emperor has no clothes.

Scripted lessons? What a silly idea, unless you are making a film of course. But why ask so many teachers to follow the same script, with different students? What does that say about the people handing out the scripts?

And why didn't teachers say "NOOOOOO", and pass the scripts back to where they came from?

The bigger question is "What are you prepared to give up, in order to get what you want?". If it is right for you to take on this political discussion, then you may have to give up something in order to do that. Or there may be other channels, aside from Edutopia.

Many discussions on Edutopias website focus on "HOW TO DO A BETTER JOB", and less is said about "WHY ARE WE DOING THIS?"

So, thanks again Erica, for saying what needed to be said.
If you want to speak to a broader audience, Erica, contact me.

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