It’s no secret that many of us who had high hopes that the Obama administration would start a meaningful conversation on re-envisioning education are feeling sorely disappointed these days. All of the hoopla over “The Race to the Top” as a catalyst of real “reform” is getting a bit much to take, and to be honest, I’m surprised that more educators aren’t voicing their displeasure at the idea of being paid based on the scores their students make on standardized tests (among other things.)
But I have to tell you, David Brooks’ column in the Times today literally sent a chill down my spine when I read the following paragraph:
The changes also will mean student performance will increasingly be a factor in how much teachers get paid and whether they keep their jobs. There is no consensus on exactly how to do this, but there is clear evidence that good teachers produce consistently better student test scores, and that teachers who do not need to be identified and counseled. Cracking the barrier that has been erected between student outcomes and teacher pay would be a huge gain.
Ok, there is just so much wrong with that sentiment that it’s hard to know where to start. How about the “there is no consensus on exactly how to do this” part. Why is that, do you think? Could it be that there might be, oh, I don’t know, a few dozen factors that impact a student’s performance on tests that have nothing to do with the teacher? And where exactly is this “barrier that has been erected between student outcomes and teacher pay”?
But if you’re a teacher and you read the part where teachers whose kids don’t get good test scores “need to be identified and counseled,” I can’t imagine how you could be feeling very good about your profession right now. Forget the relationships you build with those kids. Forget the love you give many of them that they may not be getting at home. Forget the way you try to help them navigate the complexity of their lives or their families or their relationships. Your kids don’t measure up on the test, you will be “identified” and “counseled.”
It’s a bit ironic that on the same page a day before, Thomas Friedman was espousing the idea that to fix the economy we have to fix the education system, and to fix the education system, we have to do more than focus on reading, writing and arithmetic. We also have to consider “entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity.” Not that Friedman isn’t at times as much asea about education as Brooks, but seriously, is there a test for that? ‘Cause if there isn’t, and I’m a teacher trying to win the “race to the top,” how am I supposed to get my raise?
Is it me, or are we just sinking deeper into this dark, confined educational pit where every national conversation about “reform” lacks the “creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship” that we’re supposed to be teaching to and modeling for our kids?
Heather Mason says
It’s not just you. More and more I feel like my job isn’t about teaching, it’s about data input. It is possible to teach kids to do well on THE TEST without actually teaching them to be good readers or writers in a way that benefits them as students, citizens or individuls. The more we push testing as the only way to measure teachers is going to make more teachers push the test on kids rather than real learning.
The other side of this is the students. It is insulting to our kids to treat them like they are only a number, a data point. Our students have passions, struggles, concerns and questions that can’t be answered by bubbling in A or writing neatly in a small box.
Koreen Hammel says
I agree that it seems our job is so focused on data and not the students. The students feel like a number and we treat them that way. I teach technology education and that consists of Creativity, Innovation and working as individuals and not a test score. I feel that we need to go back to how things were. We taught students how to survive and how to be successful and not how to pass just to get by.
Diane Thorson says
While I am not a teacher, I feel complelled to comment on this blog of education and the direction that we seem to be heading. It feels like we are straddling the fence where we can not fully see the new location.
I will use an analogy to express my excitement and fear. Education today feels like a spaceship leaving the earth for a distant planet. The challenges of leaving the earth’s gravitational pull and the stresses on the students, teachers, and parents causes us to second guess our decision and journey. We start with: Why am I doing this? What’s wrong with my life here on Earth? What benefit will I gain by leaving this life and pursuing life somewhere else that I perceive to be more valuable.
While this idea of impeding excitement, allows us to focus on the journey, I can not help to wonder about the scientists that have calculated our path. What do they gain? What if their calcuation was wrong, and we miss our destination? Can they get us back to Earth?
I think we need to understand what we are measuring? Why are test scores the only measure that teachers are graded on, when this might not be a valuable indicator anymore….
Anna Scott says
That was fantastic! The hole is getting deeper, because the folks who are digging it think that they made their great achievements because of testing, wrote memorization and things like the SRA boxes (i think that’s it, you know, the huge color-coded card files from the 70s that taught us everything from Social Studies to Math), when the reality is folks in their 40s and 50s had access to gym, long recess, Home Economics (in some cases); running the school store; chorus and other arts; “shop,”; real hot lunches cooked by real people who really talked to you about your food choices; extra-curricular activities that Amy Carter suggested (!); an actual summer break filled with wonder and self-led exploration or at least a good camp in the woods; WGBH-produced public television series like ZOOM, 3-2-1 Contact, NOVA, and, most importantly; Walter Cronkite; parents not too exhausted by the end of the day to talk to us (at least those of us of the rising middle class); intergenerational social events…in effect, we were constantly in learning environments. School was not the be all end all of our education. When these folks look back at their “education,” they neglect to account for the impact of a culture of learning. Perhaps this is on the rise once again, but it has fallen so low, that it is easy to force schools and educators into picking up all the slack. We each must invest the time and energy in making everyday and moment a learning experience, and when we can, a delightful and fun one at that.
John Pederson says
“Race to the Top” is the new “No Child Left Behind”.
I swear it’s the same marketing genius leftover from the Bush administration. Whomever comes up with these things gets paid $100,000 a year to come out with 1 meme every 8 years.
It’s actually beautiful. There’s no way to be against it? Why would you ever leave children behind? I’m for this! Why would you ever race to the bottom? I’m for this?
We’ve all been punked. Again.
Will Richardson says
Language is everything, you socialist. ;0)
Simply put. So true!
Karen Szymusiak says
Having attended an entire day of district data training today, your post is yet another reminder of how out of control things have become. I worry that we are sinking and there is nothing to hold onto.
I have always thought that what we believe about children, learning and teaching should guide us. But many decisions are being made for us. We have to hang onto the opportunities to build strong relationships with our students. We have to continue the things we can’t easily measure. That’s where real learning happens.
Terry Kaminski says
Amen Will !!! More and More people just do not get it !!!
Don’t give me more money, give me more prep time!!! If I taught 3 hours per day and had 3 hours per day to prepare my courses, attend webinars, read the latest research, plan new innovative, engaging and creative lessons I could really do a bang up job.
Teachers often feel like hamsters on a wheel. We are running like hell just trying to keep up.
If you give us all more time it would go along way to helping change the face of education. Teachers need time to be creative and innovative. We need time to team plan with our colleagues.
Education is on a very slippery slope right now. I see so much potential for really good things to happen. Will they happen? Only time will tell.
Mercy, and Amen. You have spoken the truth of my world with at-risk kids. Keep being my voice while I plan and grade work from 7 classes a day in 30 minutes of prep time (not including the 3 unpaid hours before/ after school). This is truth. Will someone in power unwrap their theories and sit in my shoes?
Was it on this blog I read that US teachers spend the most time in front of kids in schools? Us and Mexico from what I remember.
Anyway, I’m probably counter to the group here in that I feel good test scores are a necessary but not sufficient indicator of good teaching. I would argue that good teachers have kids who show a lot of improvement (value-added scores) on all those tests we give at the end of the year but I would also fully agree that there are a lot of bad teachers who have good scores too.
The converse I haven’t found to be true. I know quite a few good teachers who score very well and very average on our CST (California) tests but I can’t name one good teacher who has kids that bomb.
Will Richardson says
It’s not that I don’t think we need some formative assessments that provide worthwhile feedback on what our kids understand. It’s the high stakes part of this which, with this new push, is being made even more high stakes, right? And I would agree that a good test score is a good thing, as long as the test is a valuable measure of what a child can do, not so much simply what he or she knows. That’s the problem, right now. We teach what we assess, and we don’t assess the important stuff because it’s perceived as being too hard.
Jenny Hogg says
That comment sends a chill down my spine as well. It feels that the finger is being pointed back at the teachers like we are not doing our jobs. I’m afraid that incentives for teachers based on student performance will lead to some pretty shady things. I think that assessments can be an indicator of teacher performance. However, as teachers, all we can do is sow the seeds in the students and pray that something will grow. A lot of the growing requires ownership and initiative from the students, which we know is not always there. Thanks for bringing this information to our attention. I hope that it will be resolved in some other way.
Ric Murry says
Great post, and since your audience is so large, I thank you for stating the obvious that educators want to now sweep away.
I’ve wondered the same thing for several years; why can’t teachers realize that they are being judged not on their merits, but the merits of their students. It is only a matter of time when students ban together to intentionally do poorly on a test to see if a teacher will actually get fired.
Teachers, in general, are not independent thinkers (sadly); that’s why they aren’t too concerned about the testing issue.
On the other hand, leading thinkers in education have the problem that they believe (truly believe) that politicians cares about education. Forget conservative/liberal/progressive and republican/democrat. It doesn’t matter.
Leading educational thinkers (not the ones in politics) are not using their critical thinking skills when it comes to presidential campaigning.
As one Vietnam vet friend of mine says, “Things are never so bad…that they can’t get worse.” He says it as a joke but with every joke there is a hint of truth that makes it humorous.
John Pederson – you have it right. Many were punk’d again. The sad thing is that is what the plan was, is, and will continue to be, as long as students are data and not children.
I gave my 7th grade Social Studies class a term they must know this year – oligarchy – “the rule of a few” Here’s an example I gave them to see which government system they would match it with – (White House families since I have voted):
1980 – G. Bush (vice president)
1984 – G. Bush (vice president)
1988 – G. Bush (president)
1992 – B. Clinton (president)
1996 – B. Clinton (president)
2000 – G.W. Bush (president)
2004 – G.W. Bush (president)
2008 – B. Obama (president) but chose H. Clinton to one of the most powerful positions of administration as Sec. of State.
This is the practice of oligarchy, and the sadness is that the American voter is responsible for this, which perhaps started in 1960 with the Kennedy family as the celebrity political family. [The beginnings of the “celebrident” – hmm, I think I may trademark that word]. A simple example of why we need to begin realizing that math and reading are not the most important subjects.
I have nothing for or against these families, I really don’t. They simply noticed an opportunity provided in a capitalist society; like all good entrepreneurs. It is not their fault or ability for a shift from a republic to an oligarchy to occur. The American citizen, so far, gets what it deserves when they vote – and they are voting as if they prefer an oligarchical society for over 30 years.
The sneakiness of oligarchies is that after a generation or two of examples of “name recognition” and “political branding” as the basis for election, the next step is the belief among the leaders that they can bypass the wishes of the populace.
Obama, one without true name recognition during the campaigning, was seen as a break from oligarchical tendencies of the modern USA (either consciously or subconsciously). I think that is why everyone thought “change” was coming.
In cases where oligarchies developed, education became indoctrination, or worse, the restriction on who can be educated. So what is coming?
So perhaps “be careful what you wish for” becomes more relevant and important for us to understand.
Boyd Logan says
Wow. You are so dead on and in sync with the thoughts that have been buzzing through my head in the last few weeks. I highly recommend that you check out a book called Catching Up or Leading the Way by Yong Zhao. I recently reviewed the book on my blog, but it does a great job of showing how many of the baseline assumptions (mainly that we need to focus so much on math, science, and reading and compete in test scores with China and India) of the Race to the Top movement are faulty.
Ed Allen says
Will, like you and so many here, I am so disappointed n the President. There is no positive change coming out of Washington. As someone who works in a private school, which faces many challenges, particularly in these economic times, I am happy that NCLB or whatever they want to call it does not impact us. at least directly. It saddens me to think of what my colleagues who bring their love of teaching and learning to their public school are being treated with such disregard, as are their students.
Jenn Spiess says
As a teacher in an inner city school, I can promise you, I will leave my current position and find another in an “easier” school or leave teaching all together if my compensation is based on my student’s performance. This will break my heart, but I will not be degraded or have compensation withheld from me because my students refuse to do homework, or even try, despite the relationship I’ve built with them.
It has been proven to me time and again that no matter how engaging I am, how may relationships I build, how much technology I incorporate, how many “real-life” applications I show my students, I cannot go home with them and help them get their homework done well (and back to me) and get to bed at a reasonable time. Why is it then that this type of compensation structure, even as just one factor, seems remotely reasonable?
I arrive at school everyday armed with the patience to teach my students my content as well as appropriate behavior. I am treated by some students with disrespect everyday, despite my best tireless efforts to show them a gentler, happier path to success.
I do not believe that I am alone in my thoughts on my professional future. Inner city schools will loose many of their faculty, the good and bad.
Laura Deisley says
When I read your tweet on Friday, I immediately went to see what Brooks had to say. Unfortunately, no one is willing to get out the “wedge and the magnet” (quotation from a college level academic dean) and disrupt education. Sure, there is disruption from home-schooling, certain unique schools (public and private), but certainly nothing on a broad scale. Big stakeholders, namely the American public, are being duped into believing that mastering these content-based tests is going to make all the difference. Until public opinion can be swayed to believe otherwise (and I think it’s going to take a cold, hard reality of drastic drop in quality of living vis a vis other countries) I don’t think we’ll see any universal change in our educational system that appropriately addresses what our students can “do” with what they “know.”
Steven Barber says
The sadly TRAGIC IRONY is that many administrators & politicians have become so obsessed with standardized tests that society is becoming more & more blind to the fact that we live in a society rich with information & yet poor in transcendent thought! One where rote information is too highly valued at the same time the truly priceless nature of thought + intellectual growth has been short-changed!
Keith Nemlich says
Politicians have grabbed standards and the “dream” of national standards like a dog to a bone. On the surface, it is difficult to speak out against such goals. Of course, we know that the surface ultra-thin. NCLB forced educators to legitimize standardize testing and now we must take it out of the equation. As someone who participated in the writing of our state’s grade level expectations and the initial test for several New England states, the subversion of the original intent of these tools is terribly disappointing. I should have known better….. as soon as I saw a line provided on the tests for a student’s name. It will be up to the leading educational organizations and their membership in the country to take all of this off the table. In other words, us!
Ted I says
He told us he was in favor of merit pay before the election.
I totally agree with your comments. The conversations on merit pay vs. comments like Thomas Friedman’s are just so…they make my head hurt. No Child Left Behind with, ironically, its punitive course is so at odds with a collaborative classroom environment that develops the qualities that Thomas Friedman discusses.
But which direction is more persuasive for schools? In a school that is not meeting the targets required by law for AYP, what is it that you are going to do more of? You are going to keep hammering away at trying to meet those impossible AYP targets — because there are consequences. No one likes pain. So, schools try to avoid the pain of those consequences. And it is going to get worse as more and more schools fail. In the meantime, since we are trying to meet the targets for AYP, we are neglecting — or doing far less of the types of activities — projects that require deep thinking, questioning, collaboration, and using technology that requires students to create in more sophisticated ways — that will develop the problem solvers and creative thinkers that Thomas Friedman mentions.
And then the education process receives another injection of the same type of thinking that is already not working with No Child Left Behind — merit pay. It amazes me that the opinion — due to the data, of course — seems to be that the classroom teacher makes or breaks students all by himself/herself. In good schools, classroom teachers cannot do what they do well without a whole host of supports — from cafeteria services, to paras/tutors, to maintenance, to library/technology, to administrative support, to guidance and social work. How do those supports figure into the merit pay scheme??
Again, we are trying to improve education by creating divisions rather than by banding together for the sake of students. I just don’t see how out of a culture of division you can create a culture of collaborative thinkers and problem solvers.
Diane Saienni Albanese says
Your comments are right on. Look at the focus that is continuing with the Race To The Top initiative. More emphasis on a single test and then even more high stakes for the students and the teachers, as if nothing else matters. There needs to be a revolution right now to take back the schools and place them in the hands of trained, caring professionals. Reduce class sizes, allow for innovation and creativity and evaluate children on more than one measure!
I am amazed at the lack of respect for our president of the United States. I believe people were waiting for the ink to dry to set out to destroy his credibility. Does it even matter that he inheritied the worst mess in modern history? Let’s try to respect our president, if we do other countries will too!
Chris Miraglia says
I am also disturbed about the discussion about the relationship of student performance with teacher performance. Apparently, the thought is that with pay being tied to student performance, better students will be produced. I guess that teachers will then not considering teaching to the test, as if they already don’t do that in some places.
Perhaps all those associated with educational reform should readYong Zhao’s, recent book Catching Up or Leading the Way, which makes the point that America is falling in the trap of comparing our country with China and others. Moreover, the testing movement that our nation is currently embarking on is the exact opposite path many of our competitors are focused on. These countries have realized that standardization and over-testing only leads to standardized thinking and decreased creativity. The book provides an interesting look to the future of education in our country.
Will, everyone else already said what I would want to say too! You do know how to create a “hot button” for response. Perhaps you should lead this topic into a major Survey Monkey activity and morph this passion into “data” to send to the “powers that be”!
I must agree with you, Mr. Richardson, when you state the following:
“But if youâ€™re a teacher and you read the part where teachers whose kids donâ€™t get good test scores â€œneed to be identified and counseled,â€ I canâ€™t imagine how you could be feeling very good about your profession right now. Forget the relationships you build with those kids. Forget the love you give many of them that they may not be getting at home. Forget the way you try to help them navigate the complexity of their lives or their families or their relationships.”
A truly scary thought! Not to mention that, in the school where I teach, classes are homogeneously grouped. I was given the “lowest” group of students (according to their test scores) because the principal understood my effectiveness. Will my students bridge the gap of their previous test scores to achieve AYP? That depends on so many factors out of my control. What about teachers who have special education or ELL students pushed into the classroom? Should they not be paid as effective teachers?
I apprecaite you putting this notion into perspective for the public. Your book does the same with implementing technology into the classroom.
Extremely sad and frustrating to watch. However, in the end we do what we do as best we can, and if that isn’t good then I guess it’s time to move on. I believe there are still enough people with the common sense to see the fallacy in such an endeavor, and prevent it from becoming a reality, but I’ve been proven wrong before..;)
I am a special education teacher. I have high school students who struggle with severe learning disabilities and communication impairments. How will I be judged based on their test scores? Will my job be in jeopardy because some do not score “Proficient” on the High School Proficiency Assessment? I look for growth in my students. I feel that is more important than reaching some number that determines their proficiency in a subject. But is that enough as far as the politicians and my Superintendent are concerned?
In the past year, my school district has increasingly relied on data-driven decision making. We analyze test scores to see in which specific skills they are weakest. We look at the students who missed scoring “proficient” by less than five points. We develop plans to try to help these students “get over the hump” on the next test. We are looking at our courses and have to prove what we are doing is working. It’s all about the numbers. This disturbs me. Don’t our students, our children, deserve to be treated better than a number?
This article is startling. I currently work at an inner city school in Detroit and would be bankrupt if my salary was dependent on the achievement of the students. I spend a good portion of the day writing up anywhere between 5-10 detention referrals, which limits instruction. Additionally, I have made in excess of 200 phone calls this school year and still have half the students failing to turn in homework. What a policy like this will do is force good teachers to leave their jobs with more challenging students for financial reasons. Do you agree?
In my opinion, the current problem we are facing in education is that teachers are overworked and do not have time to make engaging lessons for our 21st century learners. It is nearly impossible to incorporate YouTube, myspace, podcast, PowerPoint enough with so many other duties. I am learning a plethora of educational technologies to better my students, and attempting to find ways in which to efficiently implement them. Does anyone have any suggestions of technologies that I could incorporate rather easily?
Anna Scott says
I don’t know if it will be easy, but you should try using SMS, ie, cell phones. Cell phones can be disruptive, but they are in fact hand held computers. Rather than try to use rich media, go for the rudimentary and work assignments like game shows. You can get a shortcode and put up “quizzes” that students can respond to in real time rather than send home home work. This would likely get their interest up to do more during class time.
The reason why this is not easy has to do with whether or not the student’s phone allows text messaging, if they even have one, of the parents are okay with you having their number, if your administrators will not freak out.
I teach college, so I can get away with a certain level of ‘innovating.’ Here is the company I used to create a costume that was also a communication device for an interactive piece on water shortage: http://www.textmarks.com/ I think now they charge or drop ads into the text, but they may work with you since you are an educator.
The other service I’ve used is FriendFeed, it is like a stripped-down wiki in many ways. My class (all frosh) preferred it to Twitter. We did group research assignments and took quizzes through FriendFeed. Requires access to a desktop/laptop, or a higher-end cell phone with a data subscription.
You can also have them make micro-documentaries using their onboard video cameras on their cell phones–again, those are the higher end ones. Those can be sent directly to various online services. They also make photo essays with those cameras and place them in a Flickr feed that you would set up, then tag each picture later in class as pre-writing.
Yes, with all the beeping and collaborative work, the classroom gets a bit chaotic, but the quiet types thrive because they can text you or send you a backchannel message through FriendFeed which you can then verbally share with the room and the “attentionally challenged” shine because they really can follow the ‘spores’ of ideas, pulling up videos/links/articles/pictures that the more linearly focused student would not even bother to click. Those students by the way end up loosening up, realizing that teachers are everywhere, not just in the front of the class.
a colleague of mine has designed a system for SMS instruction, but it is not widely available yet. get in touch with her! She is looking for test sites in the US: http://texterritory.com/
Liz Priebe says
I echo the “this article was startling” comment…how would you calculate the pay for a teacher of students with significant disabilities? The alternative assessments would be a terrible yardstick of their progress, and by definition, a student with a cognitive delay would not be expected to make a year’s progress in a year’s time. I don’t mind being held to a high standard, but kids are not a clear cut, cookie-cutter population any more than adults are. I don’t want to be judged (or paid) according to a standard that isn’t appropriate to the kids and the situations I teach in.
Hripsime M. says
I don’t know what to say that hasn’t already been said, but it’s almost discouraging to read that teacher performance will be judged almost solely on test scores. With so many changes already taken place in education and educational reform, is higher pay really going to be the incentive for teachers to focus on test scores?
It has always been a low-paying job that educators have said they enjoy doing because making a difference is important. How is prepping students for tests considered making a difference? Teachers don’t just strive to teach what’s in the textbooks, but should also (hopefully) strive to teach students to think outside of the box, to analyze, to question and to determine.
Deb B says
If you had listened during the campaign Obama told you what he believed.
Our district is finally asking good questions about the assessments and the data we have collected. It is not being used to inform instruction. We are also asking questions about how the data connects to each other and which are valid measurements of what children know.
KV said it best, “So it goes…