August 08, 2007

Let's Solve 'No Child Left Behind'

Teacher accountability is good. Creating an incentive for teachers to teach better is good. But, sacrificing recess, music and art to pass subjective tests is not. Any starting thoughts?


email said...

There are a lot more problems with "No Child Left Behind" than that. For example, kids with the type of learning disabilities that will NEVER allow them to be at grade level proficiency. Those special education teachers are penalized, even though many of them are some of the best, most caring teachers out there. Also, in many school districts, those kids attend only one of the schools, so that that school has disproportionately low scores. This is a policy that sounds a lot better than it works.

Eric Olsen said...

Ok, by solve, we can mean "scrap". But, how do we increase teacher accountability in a better way?

email said...

I have no idea. :) I think it will have to involve the teachers themselves at some level. Anonymous peer evaluations? Teachers determining whether the kids entering the grade they teach are actually ready to enter that grade, thus reflecting the performance in some way of the previous teacher? Kids with IEPs (gifted and/or learning disabled) being excluded from the testing results, because they unfairly skew results one way or the other?

As a special ed teacher I know put it, "When they can cure learning disabilities, then these kids will be proficient." She teaches some kids that can't even speak, yet they are expected to sit down and take these tests and test at grade level or higher, or the school won't get federal funds and the teacher is threatened with termination. And this is one of those teachers who is not only great at what she does, she also goes out of her way to make sure these kids have what they need. She has a disproportionate number of kids at or below the poverty level, abused, neglected and being observed by social services. When the kids have no food in the fridge, she gets them groceries; when they have no winter coat, she brings in the outgrown coats of her own kids. And she's constantly under the gun to make her students, many of whom will never be able to function without assistance, pass these test on a proficient level. This is the result of the "No Child Left Behind Act."

Education was left out of the U.S. Constitution, which left it to the discretion of state government. This act has gotten the federal government involved, and predictably, it turned the whole thing into a mess. I have 2 kids in school and 2 more will be there soon. The 2 that are there now spend the majority of their time practicing for the standardized tests that are given as a result of the act. This, of course, sacrifices getting an actual education. They can take multiple choice tests like pros, though, so I'm sure they'll be ready to take on the world when they graduate.

Eric Olsen said...

i'm curious to know if any special ed teacher has been penalized or fired because of those faulty rules. You would think there'd be an instant public outcry?

I concede all of your points except for, "This act has gotten the federal government involved, and predictably, it turned the whole thing into a mess."

American schools were already a mess before this act. And this act HAS raised national scores, however, yes, does that really mean that these kids are becoming critical thinkers?

How about the willing deunionization of public schools? Would that do anything? Motivate teachers to work for salaries, which would then be based on something other than tenure...i.e. ACTUAL job performance.

email said...

I don't think anyone has been fired yet. There's some deadline involved... 2010, 2012? At that point, the teachers whose kids aren't testing as proficient (which will include a lot, if not most, of special ed teachers) are supposed to be replaced.

True, the schools were already a mess, but I think the act has has added to the mess, rather than improved it. National scores may have improved, but only because kids are spending so much time being coached on how to take standardized tests.

Now, I do see where leaving education totally to the states is not fair. Some states are just poorer than others, and don't have the funds necessary to improve education. But these states are also the ones that test lowest, so this act is just perpetuating the problem. Federal money goes to the schools that perform well, which tend to be those in states that always performed well, and is taken from the schools that really need it.

What about giving every state federal money according to their student population and then allowing the states to distribute it at their discretion? That way the states can direct the money where it seems to be most needed. After a few years of this, test and see if student performance has improved.

Deunionization seems like a good idea. But I don't know enough about teachers' unions to really give an argument for or against.

Dewey said...

I think teacher accountability is built into the system. Did you graduate with a high GPA from an education program at reputable university? Did your mentors/professors give you glowing recommendations? Did you get top scores on all the tests that are the teacher equivalent of the GRE? Did you get excellent reports during student teaching? Do the principals at the schools you've worked for recommend you? Do you have the respect of the other members of the departments you've worked in? Did you earn any state "most influential educator" awards, nominated by your students? Have all your former department heads recommended you? Are all your yearly evaluations excellent? Do you teach an elective course that 95% of your students choose to pursue at a higher level though they know this means you will again be their teacher? Do parents write you thank you letters for the good job you do? Do parents trust you to escort their children traveling abroad? Does your department elect you to be their chair? All these are questions of accountability.

My answer to all those questions is yes, but when I moved states, my new state required me to start as a "level one" or beginning teacher, which meant that I had to take $600 worth of tests I had taken when I graduated from university in my former state (not to mention the travel costs and hotel costs to be where the tests were adminstered). I also had to start at the pay scale of a beginning teacher in spite of 12 years of experience. I also have to jump through hoops to proceed to level 2: hundreds of hours of trainings I already had years ago, and a "dossier" which is a giant document which took more time and effort to put together than my master's thesis. Now bureaucrats in the state will either approve or reject my dossier, and no matter how successful I am in my teaching, if this dossier is not approved, I will no longer be allowed to teach.

It's ridiculous and insulting. It's sad enough that teachers are so underpaid and not treated with the respect other professionals receive. But to disregard their experience and accomplishments and instead insist on time-wasting hoop jumping is worse than adding insult to injury -- it's taking away the time that our best teachers would rather be using on teaching and preparing lessons and grading. These reforms do such a disservice to our children because they beat down dedicated professionals until many of the best of these professionals abandon their chosen profession to work somewhere they can get more respect and more money -- like waitressing for tips, for example.

Not only that, but we are ignorantly overlooking the fine examples of successful school systems we can observe in other countries, and are instead forcing teachers all over the country to go through training to learn how to follow business models in a classroom setting. Yes, business models. Your children are PRODUCTS now.

This is why 50% of all teachers quit within the first 3 years, and 2/3 of them quit within the first 5 years. Deunionization would increase these already high numbers drastically, because the union is the only thing keeping teachers paid barely a living wage.

Some of us don't quit; some of us are fools and insist on following what we consider our calling in spite of the fact that we know we're beating our heads against the walls in frustration, being actively prevented from teaching children to the best of our abilities.

Eric Olsen said...


i think you proved how there is definitely accountability required in OBTAINING a job. But, once I have mine, what is my financial incentive to work hard?

email said...

I think there are many more good teachers out there than not. And I think Dewey is right in that there is built-in accountability due to the nature of the beast. But there are some teachers out there who are just not up to par, and they are difficult to weed out. So another problem with the NCLB (I think, but I'm starting to get confused) is that it assumes that all teachers are like those few bad ones and need these guidelines in order to teach. Which is absolutely insulting to the good ones.

If I think back to when I was a student, I had mostly exemplary teachers. But there were one or two who, frankly, didn't have a clue what they were talking about. They had no business teaching the subjects they were teaching. And the students openly wondered aloud how they had even managed to acquire their degree. Now that I see the hurdles teachers-in-training face, I really wonder. It's a royal pain-in-the-ass to become a teacher, and when you do, you can't move out of state or you have to start all over.

The high school I attended has now become a charter school. My understanding is that it has been very successful - student performance is up and the school is much more responsible in its spending practices (and still manages to get the extras it needs for educating the kids - lab equipment, technology improvements, etc., and of course, extracurricular fun stuff). The parents and teachers are running it as a non-profit organization. So while it does use some sort of business model (the school itself, I mean, not the teachers in the classrooms), since the folks in control (parents and teachers) are ones who really do care about the students, the students aren't treated so much like a product. The most important line in the charter itself (I think) is emphasized right in the description of the Board of Directors and its duties and states: The job and methodology of teaching is left to the control and decision-making of professional educators. In other words, let the teachers do their jobs! Perhaps it's a better alternative to privatizing schools, and it still leaves teaching unions intact to protect the interests of the teachers.

Also, I don't think financial incentive is what keeps teachers teaching. They get paid a pittance. If that is their motivation, they'll quit of their own accord. Take me for example. When my youngest goes to school in a few years, my plan is to take the handful of classes I need to complete my secondary education degree and teach high school math. Now, I already have a master's degree in mathematics and a bachelor's degree in computer science. My motivation has nothing whatsoever to do with finances. Yes, we need the income, but the income I could make with a job I could already get with my education and past job experience is much higher. My motivation is this - I enjoy teaching. I taught at the college level for a couple years as an adjunct professor and absolutely loved it. Not only that, but also my schedule will be the same as my kids' schedules.

That said, I think if the pay was better overall and there were opportunities to receive higher pay on an individual basis rather than the group basis that the union and school districts hammer out, the performance of SOME teachers might improve. I say "some" because the teachers I know are working their butts off for the kids they teach, and every one of them refers to them as "my kids," and I really think that they are doing the best they can and they are top-notch. (Run-on, I think, but hey, I'm not going to teach English!) But I'm sure there are some who didn't like teaching once they got into it and have used the union as a safety net to guarantee their pay and are just killing time until they can retire. For these teachers, and their students by extension, the improved financial incentive might change things.

Justin Elder said...

Gratz.. enough said

Eric Olsen said...

"gratz" is an example of a teacher who as JMC stated, "didn't like teaching once they got into it and have used the union as a safety net to guarantee their pay and are just killing time until they can retire."

That is why the system is broken. Not because there aren't GOOD teachers, but because the possibility for corruption is SO easy. And the inability for great teachers to be rewarded more than average teachers is not there.

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