WHO’S BASHING TEACHERS AND PUBLIC SCHOOLS,
WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?
In this article, Stan Karp argues that teachers and public schools are often misjudged by parents, the community and the media. Karp believes that “we need to give them more homework because very few of them know what they are talking about.” They are not aware of all of the facts that pertain to the achievement gaps and the failing education system.
Unfortunately test scores have been used to label schools as failures without providing the resources and strategies needed to eliminate the gaps. Before teachers and schools are judged based on test scores there are many factors that need to be taken into account. Critics need to be aware of the roots to the problem.
Not every school district is the same. Where I work in Providence, there are many children that are English language learners, do not have a lot of parent support and come from low income families. I have been exposed to children that live in shelters, on the street and in homes where there is no food to eat or a bed to sleep in. Not all children come from environments like this, but many do. I have also worked in Smithfield, RI. A majority of the children that I taught in Smithfield came from middle to upper-class neighborhoods, who had a pleasant home environment with plenty of food and a safe place to live. As Stan Karp mentioned in his speech, it is not fair to judge teachers based on test scores, when there are so many other factors that affect a child's performance. The underlying issues that are hindering student performance in standardized testing, such as language, race, and poverty must be addressed in order to improve the education system.
Karp also argues that “test based teacher evaluation and compensation systems have the potential to seriously damage the teaching system.” He gives the example of Central Falls High School. The entire staff was fired due to low test scores. They said it was a “courageous” act that was “right for the kids.” This was not a courageous act. As mentioned by Karp, “It is an example of how the federal education policy has gone off the rails.” “Neither the President nor his Education Secretary mentioned that the school was the only high school in the poorest city in the state. Or that 65% of the students were ELL learners or that parents, students and alumni loudly protested that plans to fire the whole staff.” The sole justification for firing the teachers was based on the low percentage of students who passed the state math test. Karp feels that this was a wrongful attack on teachers. He feels that “Unless we change direction, the combined impact of these proposals will do for public schooling what market reform has done for housing, health care and the economy: produce fabulous profits for a few and unequal access & outcomes for the many.”
Karp discusses that “a deepening corporate/foundation/political alliance is using this same test-based accountability to drill down further into the fabric of public education to close schools, transform the teaching profession, and increase the authority of mayors and managers while decreasing the power of educators. “ Karp feels that this is obscene. This idea needs to be reevaluated along with idea of cutting education budgets. According to Karp, “Secretary Duncan and Bill Gates are going around the country proposing that schools save money by increasing class sizes, ending the practice of paying teachers for advanced degrees, closing and consolidating schools, and replacing live teachers with online computer programs.” THIS IS A PROBLEM, NOT AN OPPORTUNITY!”
Karp claims that Stephen Krashen had it exactly right when he said “if we were to spend as much on protecting children from poverty as we are willing to spend on testing children and evaluating teachers, we can reduce the problem considerably.” I agree with this. Assessments are important. Assessments are a great tool to help educators understand what their students need extra support in and to plan instruction, but before you can give an assessment and expect to receive valid information children need to be protected from poverty first. So much time and money is put into assessments and teacher evaluations. If we took the money and energy that is put into teacher evaluations and assessments and used it to protect children from poverty we could reduce the problem considerably. Assessments and teacher evaluations are not the primary factors when considering student success.
I would like to end this blog with one of Karp’s claims in which I agree is a “key” to school improvement. “Serving schools with high numbers of students in poverty is no excuse for bad teaching, poor curriculum, massive dropout rates or year after year of lousy school outcomes. We do need accountability systems that put pressure on schools to respond effectively to the communities they serve. And in my experience, parents are the key to creating that pressure and teachers are the key to implementing the changes needed to address it. Finding ways to promote a kind of collaborative tension and partnership between these groups is one of the keys to school improvement.”