I enjoy reading the thoughts and opinions of fellow blogger Jason James. His posts (HERE) are rationally and thoughtfully articulated and infused with a high level of passion and personal conviction. I truly appreciate Jason’s straight-shooting, no-nonsense, “get to the heart of the matter” approach. From my meetings with Jason on several occasions, I can also attest to the fact that Jason is a doer, and not just a talker.
His two most recent posts are worthy of your time. In his post yesterday, Jason speaks about the folly that is the state’s TLE system (he terms it “farcical minutia”) – in particular the new quantitative measures. This system threatens to suffocate teachers and school leaders in a putrid swamp of acronyms: SAG, OAMs, SLO, SOO, and VAM. I agree with Jason that the entire TLE process is a POS, not to mention FUBAR and a big snarly pile of CF (charlie foxtrot).
Today, Jason provides a cautionary message on why it is important for all of us to avoid falling into the tendency of just identifying problems; instead, he encourages us to focus on proactive solutions. He then shares how his district is complying with the new batch of TLE mandates while working to make the process somehow meaningful for their teachers.
I generally agree with Jason’s premise. In order to be welcomed as professionals with a sincere commitment to improving public schools, we have to be able to offer more than just criticism of current reforms. We need to be able to clearly communicate our vision for schools and demonstrate how our efforts will improve the lives of our students, as well as support the long-term competitiveness of our state and nation.
Many public school advocates would relish the opportunity to share our proposed solutions, IF we thought that policy makers were actually listening. However, we have become all too accustomed to leaders saying they “value our input” while just doing what they wanted to all along. The A-F school grading system is a perfect example.
There are also some universal proposals that are just bad ideas, and that are based on faulty reasoning and lack of valid supporting research. Many of these reform ideas are nothing more than opinions and anecdotal postulates thrown out by entities seeking to profit from the narrative that our public schools are failing.
For many of these bad ideas, the best response on our part is a loud and resounding “NO!”
So…getting back to Jason’s posts about TLE:
When politicians and policy makers who have never taught a day in their lives say they know better than us how we should grow and develop our teachers, we say NO, and we say it loudly. The approach for evaluating teachers should be flexible and determined through collaboration and cooperation between local school leaders and their educators. What works in Tulsa or Oklahoma City Public Schools may not be the most effective approach for suburban or small rural districts. The state or federal government should not be dictating HOW we evaluate the performance of our employees, no more than they influence how police officers, firemen, other public sector employees are evaluated by their leaders.
Further, when proponents of the current TLE system claim that they can accurately and objectively compare teachers using widely disparate systems (VAM vs SLO/SOO), we say NO, and we say it loudly.
When VAMsters say they can accurately and reliably measure an individual teacher’s impact on student achievement using a mathematical formula 99% of Americans could not understand, we say NO, and we say it loudly.
When policy makers continue to propose merit pay schemes for teachers based primarily on student test scores, despite a long record of failure across the nation, we say NO, and we say it loudly.
When national reformers say the system of public schools in America is broken and should be replaced with for-profit charters and vouchers, we say NO, and we say it loudly.
When state and national leaders say poverty does not matter and that providing additional funding for schools will do nothing to help close the achievement gap, we say NO, and we say it loudly.
When our legislators and policy makers insist on lowering tax rates for billion dollar corporations instead of adequately funding public education and other social needs, we say NO, and we say it loudly.
When politicians fail to provide adequate resources to address socioeconomic inequalities in our society while ignorantly insisting that students just “need more grit,” we say NO, and we say it loudly.
When reformers say the solution to higher student achievement is more high stakes testing and more accountability measures, we say NO, and we say it loudly.
When state leaders insist they know better than the parents and local school educators which students should be retained or denied a diploma (3rd grade retention & EOI graduation requirements), we say NO, and we say it loudly.
When reformers claim that all schools are failing and that the same set of one-size-fits-all reforms and approaches should be imposed on all schools, we say NO and we say it loudly.
When our legislature seeks to reduce or redefine pensions that have been promised to existing Oklahoma educators, we say NO, and we say it loudly.
When reformers continue to use bureaucratic carrots and sticks to force compliance with mandates, rather than doing what is right for America’s children, we say NO, and we say it loudly.
Finally, when reformers insist that student performance on standardized tests is the most effective means to measure a child’s unique potential, we say NO, and we say it loudly.
By saying no to much of the silliness packaged as school reform over the past 15 years, we might actually have a chance to affirm practices that could truly help improve our schools and foster the development of 21st century learners.
By saying NO to high stakes testing, we are saying YES to problem-based learning, creativity, and more authentic learning experiences for our students.
By saying NO to inaccurate and unreliable measures of teacher effectiveness based primarily on test scores, we are saying YES to providing more meaningful instructional coaching for some teachers, while simultaneously providing master teachers with increased autonomy and responsibility. We are also saying YES to being diligent in ensuring that every classroom has a competent and caring educator in front of students.
By saying NO to using students’ performance on tests to label and rank them based on weaknesses, we are saying YES to identifying and capitalizing on each child’s unique strengths.
By saying NO to increased state and federal accountability measures, we are saying YES to increased transparency and cooperation with local stakeholders.
By saying NO to state mandates for third grade reading retention and EOI passage for graduation, we are saying YES to our moral and ethical obligation to help each and every child reach his or her potential.
On matters that seek to improve the conditions for our teachers, students and schools, we should be willing to say YES and to work with policy makers to implement new ideas. At the same time, those of us who have given our careers to improving schools must also be willing to say NO to those ideas that are harmful to our schools and children.
After all, if we in education don’t speak up and say NO, and say it loudly, WHO WILL?