“I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,” Can Teachers/Unions Impact the New, Obama/Duncan/Klein No Child Left Behind?

 

President Obama’s speech still bothers me.
 
Nothing in a president’s speech to the nation is by accident, every single phrase and word are carefully crafted. Why did he have to discuss firing teachers? Iraq, Afghanistan, the greatest  fiscal crisis since the great depression, problems of monumental import, and, he decides to raise the dismissal issue.
 
In her “President’s Perspective” column in the New York Teacher, the NYC teacher union newspaper Randi Weingarten addressesd teacher concerns about the speech.
 
What was it about President Obama’s first major speech on education that left so many teachers surprised, disappointed and even angry?
 
Yes, the stimulus package will save innumerable teacher jobs, and, yes, huge increases in Title 1 and other federal programs will flow into states, and, yes, the President is respectful to unions, and talks of “negotiated” bonus pay programs.
 
What concerns me is the Obama education program appears to be the Klein/Duncan programs ratcheted up to the national level.
 
In response to “data-driven” instruction, aka ELA/Math scores as the sole measurement of teacher/school success, schools seek the “quick” fix. 
 
In school after school the principal purchases a proprietary program, let’s say, “America’s Choice,” the teacher lesson plan notes the page in the Teacher Guide. The lessons are “canned,” the supervisor makes sure the proper lesson is “taught” on the proper day. The “predictor” test is given, and the teacher “differentiates instruction,” usually, once again, using the worksheet or the “lessons” listed in the guide. The lessons are tedious for the kid and the teacher, but, it may result in higher grades on that really, really important standardized test.
 
The John Hopkins “Unfulfilled Promises,” 2006 report of dropouts in Philadelphia,  the Parthenon Report of a few years ago and the recent ELA 8th grade decile/Four Year Graduation Rate report all point to many kids with proficient ELA scores who do not graduate in four years. Currently only 55% of kids with 3.0 8th grade ELA scores (“proficient”) graduate from NYC high school in four years … Why do so many kids fail to graduate even though ELA scores say the kids are “proficient”?
 
We know that non-cognitive skills are better predictors of adult success than test scores. Richard Rothstein writes
 
…findings suggest that policy makers should do more to examine enhancing the potential for student engagement, responsibility and community contribution, as well as test scores when they craft policies to narrow the black-white achievement gap in secondary schools.
 
Self-confidence is apparently one non-cogntive trait that predicts labor market success.
 
…employers complain far more about job applicants’ communications skills, punctuality, responsibility, attitude, teamwork ability, and conflict resolution skills than their verbal and mathematical abilities. 
 
Too many schools ignore the traits that determine success, not the sterile test scores, but the those all important non-cognitive skills.
 
In the current issue of the American Teacher, Rothstein challenges “acountability by the numbers” goes on to suggest a more nuanced system, based on school inspections  to measure student and school performance, a must read!!
 
Teachers evaluate themselves and their students every single day. Teachers are writers, directors, producers actors and the critic in a play that lasts one day! Each day is another challenge. We ask questions, we challenge students, we evaluate homework and tests. We adjust, adapt from minute to minute. We use the “data” we collect throughout the school day to plan for the next day.
 
The Lake Woebegon (“all children are above average”) Effect of No Child Left Behind is based on the premise that flailing teachers will improve student outcomes.
 
  I was at a wonderful concert a few nights ago … and as I listened to “Old Man River”  I thought of those classroom teachers, beaten down by a thoughtless, data-driven, exam driven system.
 
 
 Don’t look up
An’ don’t look down,
You don’ dast make
De white boss frown.
Bend your knees
An’bow your head,
An’ pull date rope
Until you’ dead.
 
But, then again, many of us belong to unions, we can fight, in unity, for a better system, a better system for children, parents and teachers. And, another song  sang that night drove it home,
 
The Copper Bosses killed you Joe,
they shot you Joe” says I.
“Takes more than guns to kill a man”
Says Joe “I didn’t die”

And standing there as big as life
and smiling with his eyes.
Says Joe “What they can never kill
went on to organize,

From San Diego up to Maine,
in every mine and mill,
Where working men defend their rights,
it’s there you find Joe Hill!

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