God, in her Wisdom, Did Not Distribute Ability or Desire Equally, Teachers Try and Remedy Her Failings

Are you waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat?

Are you having nightmares about Patty McCormick in the “Bad Seed“?

You must be a teacher.

Principals are already in school figuring out the opening of school, the budget tweaks, last minute hirings, tracking down book orders and figuring out how they can both run the school and carry out the requirements of the teacher evaluation plan, called ADVANCE, those multiple teacher observations.

Many teachers are already in school getting their room ready. In this quirky year teachers convene on the Tuesday after Labor Day for two days of meetings, off for Rosh Hashanah and the kiddies arrive on September 10th.

One of the secrets of the trade – this is not Lake Woebegone and all kids aren’t above average. God, in her wisdom, did not distribute equal intelligence or effort to all. Try as you might, and, believe me, teachers really try; your success varies greatly from kid to kid.

Strangely, there is chemistry between classes of kids and teachers. Sometimes you “click” with a class, the interactions sparkle, the kids lap it up and you keep feeding them, and, sometimes no matter what you do lessons are a dud.

You’re nervous.

The “test” will determine your future and future of your students. The state exam will count for 20% (or in some cases 40%) of a teacher’s evaluation score.

The new sample PARCC assessments (check out here and here) require complex skills far beyond the current ability of most of our students.

Aaron Pallas muses over the “meaning” of the scores,

Here’s the dirty little secret: no one truly understands the numbers. We are behaving as though the sorting of students into four proficiency categories based on a couple of days of tests tells us something profound about our schools, our teachers and our children. There are many links in the chain of inference that can carry us from those few days in April to claims about the health of our school system or the effectiveness of our teachers. And many of those links have yet to be scrutinized.

Does Mayor Bloomberg understand the numbers? Perhaps he’d care to share with us the percentage of children in each grade who ran out of time and didn’t attempt all of the test items, and the consequences of that for students’ scores. Or how well the pattern of students’ answers fit the complex psychometric models used to estimate a student’s proficiency. Or how precisely a child’s scale score measures his or her performance. Or how many test items had to be discarded because they didn’t work the way they were intended. Or what fraction of the Common Core standards was included on this year’s English and math tests—and what was left out.

Sometimes the chemistry is right, or, you might switch grades, or move to teach an inclusion class, classes of kids change from year to year yet the powers that be want to measure student growth and attribute the growth, or lack thereof, to each and every teacher reardless of the instability of the scores.

Teachers and principals are wary.

The just released annual Gallup poll of American opinions about education supports the wariness of school personnel.

The poll finds,

* Common Core: Most Americans don’t know about the Common Core and those who do don’t understand it.

* State Tests: The significant increase in testing in the past decade has either hurt or made no difference in improving schools.

* Teacher Evaluation: Students’ test scores should not be used to evaluate teachers.

Principals and teachers will arrive in school on Tuesday, hug, renew friendships, welcome new colleagues, gossip about who hooked up and who unhooked, and, the conversation will turn to the trade.

They will work as hard as they can, they are surrogate parents, mentors, researchers, seekers of “what works,” they will really, really try and incorporate the Common Core into their work.

Ultimately the Common Core will fade; it will not become the savior of modern education, no matter the value “reforms” will never succeed if they are imposed from above. Without acceptance by parents and teachers and principals the “Brave New World” will fade away.

Larry Cuban and David Tyack in their seminal work on school reform, “Tinkering Toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform (1997),

“Tyack and Cuban argue that the ahistorical nature of most current reform proposals magnifies defects and understates the difficulty of changing the system. Policy talk has alternated between lamentation and overconfidence. The authors suggest that reformers today need to focus on ways to help teachers improve instruction from the inside out instead of decreeing change by remote control, and that reformers must also keep in mind the democratic purposes that guide public education.”

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