Wednesday, April 18, 2007

I have a dream...

I talked to a teacher who had gone through 'reconstitution' in 1995, she taught in a school where most of the children lived in poverty. The test results weren't brilliant but the staff all worked hard and discipline was not a problem. The school was chosen for reconstitution and given one year to come up with a plan. As the teacher said it was a, "dog and pony show". They made presentations, showed children's work and tried to influence the District School Board. Her family life suffered, years later her son told her, "you weren't there for me." The officials refused to meet the parents at the school because they didn't want reconstitution.

All the adults were cleared out of the building and new staff were hired. As one union official called it, "the Clint Eastwood approach to school reform." Some of the new teachers were inadequate, one infant teacher had never taught young children and the nursery teacher showed TV soaps all day. The school was given more money but still results didn't improve.

A new intiative in 2004/5 was the so-called 'Dream Schools' (spin doctors obviously working overtime on a catchy touchy-feely name). This time the schools that were chosen weren't the lowest performing, the union suspicion was that the Board of Education picked schools where they could show progress. The Board met the teachers gave them pizzas and announced that they wanted to staff the seven new 'Dream Schools' with, "genial teachers with vision".

There was a change from reconstitution in that you could reapply for your job, but you had to write an essay about why you wanted the job, be observed teaching by a panel of 'experts' and they go for interview. Most teachers refused this generous offer. Only one Principal (Headteacher) stayed on. Teachers had to sign contracts agreeing to work an extra hour every day.

Two of the schools subsequently closed and in most of them there was a high turnover, problems with discipline and still results didn't improve.

The latest wheeze has been to hire over 30 'Reform Facilitators' that work in the schools. Tests in reading, writing and maths are held every six weeks and regular meetings are held with teachers to suggest how they could improve. I've heard stories of teachers in tears, this wasn't what they came into teaching for.

Observing the American education system is like a combination of a bad dream and living in a parallel universe. The bar chart fetish is also alive and well here, I met one Principal who insisted on showing me the upward trend in results. I didn't have the heart to tell him my, 'brain-dead chimp' theory of test improvement - teach to test, narrow the curriculum, constantly test, pressure teachers, concentrate on the borderline children. I really must get a highly paid job as a consultant.


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