This is the final installment of a three-part article on the causes of the deterioration of American education from a teacher’s point of view. Part I discussed how a cultural shift has taken place in American families, wherein the desires of the children and their happiness have become the primary goal of parents, resulting in a “pediarchal culture,” a society ruled by children and devoted to their contentment at the cost of doing what would actually benefit them in the long term. The inevitable backlash of this cultural change is that parents become angry with the schools when their child fails due to the the child’s learned lack of responsibility, blaming the teacher for the failure. Part II of this article begins the discussion of the school administration’s response as well as the government takeover of education in reaction to parental demands for student success. This has resulted in constant upheaval and numerous changes to methods and requirements for teachers to accommodate theses families, effectively removing all responsibility from the students and placing it unfairly on the shoulders of the teachers. It has resulted in a barrage of new legislation such as No Child Left Behind, individual state standards, Colorado’s Senate Bill 191, and the new Common Core standards adopted by 45 states so far. It is my contention that none of these things will do anything to improve education, but will, in fact, make things even worse because teachers and the way they teach were never the core problem. The core issue is parents refusing to hold their children accountable for what they do in school. This reactionary revamping of schools will drive more and more qualified and committed teachers from education, even though this constant fusillade of government interference is highly controversial.
Here is an excerpt from The Denver Post by Krista Kafar that illustrates this government over-reaching: “The federal government has taken an active role in promoting Common Core by awarding millions of dollars to states that have, among other things, adopted the national standards. Although the government is barred by law from exercising ‘direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum,’ its financial incentives (the $4.35 billion Race to the Top fund was a pretty big carrot) and continuous bully pulpit have been quite persuasive” (Kafar, The Denver Post).
In theory, I have absolutely no problem with common standards, or even standardized testing, for that matter. What I do take exception to is the teacher being made to shoulder the sole responsiblity, while at the same time, removing all control of the classroom from said teacher, and demanding so much from the teacher that no human being, even working 24 hours per day could meet these requirements.
If you have not read Parts I and II, I suggest that you read those first before continuing.
Part III will continue examining the new teacher evaluation rubric for Colorado teachers based on the Common Core standards, which proves how teachers are unfairly held accountable for things out of their control.
The new teacher evaluation rubric idealistically grades the teacher on, not only the children’s behavior, but the behavior of the family. Take a look at these items for which teachers are now responsible for their students’ families:
FAMILIES AND SIGNIFICANT ADULTS WILL:
–Discuss student performance with the teacher.
–Participate in school-based activities (How can I possibly be responsible for this?)
–Partner with the teacher to support student strengths and address next steps for learning.
I cannot force families to do any of these things, yet my job depends on their cooperation.
Now let’s look at some things for which the teacher could be responsible, if we lived in a world with 48 hour days. Unfortunately, we are held responsible for these things in an average 8 hour day:
–Monitors and evaluates personal behavioral changes to determine what works for individual students.
–Advocates for the inclusion of teachers and families in education and government decision-making processes.
–Collaborates with professional, governmental, and/or community agencies to advocate for curricular, school and instructional improvements. (Obviously this would have to be on the teacher’s personal time)
—Advocates for students and the school to external agencies and groups.
–Participates in school activities expected of all teachers.
–Supports school goals and initiatives. (whether or not they agree with them, often knowing that they will not work)
–Contributes to school committees and teams (on their own time).
–Collaborates with school-based teams to leverage the skills and knowledge of colleagues and families.
–Initiates and leads collaborative activities that partner with families to coordinate learning between home and school.
–Collaborates with professional, governmental, and/or community agencies to advocate for curricular, school, and instructional improvements (on their own time).
Yes, all of this is required to keep my $47,000 a year job in addition to my responsibilities of instructing in front of a class for 5 hours per day, planning lessons, creating tests and assignments, copying them, and attending meetings for 2 to 3 hours per day, grading papers for 3 to 4 hours per day (which is not nearly enough time to complete them), after-school tutoring for 1 hour, contacting parents and documenting evidence for 2 hours, inputting and calculating grades 2 to 3 hours, reading required books, continuing education to keep my license, and on and on. As you can see, my job REQUIRES a minimum of 15 hours per day to do only the essentials, but these other tasks have been added as if we had unlimited time to devote to our jobs, and even if we did, many of these things are impossible because their completion assumes the cooperation of third, fourth, and sometimes fifth parties. In addition, Colorado may well find itself in some legal hot water because I believe holding teachers to the contents of this evaluation rubric violates existing labor laws, and I am at a loss as to why union representatives have not sued to remove it altogether.
All of these things standards are ideal, but to believe that one teacher can control or would even have the time to attempt to control all of these things is unimaginable. But it is now state law that I am to be held accountable for all these things in my yearly evaluation, in addition to my students’ achieving good grades and state testing scores. Added on to that, it is my task alone to provide the hundreds of documents to prove I have met all of these impossible tasks, which in itself would be a full-time job. And all of this does not take into account behavior issues for which the teacher is solely responsible, managing with less and less support from administration every year. If a child is disruptive, disrespectful, or even violent, it is a strike against the teacher for failing to manage discipline, even though we do not hold the power to affect or enforce any consequences on the students, such as suspension, detention, or any other disciplinary measure. Often students return from the office after being referred by the teacher and brag how no consequences were given. Once a student returned to my class ten minutes after throwing a desk at me with no disciplinary consequences. The level of disciplinary support differs with every administration; however, to tie the hands of the teacher, and also expect him to control his classroom is irrational. It is even more ludicrous to expect learning to occur in a classroom where there is no disciplinary support for the teacher. This level of support changes from year to year as principals come and go.
Teachers are increasingly losing control over the curriculum and the grading method employed in their classrooms as well. With the advent of Standards Based Grading in many schools across the country, teachers have to prove they are testing in the exact same manner as another teacher regardless of teaching style or level of students, even when there are several learning disabled students in the classroom. Standards Based Grading put an end to holding students responsible for homework or other formative activities. They are graded solely on meeting the standards on summative tests and projects, but the issue of motivating students to participate in formative activities with no grade attached is a persistent problem. Even though teachers can demonstrate to students that those who complete formatives and receive feedback achieve higher grades on summative assignments, this is little incentive to a hormonal teenager given the choice to do their homework or not. In addition, students are allowed to do nothing for weeks and then turn in assignments for full credit, essentially reducing motivation for keeping up with learning throughout the semester. Standards Based Grading is a nightmare of grading for the teacher as well because students are allowed to re-do everything, even tests, so most students do not even try the first time, knowing they can re-take it after they have had a chance to see it. This effectively doubles grading. If the teacher does not want the student to take the exact same test after the student has had a chance to memorize which answers are incorrect, then she has to write an alternate test, again, effectively doubling the teacher’s work. However, in my opinion, the worst problem with Standards Based Grading is that a student is only held accountable for what they know, not what they do. This is a dangerous lesson because nowhere else in life does anyone care if you are as smart as Einstein if you refuse to contribute anything to society with that knowledge. Standards Based Grading teaches students that behavior and responsibility do not matter; only knowledge matters, which creates an impossible learning environment. Without disciplined behavior and responsibility, knowledge is not acquired.
Supporters of Standards Based Grading like to quote statistics from obscure studies done in areas that do not represent the typical American school to say that students’ test scores went up, but these studies are not representative, as I said, of the general population, and they do not take into consideration real-life skills in the work place, such as meeting deadlines and studying for tests, nor do they prepare a child for the demands of college. Quite the opposite. Our students are in culture shock when they go to college, and when they have to take their own notes, pass the test the first time, and turn in their essays on time with no chance of re-doing them for full credit. These studies do not follow these students to college to see if this method has really benefited them in any meaningful way. However, the toll on the teacher is obvious every day. It is no wonder that more and more qualified teachers leave the profession every year.
It is popular to say that teachers don’t do it for the money; however, with so little respect, reward, or support, teachers are increasingly opting out for more lucrative positions where the workload is manageable, efforts are appreciated, and expectations are realistic. I recently got my W-2. I went up a “step” in pay for another year of experience, which used to be about $900 in a year. I was frozen in pay for four years, so I was happy to finally get a step raise. However, before the district gave us a step, they lowered the pay of all the steps. According to my tax return, I made $100 more for the entire year. Somehow I don’t think that’s kept up with inflation and cost of living or my insurance increases. Through all the years of being frozen for one reason or another, I am paid as a teacher with seven years experience, even though I have taught for fourteen years. Every year my classroom sizes get bigger, I am required to shoulder more responsibility for things out of my control, forced to implement methods of grading and teaching with which I may not agree, and it is literally impossible to complete my required tasks in a 10-12 hour day, even though I am paid for an 8 hour day. And if you might be thinking that at least teachers get all that paid time off, you are wrong. We have zero paid vacation. We are paid for the number of contracted days in a school year, and then it is disbursed in twelve equal payments. We are not paid for summer break, spring break, fall break, or Christmas break, although most teachers use their breaks to catch up on work that is impossible to finish at any other time. Despite all this, most teachers struggle to do the impossible because they care about kids and don’t want to punish them for a failing system.
Indeed the situation is grim, and I have very little hope in it turning around. It is highly unlikely that this pediarchal culture will reverse itself anytime soon, but it will inevitably run its course, and the pendulum will begin to move in the other direction, but probably not in my lifetime. However, I do believe there is an answer. The government needs to give control back to education professionals, and those education professionals, specifically school administrators, need to allow teachers to do what they were originally intended to do. They need to be able to use their time to plan, create, and implement engaging lessons, and give the necessary feedback to students. They need to empower the teachers, so that they have control over their classrooms, to support them in matters of discipline, grades, and accountability of students. If they want to judge our efficacy on standardized test scores, so be it, but if we are to be held accountable for test scores, let us teach in the way we know works, rather than experimenting with some logic-defying new method every year. I am perfectly willing to be judged on test scores if I have control over my curriculum, my methods, my discipline, and my grading. I know what works for my kids, and I don’t want my job constantly threatened by people who have no idea what they’re talking about, and I do not think it is fair to be held accountable for the success of something I knew would not work from the beginning.
Speaking of useless efforts, I heard on the news the other day that the government is considering spending a proposed $100 million dollars on teacher evaluation. You have heard me complain about a lot of things in our education system, but you have not heard me mention the lack of funding. That’s because although everyone wants to focus on money, all the money in the world will not fix our deteriorating educational system. Yes, our class sizes are a problem, technology is limited, schools are old and in need of renovation, new schools are needed, and teachers are underpaid, but that is not the source problem. We need to counter our pediarchal culture by standing up to parents to do what we know is right for students. Parents will either realize that their child has to live up to expectations or fail, or they will have to find alternative education. Let them. When the scores come up, and students begin achieving, they will be clamoring to get back in. As for money, cutting waste and reducing extraneous administrative staff (and schools are full of them) would solve the money problem. Every year, as we suffer through another year without a raise, our district adds another useless administrative position. If schools were responsible with their money, residents would pass more of their bond measures.
As for me, I am considering leaving education like most teachers I know. I doubt the pendulum swing will happen soon enough for me. Until then I will try and do my best for students and enjoy them for who they are, and attempt to set personal boundaries, leaving work at work whenever possible, regardless of the insane expectations.–Christina Knowles
COLORADO STATE MODEL EVALUATION SYSTEM FOR TEACHERS . Colorado Department of Education. http://www.cde.state.co.us/sites/default/files/TeacherRubric.pdf Accessed: 2/14/14
Kafar, Krista. “Kafer: We may be too hasty in instituting Common Core.” The Denver Post http://www.denverpost.com/opinion/ci_25201453/we-may-be-too-hasty-instituting-common-core#ixzz2ufsrwZRO Posted: 2/22/14. Accessed: 2/28/14.