When do you take a stand?

Wow! The changes that are taking place in public education currently and in recent years are astounding to the two veteran teachers with whom I am fortunate to be learning from this year.  Since, I am new, it is hard for me to discern what’s new and what’s not.  I will say I was both overwhelmed by the enormity and high stakes aspects of the edTPA I am required to pass to become a teacher and underwhelmed by the timing of its appropriateness at the very beginning of teaching practice.  While I understand the need for high standards and a common evaluation system for public school teachers, it seems that this “test” puts the cart before the horse in that you have to show you are a good teacher including multiple criteria in your teaching just at the beginning of your student teaching.  The amount of questions my intelligent cohort mates and I had coupled with the fact that you only have to get thirty some points out of a 100 are clear indicators to me that this evaluation system needs some adjustments.  Do I write a letter to our OSPI (once I have hopefully passed this test!) letting the Superintendent know my opinion?

Other big changes in our state this year are the adoption of the Common Core Standards and a refusal to tie students’ test scores to teacher performance causing our state to lose federal funding for schools not meeting their yearly performance goals.  I have heard many complaints about how young students are being pushed too much with the increased amount and higher level of these standards.  This week I teach first graders math that my 28 year veteran teacher has never taught them, because it has always been second grade math.  She often attributes restlessness and behavior problems in the afternoon to the degree of academic demands placed on the students earlier in the day.  (I am new, so I am unaware of the difference between now and previous years).  At first read to me, the Common Core Standards look broad and reasonable, although I do have some wonders about the developmental appropriateness of a few of the literacy skills expected of kindergarteners and first graders.  The Common Core authors do state that teachers have flexibility and discretion with how they work with these standards, but will school districts offer that flexibility to teachers, too?  When do teachers take a stand, or do they?

Soon we will be hearing a lot about our state taking a stand and siding with the teachers’ union to refuse federal funding for “failing” schools if students’ test scores are tied to teacher performance.  Here is a case where people are taking a stand, but is it going to backfire on teachers and legislators?  Interestingly, those two veteran teachers with whom I study, think this was a bad decision as they have seen budget cut after budget cut throughout their careers and worry about how more financial cuts will affect the schools that need the money most of all and if teachers will be blamed for it.

I feel as if I do not know enough yet to take a stand on all of these issues.  However, I do wonder about the money being spent on all of these new systems for evaluating teachers and standards and proving that teachers and school districts are competent: money to  Pearson for administering the edTPA, money to web designers and software companies for multiple new websites to implement the Danielson framework of evaluation for everything from teacher performance to how teachers make use of district websites to further learning and communication, money to publishers and trainers to implement new curriculum that adheres to Common Core State Standards (CCSS)( when I have had no problem finding CCSS that apply to my lesson plans made from scratch and from older curricula).  Perhaps this money could go to those “failing” schools?  I cannot help but wonder if the cart is being put before the horse again where perhaps a combination of quality professional development for teachers and more social support systems in communities needs to happen to boost student performance before teachers have to prove that they are including all of the prescribed criteria in their teaching.

It’s too early for me to take a stand, but don’t be surprised if you hear from me in five years or so, after I have had a chance to be in the trenches and become more informed.  After all, I am a voting, tax paying citizen with two children in public schools, as well as a teacher.

What’s the science behind the differences in these two schools?

This quarter I have spent approximately every other week in my main placement, a first grade class, and I have also had opportunities to spend time working one on one with a third grader in literacy, co-teach and assist with second grade science classes, and have “math talks” a few times with a small group of fifth graders.  These experiences have been in three different schools within two different school districts, but all located less than ten miles from one another.

Interestingly, the school where my main placement is, which I’ll call school #1, and the school where I spent time in 3rd grade literacy and 2nd grade science, which I’ll call school #2, have drastically different scores in science on the state MSP test even though they are in the same school district (53.7% for school #1 and 93.1% for school #2). I am curious as to why and can theorize that this difference is possibly due to my hearing that the Principal of school #2 loves science and encourages every class to participate in science learning at least one full hour a week, preferably more. However, I have not had an opportunity to hear Principal of school #1’s views; I have only observed that first graders do science in spurts, several days during some weeks and then not at all other weeks.  Another explanation could have something to do with the differing demographics of the two schools.  Both schools are comprised of about 30% Asian, 10% Hispanic, and 60% white students.  At school #1, 30% of the students receive free or reduced lunch, and 14.5% of the students are considered transitional bilingual.  At school #2 only 8.8% students receive free or reduced lunch and only 4.4% are considered transitional bilingual.  Another factor at school #2 is a portion of the students in the district’s “gifted” program are housed at this school; whereas none of the students at school #1 are participants in the program.  (I am not sure what percentage of school #2 students are in the gifted or highly capable program, but the majority of the students are not). 

So much of what we read about student achievement in education correlates students’ success with high family income.  Is this true?  In this case, students do not APPEAR to be drastically different, but clearly the statistics show they are as some are still learning the English language and some need public assistance to pay for their meals.  Is this the difference, or does the difference lie with how much the school community values science? Or, is it possible that teachers at school #2 are more effective science teachers?