Joel Klein and Mayor Bloomberg can't last forever, thank goodness, so I thought I'd start my campaign to be the new schools chancellor right now. What qualifies me? For one thing, I have about ten times more teaching experience than Klein, Michelle Rhee, and Caroline Kennedy combined. For another thing, I think fixing the schools will be easy. Not cheap, but easy.
The first thing we need to do costs nothing: Let's stop the gimmicks. Gimmicks are the first resort of the clueless. For example, the latest and most damaging gimmick is to close schools. Closing schools accomplishes less than zero. It upsets parents, disrupts the education of the students, and displaces countless good teachers. Unfortunately, it looks good for the politicians and pundits. "That school was failing, so we closed it!" they say, as they scurry away to some educational jaunt in Bermuda.
Let me say this so that even Bloomklein can understand it. Closing schools does nothing to fix them. The same children--with the same parents--will attend them, and the same social and economic problems will still exist. Unless you fix the underlying problems, nothing will be accomplished. More on how to address these problems in future posts.
Another gimmick that is very popular today is the collection of data. If you walk into almost any school and ask to see the teacher assessment notebooks (TANs) of just about any math or English teacher, you will most likely be presented with a telephone-book-sized binder stuffed to the breaking point with data about each student. It takes so much time to collect all this data that there is precious little time left to do the real work of teaching. The dirty little secret of education is that virtually no one actually uses TANs to help plan; they are mostly kept for hauling out purposes when admins and school evaluators come to visit.
Speaking of data, ARIS and Acuity are computer systems (i.e., gimmicks) that cost a lot of money, while still managing to be almost totally useless. The DOE can say things like "We spent 80 million on a data collection system to help students achieve!" when they should be saying "We spent 80 million dollars on this??? What the hell were we thinking?"
The list of gimmicks goes on and on. School report cards, white boards, group instruction for every waking moment...you get the idea.
I'd like to hear your most hated education gimmick. Feel free to post it to the comments section. If you leave your name, I will show my appreciation when I am chancellor by instructing your principal to hound you until a 3020-A hearing sounds like a walk on the beach. No, wait--that's how it's done now. Never mind.