Thursday, January 1, 2009

Fixing The Schools, In 5 Easy Steps! Step One--Stop the Gimmicks

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 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.


newell said...

oh many from which to choose. methinks it would have to be differentiated instruction ( using"specific praise" would be a close contrived it makes me shudder)

ed notes online said...

Ah yes, differentiated instruction is the answer - not making class sizes low enough for this to work.

The first thing I learned upon entering the school system in 1967 was the then idea of DI - break your class into reading groups. Remember until BloomKlein most classes were homogeneously grouped by reading ability and then further broken down into reading groups. I has 4 groups one year in the 4th grade from 1st grade level to 3rd. Oy!

Success for All also did DI by taking all the school resources and putting them into reading for an hour and a half - no preps, no nothing. That made groups reasonably small enough to do some DI.

So, DI yes, but let's not put the term out there without qualifying it. That's just another buzz word from the reform crowd. Like if you can't do DI no matter what the conditions, then off with your heads. A hell of a lot of people learned in whole class settings.

Here's the best DI - one on one.

On the point about the same kids in the closed schools - that is not really true all the time. By setting up dual schools in the same building, you get the more aggressive parents taking the charter/KIPP route leaving the more struggling kids to,well, struggle. You need more than DI for them.

newell said...

Ok, let me qualify:
I teach in FL. , my smallest class is 30. Yes we passed a class size amendment which has been( for lack of better terms...) suspended due to the financial crisis. Yet DI is still seen by the powers that be as the proverbial "golden ticket" that will allow us to "work smarter" not harder. So many of my students would benefit from the ultimate DI- one on one. However, this is becoming increasingly difficult when students are still being added to my team. It just drives me nuts to hear that what is wrong with the educational system is the teachers and how we teach. Perhaps this might make more sense if our school board had not spent 1 million dollars renovating their meeting room so that it looks better on TV( public cable access, ahem...) Whew! I feel better now :)
And yes, I still love teaching!

Mr. Talk said...

Sarah, you bring up a great point. There's nothing inherently wrong with DI, or with many other education strategies, for that matter. DI actually works when done right. As Norm points out, we've had DI in various flavors well before it became the cause célèbre that it is today.

The devil is in the implementation of these strategies. Forcing teachers to use a strategy where it just doesn't work is the issue.

Out of curiosity, does Florida enforce certain seating arrangements? Are students required to sit in groups at all times? That's the case in NYC, although admins often deny it while mandating it.

newell said...

Yikes ...for a brief minute I thought you were joking! No, we have no preferred seating arrangement. It seems to me that if the kids do well on the standardized tests( and the school maintains its A grade), the administration wouldn't care if a monkey taught them. They do love to bring the higher up visitors to the classrooms that do a lot of "group work" though. However, I personally only use it when it fits the lesson and to mix things up when they are in need of a change....I teach 8th grade so their attention span seems to be about 15 min per activity :)
Sorry to hear about your heavy handed admin. We're lucky here in that aspect.

Pissedoffteacher said...

My favorite gimmick is credit recovery--what a joke that one is.

Anonymous said...

Sarah, I too am teaching in the scorched educational landscape left by Jeb Bush in Florida. In our innercity high school the security monitors promoted to administration "very strongly suggest" that DI be employed in the classroom, mostly to impress their bosses and the state. I have a nice collection of DI conference brochures going back several years. Registration is only $200 but you can pick up the whole package for only $369 and become a master of DI I guess.

DI, like every educational gimmick that has come out of corporate America's attack on the public schools, puts money in the pockets of some charlatan.

Curmudgeon said...

In a faculty meeting the other day, our Principal opined that the previous "STate Initiative to Change Schools for the Better" was dead and that the newest one was what we're going with. Out with "On the Move" and in with "School Transformation."

Speaking for myself and probably most of the teachers up here in the frozen North - I'd like to get rid of the Changes.

Anonymous said...

Confession: I haven't looked at my TAN since the Quality Review in November. Probably won't for the rest of the year, either.

Unknown said...

Just stumbled across your blog. Love it!

Mr. Talk said...

We're supposed to look at the TANs? Ut-oh.

Mary said...

My vote is for a stop for testing the new fire alarms at our school. This has been going on now for about 6 months. The new alarms are ear splitting to the point of causing real pain if you stay in the room. And they seem to spend several days a week testing them including some during class time when we were told that they would announce over the intercom if there was a real fire. (what if the intercom was on fire!) just before students came back They canceled an entire week of professional development and planning due to non stop fire alarms going off. Much more important to have ear splitting sirens going off all day than to actually prepare for the school year! You may ask what the gimmick is here! And I will tell you: Its the gimmick to keep us from making AYP at my rural title one school also in Florida! (Hi Sarah) If we actually passed the tests then there would be no need for Test prep and billions spent on reform and the politicians would not look good as they tried to solve the problem of our terrible horrible schools and they might actually have to do something themselves to make the lives of poor children more bearable so they would have a chance at a decent education. I guess in a way you could call it a reverse gimmick but in reality all these gimmicks are meant to reverse progress in the public schools, make the system as dysfunctional as possible so we can implement the Test not Teach theory of education. Love the blog! Good night all.

Anonymous said...

I thought I was well versed on educational acronyms, but this blog has put me to shame. My school just started this whole binder nonsense and I almost vomited on spot reading about TAN's. For the record, my TAN will never see the light of day. That being said, I must confess I am having a very hard time assessing which gimmick is most annoying. Clearly without a RUBRIC I am lost...