Monday, May 24, 2010

Manufacturing children

Right as I was slipping out the door today I happened to catch a glimpse of this week's Forbes (Mr. Lipstick decided to take a break from the Economist and subscribe to Forbes for a year since it was free, and the Economist is $$$. Personally, I miss the Economist).
Regardless, this week's Forbes is sporting a lovely cover page of a school black board, with a chalk message that reads, "
What Schools Can Learn From Money Management".
So, of course, I had to read it.
I actually opened it with the hope that, maybe, it would actually have good suggestions- new suggestions- that can be added to the education debate. I'm sure money management groups are doing great things, so sure, maybe we can learn from them! Teach me something new!

It didn't take me long to learn there wasn't anything new to teach. We've all read the article before, no matter who wrote it, or in where it was published. It's that familiar ode to the charter school movement, holding them up as the promise of how we will save the failing education system in this country. In comparison, without mentioning public schools at all, it paints us public school teachers as the lazy union card-holding folks who are in teaching for the summer breaks and believe in holding our children back because they come from "bad"neighborhoods.

It doesn't say that of course, but that's what I infer from what it doesn't say.

The article does what every charter school article does- it praises charter schools with lists and lists of examples of the ways charter schools are revolutionizing education. Except, none of the revolutionary practices are different than what we do in the public school. Somehow, just because a practice happens within the walls of a charter school, it's revolutionary. Within the walls of a public school it's lazy, and traditional.

Some of it's descriptions of these amazing charter schools include:
"Teachers receive higher salaries- and help. Brownsville Elementary backs 23 teachers up with five administrators, including deans and 'coaches'. "
OK, we don't have 5 administrators, but we do have 3 administrators and 6 coaches at my school. (and OK, we have a lot more than 23 teachers). Ironically, earlier in the article the author bashes public schools who give too many resources to administration and do not put it into the classroom. Exactly what is the difference between an administrator in a public school and an administrator in a charter school? Somehow the charter school administrator is so much more valuable that they are not considered a waste of resources. 5 administrators for 23 teachers? What do they do all day? I hope they're administering the tests to the kids so that the teachers actually get to teach.

Another miracle of the charter schools:

"Children in kindergarten through second grade are given a one-on-one reading comprehension test every six weeks and graded on a scale of 1 to 12. If the entire class struggles with a concept, McCurry says "we can go back and re-teach that." If an individual student falls behind, the school pulls them out into separate groups for intensive instruction on their individual weak points. The lessons can be delivered on a computer or during lunchtime tutoring session: the3 important thing is that teachers and administrators are constantly watching and adjusting their methods as test results come in."

What do they think we do all day in public schools? Paint pretty, pretty pictures and dance in the daisies? Do they believe public school teachers all operate under the understanding that our children learn by osmosis?

We too give one-on-one reading comprehension tests. Not every 6 weeks, (we don't have 5 administrators so bored they have nothing else to do) but we are constantly analyzing our kids progress through running records and anecdotal notes when we are not administering one-on-one assessments. We have computer programs we use to support instruction, and can determine what a child will learn on the computer based on our assessment of the child's instructional needs. We re-group students frequently to make sure we are meeting their needs on a daily basis. My partner in crime develops math, reading, and writing groups every 2 weeks and gives each group a focus based on the children's needs and strengths.

Another miracle:
"Using Palm handhelds or Web browsers, teachers can input results of, say, a kindergarten reading comprehension test that requires students to pronounce three-letter nonsense words."
(let me pause here- if a student is reading a nonsense word then it cannot be a reading comprehension test. Unless charter schools have the miraculous ability to teach children how to make sense of words like fip, or merm, then it is a decoding test).

"The software can differentiate causes of failure, distinguishing between students who are too slow and those who make errors; it can also flag kids who don't blend letter sounds together. Then it prompts the teacher to group children at similar developmental stages together and provides proven instructional techniques for their particular problems".

Wow, that software can do exactly what I was hired to do as a teacher. But I, and my think-tank coworkers, can do it without the additional software. I don't know what's happening inside charter schools, but in public schools we don't need a palm pilot to tell us how to analyze the errors are students make, remind us how to create leveled groups, or create lessons that teach to particular problems.

Miracles never cease...
"Beyond frontline training it stresses evidence-based methods in the classroom. Teachers watch videos of themselves and colleagues to find what works- and how to knead effective practices into their own instruction"

Ummmm.... yes, yes, we lazy public school teachers also do this one too. We video tape ourselves, analyze it, ask colleagues to observe us, we observe colleagues, we reflect on our lessons, we combine what we observe with our student data to determine how best to teach the students.

Then there are the charter school miracles that confuse me because I don't see them as miracles...

"Roughly 10% to 15% of its teachers quit each year; another 5% or so are fired for poor performance, compared with 9% attrition and 4.4% dismissal rates for public schools."

So, basically you're telling me that more teachers burn out at these schools, or quit to move on with their "real career", but they manage to only fire .6% more "bad teachers" than public schools. Did I read that wrong? Is it a good thing that teachers are quitting? And aren't charter schools suppose to be revolutionizing getting rid of bad teachers?

Wait- having teachers quit is a good thing...

"Achievement First and its peers rely on young, inspired teachers coming out of training programs like Teach for America". Read: recent college graduates with no teacher training, who will work for pennies before they move on to their real careers.

The article also states that Cisco Systems, Google, and billionaire Michael Dell support these charter schools who are using specialized computer instruction. Of course they do! That's like saying pencil manufactures support the use of pencils and pencil-friendly paper. The more you can support a demand for your product, or a product you may be able to work with, the more your own product will be successful.

*** I'm coming off sounding much more bitter than I intend, but I can't help being frustrated as I read the article. Instead of discussing new ideas, or even reflecting a true look at how the money managers can impact school policy, the article only served as a cheerleader for charter schools.

I'm tired of charter schools being hailed as the answer, when most of the time we are doing exactly the same thing in public schools. We use data to drive our instruction every single day. We analyze our children's needs and adapt our instruction to make them successful. We reflect on our teaching, we collaborate together, we seek out best practice, we use technology to support growth. I'm not standing up and saying charter schools don't work- I'm just saying that just because a school has been repackaged and re-branded doesn't mean it is automatically better or any different than other schools.

I was hoping Forbes would be more reflective and more insightful than this. I miss the Economist....


splatypus said...

I love The Econimist as well but I'm afraid you won't find much more in the way of education reporting. Or at least I can't find it...

Kelli said...

I feel the same way this year . . . becoming borderline bitter. No attempts to improve education, no successes, NOTHING we do as teachers is EVER good enough for the public, or at least the press.

And what about when there is no tenure, which seems to be on the way out the door? Then I'm supposed to just stick in teaching for the pure joy of it and that passion is supposed to put food on the table when I become too costly or rub some future administrator the wrong way and am shown the door?

Grrr. I hear ya.

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