Thursday, February 4, 2010

We aren't all dumbing it down

I'm aggravated.

I turned Headline News on this afternoon as I often do and Chuck Roberts was soliciting opinions on a recent USA Today editorial, Our view on education: To boost graduation rates, states water down standards. My aggravation didn't sprout after I read the editorial; it came after I read comments people posted, both to the original editorial and on Chuck Roberts's Facebook page.

I will not argue the fact that some school districts, even some whole school systems in certain states, are struggling to maintain their academic standards. But even in those states whose numbers - graduation rates, test scores, etc. - are less than exemplary, I am certain there are school districts here and there that are doing it right and doing it well.

I have worked in five different school districts in Indiana. In every single one of them, I worked with teachers who care and who go above and beyond their contractual duties to help - often PUSH - their students to succeed. I have had the privilege of working for principals and superintendents who are constantly looking for and procuring the best for their students - the best teachers, the best methods, the best equipment and materials, the best facilities - that their funding allows.

But all of this - all of us - are tangled up in so much red tape that the general public (at least those who were posting on Facebook) doesn't take into consideration when they rant about greedy teachers, or school communities that don't care or that care only about numbers and statistics.

No Child Left Behind began the establishment of national standards for education. I believe the impetus behind this act was to help bring the US up to the academic levels of some other nations. That national act spawned (here in Indiana) Public Law 221 (and similar state laws across the country). These standards (which are stupefyingly long and involved) are what we teachers, as licensed state employees, are required to teach to our students. Our employers, the school districts, are responsible for holding us accountable for teaching those standards.

Everything is tied to the standards. Everything.

The standardized tests evaluate students' mastery of the standards. Their individual scores on those tests determine whether or not the students graduate from high school. The overall student scores on those tests determine a school's "success" rate which in turn determines the level of government involvement in the management of the school district, the funding provided to the school district, and - at its most extreme - the existence of the school district. Soon those scores will also help determine whether or not I keep my job (regardless of the motivation level of my students, parental involvement, and plain academic ability).

If the general public isn't happy with what the students are being taught there are several things they should do rather than rant on social networking sites about how terrible things are in the school system. They should acquaint themselves with their state's standards. (I wonder how many of those who were posting such negative comments even know what these standards are.) They should take an active part in their school community. So many of them said that our country is going downhill because of our educational system. If that's what they believe is true - get involved, get educated, and ask what can be done to help.

We educators have so many responsibilities to so many different people it's unbelievable. How many bosses does an average employee have? I have more than I can count. I am answerable to my principal, my superintendent and my school board. I am answerable to the parents' of my students. But most importantly, I am answerable to the kids who sit in my room every day and count on me to prepare them for the tests they will face in their lives - academic tests and life tests as well. And I can tell you this - I go into every day prepared for the challenge and I do it (almost every day) with a smile on my face. I love my job, and I'm tired of listening to people who don't have a clue run it down.

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