The Problem With Teacher Assessment and Schools As Businesses

The last few years everyone has been up in arms over EDUCATION REFORM!  And we’ve been beaten to death with the idea that our public schools are FAILING OUR KIDS! And that GREEDY LAZY TEACHERS! are living lavish lifestyles, punching in at 8.30 and punching out at 3:00 (nevermind that that is a monstrous misconception) with 12 weeks of vacation in the summer (nevermind that it’s unpaid), and it’s all the DAMN UNIONS! fault so let’s get rid of the unions, and give parents an alternative to traditional public ed – let’s give MORE CHOICES! Which sounds great, but is really full of empty promises, back-door deals, flat-out lies and let’s face it, a bunch of bullshit.

It’s no secret that many of these so-called education reforms are simply thinly veiled attempts for to privatize the nation’s education system and allow charters and non-traditional schools to contract companies that produce testing prep materials and educational technology and other school-related resources (think landscaping, maintenance, etc..) to make a buck. Sammiches and Psych Meds jokes about commercializing the classroom, but really that’s probably not too far off from where we’re headed.  Here’s a snipped from her post:

Students walk up to a classroom which is no longer room 123 World History with Mrs. Jones, but rather Koch Industries’ World History.  And then when they walk in the door, they get to sit in a desk, each one sponsored by a child company — you know, like Brawny paper towels and Stainmaster carpet.  And all around them — on bulletin boards and handouts — is one slogan after another, begging them to try this product and convincing them they can’t live without that one.

While I understand that the current system isn’t perfect, those preaching of reform are typically thinking less about students and more about bottom lines.  And they’re tearing apart a very needed public system in the process.

In addition to corporate sponsorship, the Wall Street Post article The Big Business of Charter Schools provides a brief snippet of how charters are the next big thing to be included in investment portfolios.  Here’s a glance at the conversation between David Brain, head of an investment group called Entertainment Properties Trust, and a CNBC anchor:

Anchor: Charter schools have become very popular as parents seek more choice in educating their children. But are charter schools a wise addition to your investment portfolio? Well let’s ask David Brain, president and CEO of Entertainment Properties Trust. ….Why would I want to add charter schools into my portfolio?

DB: Well I think it’s a very stable business, very recession-resistant. It’s a very high-demand product. There’s 400,000 kids on waiting lists for charter schools … the industry’s growing about 12-14% a year. So it’s a high-growth, very stable, recession-resistant business. It’s a public payer, the state is the payer on this, uh, category, and uh, if you do business with states with solid treasuries. then it’s a very solid business.

It doesn’t take a degree in particle physics to understand that there’s a conflict of interest here.  Are we trying to reform education to help children?  Are we trying to shape our youth into confident, creative, hard-working, independent individuals who can think for themselves?  Or are we trying to really just make a profit?  Children are not manufactured goods and schools cannot be run like businesses.

Why not, you ask?

1.  Free public schooling is promised to ALL children.  ALL CHILDREN.  Not just the ones who are headed to Princeton or Harvard or Yale.  So this includes students with disabilities and students with impairments and students with Krohn’s disease and ADHD and autism and central auditory processing disorder and those with crackhead mothers and deadbeat fathers and those who have a mothers who die from breast cancer when they’re in the 10th grade and those who get into a car crash at 17 and end up with a traumatic brain injury.  The list goes on.

And unlike putting someone on a performance plan and firing them when they aren’t meeting your demands, you can’t* just kick students out if they aren’t performing at the arbitrary level some government official pulls out of his ass and decides that THAT is the level EVERYONE needs to be at.  ALL ONE HUNDRED PERCENT OF THEM.  Yes, that’s a real law.  All 100% will be at the same level.  No, of course I’m not saying we should kick them out.  But expecting them all to be at the same place by the same time, under the facade of “ensuring high standards” is laughable.

*Charters and private schools CAN and do get rid of whichever kids they want.  They can be exclusive and selective and are not held accountable to the extent that traditional public ed is.

2.  Children are not products that you assemble from scratch.  You can’t guarantee the quality of the product when you have no control over the pieces you have to work with. We mold, we shape, we guide to the best extent possible, but let’s be real.  There’s only so much we can do.  If you think that homelessness, poverty, abuse, neglect, depression, anxiety, parental follow through, substance abuse or differences in cognitive ability have nothing to do with how well students will perform, I fear that you don’t at all understand homelessness, poverty, abuse, neglect, depression, anxiety, parental follow through, substance abuse or differences in cognitive ability.

3.  You can’t really tell when you’ve made a quality product.  Part A:  Standardized tests.  In business, it’s easy to tell.  It’s about how much you sell, or how much  money you make on each product.  With education, it’s not so clear.  How can we assess whether or not a quality product is being produced by graduation day?  Standardized tests?  Really?  The idea sounds okay at first glance.  But, think about it for a second.  A list of random facts is what you want students to know by the end of their schooling? That’s it?  That’s how you’re judging whether a teacher is effective, a school is “failing” or a student will be successful in life?  By a secret list of random facts, that changes each year?   A list of 100ish facts that is derived from state standards (that are constantly changing) in which the amount of information expected to be mastered, if laid out sentence by sentence, could wrap around the Earth 3 times?  A moving target where the questions are hidden to the people instructed to teach that exact list?  By standardized tests that have a lifespan of a few years and are eventually deemed not good enough to serve as a valid assessment and then are replaced by a new standardized test?  Recently, in Michigan, the cut score for what was deemed passing was changed.  The state goverment decided that a score that was passing the previous year would not be considered passing the next.  Because that is helpful.  Is that education reform?

4.  You can’t really tell when you’ve made a quality product:  Part B:  What do we want from our youth?  If you ask most people what makes a good person, or a good employee or what makes someone a productive member of society the answer is generally not “good test scores”.  It’s a rare employer who really cares if their new hire can tell them what year the cotton gin was invented or how to solve for x using the substitution method.  Standardized tests do not take into account effort, attendance, punctuality, accountability, honesty and integrity.  They do not take into account creativity, compassion, empathy, self-awareness or self-respect.  They do not take into account versatility, curiosity or confidence or willingness to learn and improve or take a positive risk.  They do not take into account self-growth or leadership abilities, commuication skills, or being able to work as a team member.  These are things K-12 teachers and educational staff work with on a daily basis with students, and things that all employers would say they would like to see from their employees, yet so far there are zero standardized tests that assess this sort of thing.  By using test scores to determine who the “high quality” teachers are, we are sending the message that we as society don’t care at all about any of these other things.  And I don’t really think that is true, do you?

So enough about education reform – lets focus on those lazy, greedy, worthless teachers. How can we weed out the bad ones and keep the effective ones?  Let’s talk about teacher assessment.

1.  Guess what?  There already is a process for getting rid of bad teachers. During the first few years of employment, teachers are on probationary status and can be fired without reason at the end of their contract.  Contrary to popular belief, even a teacher with tenure can be fired.  There just has to be a well documented reason.  Tenure just means that a teacher can’t be fired on a whim*.  Even my husband’s company, who doesn’t have a union, has a similar system.  In fact, his company even has an appeal process.  So, if a truly shitty teacher is keeping his or her job – is it fair to continuously blame unions or other teachers for this?  Or does the problem really lie within the administration?   In any profession, you’re going to get a few people who put in as little effort as possible.  But, as Teacher Biz shows us in her article, I’m a Proud Public School Teacher.  Here’s a Glimpse of What I Do, this doesn’t make them the majority, it makes them the bottom of the barrel.  Any quality teacher is just as fed up with their shitty lazy colleague as you are – probably even more so. We don’t want apathatic, crappy colleagues eitiher, because they make us look bad.

*In Michigan, tenure has pretty much lost any value.  You can basically get fired on a whim these days.

2.  Different kids need different kinds of teachers. No one teacher will meet the needs of every kid. It’s impossible.  A good teacher-student relationship can literally make or break a studen’t success in that area.  However, we know that a perfect match is not always possible. That’s just reality.  And in the long run, it is good to be exposed to different people with different expectations.  In the meantime, how can we avoid punishing one or the other for the inevitable lack of compatibility?

Some kids need someone rigid and strict.  They need discipline and stern looks of disapproval.  Some students need daily pat on the back or another acknowledgement of their effort.  Some need flexibility and creativity.  Some need routine.  Some students need to be kept accountable with nightly homework and assignments that require they practice and practice and practice again.  Some students need to just listen while teachers lecture and moderate classroom discussions.  Some cannot handle busywork, but can ace the tests.  Some work hard to complete all the busy work but fail every test.  Some students need the flourescent lighting and the classroom chatter to be reduced in order to hear anything the teacher is saying. Some students need to listen to heavy metal or rap while working independently. Some need earplugs.  Some need a teacher who will listen to their gripes and answer their millions of questions. Some need someone who leaves them alone.  Some need more time.  Some need to move faster.  Some need a teacher who writes out all of the note on the board and requires copious note-taking. Some need a teacher who posts them online because they can’t keep up with the writing.  Some need audio books.  Some need silence while reading. Some need hands-on activities.  Some need a teacher who draws them out and gets them excited.  Some need a teacher who calms them down and helps them focus.  Do you get my point yet?  So which type of teacher is the right type of teacher to be?

3.  Delayed performance.   A little talked about phenomen, but an important one.  There are lessons we teach and expectations we hold and requirements we demand.  Not all students meet these standards by graduation day.  But, that’s not to say they never meet them at all.  Some are just not ready to apply what they’ve learned by the arbitrary date that is assigned to them to walk across the stage.  Every single teacher I know can provide numerous examples of kids who have “failed” or kids who didn’t achieve as well as their perceived potential at the time, and a few years after they are gone, the student comes back to say thanks.  Or the teacher gets news about how the students is thriving and is now performing at, or above, the levels desired a few years earlier.  Maturity and circumstance can make a world of difference and just because we aren’t seeing it at the time, it doesn’t mean the child isn’t learning something, isn’t soaking it up and taking it all in.  So, tell me, how the hell do you measure THAT?

The current so-called education reform appears to have less to do with student outcomes and more to do with profitization.  During the process, the people who put in the effort to make a difference in the lives of our students are getting beaten down, barraged with negativity, and are being called greedy and lazy while watching their incomes and benefits being reduced each year by politicians with zero education experience.  I guarantee you that having disheartened, defeated teachers in front of our classrooms is no way to help kids.

What do you think about education reform and teacher assessment?

De Cito Eindtoets Basisonderwijs.
De Cito Eindtoets Basisonderwijs. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

11 thoughts on “The Problem With Teacher Assessment and Schools As Businesses

  1. “While I understand that the current system isn’t perfect, those preaching of reform are typically thinking less about students and more about bottom lines.”

    I gotta say, I don’t know of anything these days that isn’t totally about the bottom line.

    It’s not a good feeling for the future any way you look at it.

  2. Spot-on facts and powerful delivery. After 29 years of teaching it makes me sad and yet empowered to see what’s happening in Michigan with our educational system. I will stick with the kids as long as I can because there’s so much work to do.

  3. Yep… Different kids need different kinds of teachers. And at different points in their lives, too. The best teaching style for a kid in 5th grade isn’t/shouldn’t necessarily be the best teacher for him or her in 9th. People change. It’s called (gasp!) GROWTH! I think it’s what we want in our kids. And we want kids to be exposed to different kinds of styles because that’s how they’ll learn to take the best of everything for themselves. (If we teach them how to do that and not just consider the standardized test.)

    On another issue–public education for all. It’s a bedrock of this country. The “capitalists” who have run amok on this issue, seeing it as the area where we should let Adam Smith’s economic theories have free reign, are forgetting something essential: The American Cultural Imperative to educate all people that was instilled in this country by its very capitalistic founding fathers. I admit it looks a bit different these days than it did under those capitalists. Our education system has grown quite a bit as the country has expanded its definition of personhood, but I hope no matter what our political/economic value system, the majority in this country can now agree that women, blacks, the disabled, Latinos, immigrants, and other “minorities” are PEOPLE. (a concept we seem to have had some trouble with at various points in our history.) This cultural imperative for educating all predates Carl Marx and our fear of communism/socialism and our belief that the government shouldn’t run things because every thing’s better privately run. It is itself a commitment to DEMOCRACY (not to socialism or taxation to finance government run ineptitude). It’s what the founding fathers considered a necessary bedrock to democracy. There are some who would be perfectly happy to see the end of democracy in this country (as long as money wields power and they have money, they’ll be satisfied; democracy isn’t actually necessary for that–see history for details). But while there is still some power left among average people, they better wake up. One of the most important foundations of their democratic culture is at risk. Hand schooling over to people who want to earn a profit and we’re handing over a lot more than just our “kids”. We’re handing over democracy. The founding fathers understood that a free society could only exist if a system of truly public education existed for those who were entitled to vote.

    1. Amy I think you hit the nail on the head with “There are some who would be perfectly happy to see the end of democracy in this country (as long as money wields power and they have money, they’ll be satisfied;”

    2. I would put forth the idea that federal control of education is how this problem has spun out of control. I would like to see control of education decisions returned to the state and local level. In addition I would add the statement, when trying to judge how a teacher is doing, that you and I can teach the same class, but our students are different. Also, am I a better teacher because my AP government kids get all “A”‘s or are you a better teacher because the room full of at risk kids in remedial math all pass with C- ?? Good Post.

  4. As I was reading this, I just had this mental picture of the music video for Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall, of the kids in the factory. Fantastic post – you make excellent points and I am in total agreement.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s