As I get older, I see the value in the adage, “There is wisdom in numbers.” I catch myself more often than not running ideas and proposals by colleagues and friends a lot more often than I did a decade ago.
So with all of the Common Core stages and changes, I have been posting blogs and reports on my facebook, tagging fellow teachers with only the preceding post as “Thoughts?”
You see, choosing to not go through accreditation for my own school has allowed me to sit back as an observer and assess the mayhem that seems to be occurring across the states. I abide by all National Standards, exceed all high objectives and do optional standardized testing, but when it comes to all of the high stakes testing and back biting politics, I get to kick up my feet and eat popcorn as the show unfolds.
However, this does not mean that I am oblivious to how all of the Common Core hub bub is affecting my teacher friends, not to mention the students. I am very well aware of all of the stress and unease that is exuding from most every grade level of classroom teacher from coast to coast. It does mean that I get to be on the outside looking in as an objective teammate, knowing that my job and my students are not at risk.
During one of several such facebook sessions of posting and tagging, I had the opportunity to catch up with a colleague and friend on the East coast who I view as an amazingly creative teacher, awesome student advocate and all around phenomenal person. Especially in reading. As we were conversing back and forth, she mentioned the changes she was seeing in her neck of the woods and what she thought about them. I’m a dreamer with big dreams, so I posed the question, “If you were totally in charge, what would you change?” Even though I’ve been out from under the thumb of crippling educational politics, I still make my own list of changes that I think need to happen and I was eager to hear her thoughts.
Here are several of our combined ideas.
1. Transform all grading to skills based (We want quality, not quantity as far as the number of skills…think application. RTI strategies can then be utilized based on this form of assessment.
2. End teacher tenure. Let’s be realistic, if you do your job well, you should not be concerned. In this country anyone can be laid off at any time…teachers should not be excluded….even the military cuts people with contracts these days.
3. End Standardized Testing in public schools. Shift the focus to a student’s growth in a year through a portfolio system in combination with performance based testing in Math & Reading (this avoids the cookie cutter testing scenarios) this also negates the LD student reading on a first grade level being required to take a reading test on a fifth grade reading level, talk about pointless…I see this as a form of torture. Allow older students the opportunity to choose how they want to be assessed. Give the responsibility of learning back to the student.
4. End performance based raises for teachers based solely on state test scores; it encourages cheating and destroys morale. Raises should be based on cost of living increases and non-tested based performance. Allow me to explain. Cost of living raises are for everyone that meets the minimum requirements; raises are awarded to those that go above and beyond, for example heading a volunteer committees in school, writing grants for their school, etc. I understand there will be times in life when teachers can’t do extra things (new babies, illness, etc) Then don’t expect a raise. I think that is fair.
5. End “scheduled” performance evaluations. A principal should be able to evaluate you at any time. If you do your job well and you are prepared (this is what we expect from students) you shouldn’t be afraid.
6. Teachers performance evaluations should take into account the following areas: Student surveys, parent surveys, colleague surveys (I am not saying that it should be a popularity contest, but let’s be honest our students and their parents are our customers…they need to have a say). School improvement, student achievement (a year of growth minimum is key in Math and Reading-minus special education students…then IEP goals become the key), quality and execution of lessons, level of education (Masters, doctorate, professional development). If you choose to improve upon your level of education, you deserve more money.
6. Remove all Social Studies and Science standardized tests…students are simply pumping and dumping information…another waste of time. If you feel you would like to pursue Science or Social Studies in college, then the college can require you complete a standardized test or require an alternate form of skill evaluation.
7. This will rock your world…encourage skills- based classrooms in elementary school regardless of “grade” level. Allow me to explain. On a particular day and time, teachers are no longer a “fifth grade teacher” I am a division teacher, I am a nonfiction literature teacher, etc…any student, at any grade can visit my class when they are ready. This allows students that are advanced exposure to what they need and students that are struggling a second chance.
8. Implement student service projects as a graduation requirement. This doesn’t need to cost money. There are tons of volunteer opportunities available everywhere. There are even projects that can be delivered to classes and completed by students without them ever having to leave school grounds.
9. Implement parent/school service contract or pay money in lieu of your service hours. We are a community! If you can’t volunteer to work a function, we’ll use your money to hire someone. I just had a parent ride a city bus with a two year old both ways to a field trip so they could volunteer and attend a field trip, no excuses. Parents and guardians need to take responsibility for their children and lead by example, showing students that education is a priority.
10. Require teacher rotation. Everyone should have to do time in a Title I school. (I know this not possible everywhere.)
11. Administrator increases should also be based on teacher, parent and student evaluations.
12. Let’s remember all things are not equal. On average, a student from a low social economic household will have 32 million less words in their vocabulary. Is it possible for all things to then be equal? I think not. But every child from every walk of life CAN be educated and CAN reach his or her own potential. As teachers we need to be allowed to help children achieve this.
13. Accountability should come in the following format: Student growth (alternative forms of assessment is key!) Stop changing the tests and expecting more, let’s bring developmentally appropriate skills back into the picture. Graduation rates (Yes, you should still be required a minimum level of credits) Students should choose their path, college prep, vocational ed. by the end of sophomore year. I think this will help the dropout rates. We need service workers in our country. Not everyone needs to go to college.
14. Consider flipping your classroom/school. Lectures are presented in 10-13 minute videos that are watched at home, the school day is filled with hand on application. This encourages parent involvement and responsibility.
15. Implement the same learning standards expectations for every state. Report cards should be universal. I’m not opposed to learning skills…that are developmentally appropriate. I think they provide a guide for teachers. I am opposed to learning standards that are taught in order to pass a test. Oklahoma should have the same educational expectations as a child educated in Virginia. I’m not so concerned about the pacing of the standards from year to year, that should be student lead. I take a more holistic view on the matter. This is how the skilled based class sessions despite grade level would be beneficial for kiddos that moved and may have missed something.
16. School accreditation should not be based primarily on a standardized test. This causes a “teaching to the test” philosophy and our kids are stressed to the max. It broke my heart when my own child at age eight said, “I am about to take the biggest test in my life.” UGH!
17. Keep in mind that school populations are constantly changing. You are comparing apples and oranges from year to year.
18. No matter what program you buy or implement, change WILL NOT happen overnight. There is no miracle cure.
19. Goals for students and teachers should be realistic and achievable. Focus on the improvements your school is making. An education is about so much more than scores. Is your advanced student a thoughtful, respectful, responsible, community helper? If not, then your work is not done, despite what the “test score” tells you.
20. We don’t value the ARTS and what they offer our children enough. All schools should have funded music, art, and sports programs.
21. Teachers who are in the classroom need to decide which side of the fence they are on. Either they are all in or all out. In that case, maybe a different career path needs to be chosen. Principals and Superintendents need a reality check once in awhile. How can they introduce classroom policies and ideas and expect them to work if they have no inkling of what is going on in the front lines?
22. We are preparing students for life-long learning. We need to bring back life skills, etiquette and teach students how to APPLY character education. Life is not about a test. Life is about becoming productive citizens and giving of our talents and resources to create a better place to live. Somewhere along the line, the ‘higher ups’ have forgotten this.
We all know that changes don’t settle well with everyone. We also know that if we keep doing what we’ve been doing we are going to get what we keep getting. In my opinion, our students and teachers are capable of so much more. We need our educational system revitalized and ready to prepare today’s students to set their goals higher and help them realize that they are more than a number. Who’s ready to help be the change?