In a December 19 article in The Baltimore Sun, Sharonda Buckman, CEO of Detroit Parent Network was quoted as saying, “Somebody needs to go to jail. Somebody needs to pay for this. Somebody needs to go to jail, and it shouldn’t be the kids.”
Admittedly, test scores are horrendous, and parents are angry about it. Is there a problem? Absolutely. But jail? This sort of talk worries me, especially as a teacher who spent the first nine years of her career teaching at a 95% free/reduced lunch school in inner city St. Louis. Why on earth would I ever return to a school like the one I left (for a cross-country move) if I was the only one held responsible in the triad directly involved with the education of each child?
I was chatting with my sister-in-law today, a Kindergarten teacher, who has kids entering Kindergarten not even knowing their letters or numbers. When she has talked with parents about ways they can continue working with struggling kids at home, parents have point-blank told her, “That’s your job.” Furthermore, she has little control over what and how to teach, being instructed to use particular lessons and materials, and getting written up if she deviates at all. She explains that the lessons aren’t meeting the needs of her kids, to no avail. And then, at data-reviewing meetings, her administrators ask her why X number of kids haven’t hit their benchmarks and why she didn’t adjust instruction to meet her needs. She feels a little like Yossarian in Catch-22, and I don’t blame her.
I am all for accountability, but I want to be held accountable on reasonable issues, and I want everyone responsible for the education of the child to be held accountable. I want parents to set high expectations for learning and real consequences for misbehavior instead of yelling at me about their child’s grade or for taking their child’s cellphone from them when they were texting in class. If we’re going to persist in using standardized testing as the sole means of evaluating a child’s progress, then I want test scores to have real meaning for students with consequences for not taking it seriously. Every year teachers have several capable kids who fill in random bubbles just to get the test done because it’s “boring,” something that shocked me to my core because I was the kid who always tried my best.
More importantly, I want test scores to be used in an apples to apples comparison and not apples to oranges. If little Susie enters my classroom testing at a fourth grade level, there is no way she is going to be testing at an eighth grade level at the end of nine months, especially not in a classroom of 30 and a student load of 150 or more. Yet, Susie’s raw score is the only thing that matters, though she entered my classroom behind. Not only that, but my scores this year will be scored with my scores for last year, which has a completely different group of kids with very different learning levels and needs. Our kids aren’t uniform, much as it would make my job easier.
What am I willing to be held accountable for? The progress of each and every child. Non-educators might be interested to find I receive absolutely no data from the testing company on the growth of each child, only a raw score. Part of what I do at the beginning of each school year is pull out the individual test data from the year before my students had me and then compare it, student by student, with the test data from the year my students were in my classroom. I want to see if I made a difference and in what areas because the growth of each student is what’s most important. This is something I have done every year since I started teaching, and I’d be willing to be offered a contract or fired based on the results because my students make huge gains while they’re with me. Are they all proficient? No. But they go from far below basic to basic, or from below basic to proficient, and that’s success for both of us!
Under the current system of accountability, however, I was a really horrible teacher when I taught in the inner city of St. Louis, but my move to California must have really taught me something because my test scores jumped significantly. The large amount of parental involvement, the reduced class size and student load, and the better socioeconomic levels of my students had nothing to do with it, I’m sure, at least not according to how society wants to evaluate me as a teacher.
The truth is, as teachers are continued to be bashed by the media and used as a convenient scapegoat for politicians, the more I think about leaving the profession. I love my job and I love the kids I teach, but you reach a point when being treated like the nation’s toilet becomes too much to bear. I’m not one of those teachers who complains about the low pay as I know what I signed up for, but when I consider I was making nearly what I’m making now as a bartender and people were appreciative about the service I rendered and were happy to see me, it becomes a little hard to take.
How much longer will I remain in this profession? I honestly can’t say, but I feel the time ticking down more rapidly than even a few years ago and far faster than when I began. When I began teaching, I planned to stay forever, even after a year with kids who taught me more about classroom management than any college course.
What will I do if I leave the classroom? I don’t know, but I think I’d settle for anything that gave me even just a little respect.