Teaching has changed dramatically over the years. From No Child Left Behind to Race To the Top, education reform has completely transformed the way schools function. Unfortunately, most education reform has been led by people who have had little to no experience in the classroom. Even those leaders who taught a decade ago have little concept of what teaching and learning is like now. This is why we need a teacher with recent classroom experience in Washington.
What do we need to look at fixing?
1. Find a way to limit the excessive amount of standardized testing. There is nothing wrong with some standardized testing. There should be some form of measuring student knowledge and a certain amount of testing is useful. However, we are overdoing it in our schools. Many days of regular classroom time are lost each year not only to actual standardized tests, but also to mock testing. We test, then we test again, and then we test again. The students get “test burn-out” and do not take the tests as seriously when they are this excessive. Our schools’ data would likely improve if we limited the number of tests so that the students would actually take them seriously. Being tested as often as they are, they lose focus and do not push themselves to do as well on each of them. As MNPS School Board member Amy Frogge pointed out in a post this week, last year her 3rd grader took at least 23 standardized tests. It has also been pointed out that many of our leaders pushing for excessive testing are not actually public school parents. Why are they ok with everyone else’s children being over-tested and not their own?
2. Fix teacher evaluations. Evaluations are an important part of any job. There is nothing wrong with every teacher being evaluated every year. However, many states are tying school-wide test scores to an individual teacher’s evaluation score. In many cases, teachers are being given an evaluation rating based on the scores of students that they do not have in class. At my particular school, most teachers have between 150-200 students a year. However, a large percentage of many teacher’s evaluation score is based on the scores of the 1000 students that they never see or teach. Yes, teachers should collaborate to create the best school environment as possible, but tying an evaluation score (and possible license renewal now) to this is not right to the teachers that spend hours and hours teaching students in incredibly difficult situations.
3. Find a way for regular and charter schools to peacefully co-exist. No matter your opinion on them, charter schools are a part of our life and are not going anywhere. Both sides must find a way to work together in a fair and professional manner. Charter schools must focus on the whole student (and not just the data business model) and regular public schools must hold high standards so that they can help any student who walks through their doors.
4. Keep our non-tested subjects and extracurricular activities funded and thriving. What classes and activities excite and motivate students the most? No offense to the great science teachers out there, but rarely does a student say, “Chemistry!”
Students thrive when they have opportunities for athletics, fine arts, and clubs. These programs are always the first to go when budget cuts occur. However, these are the activities that keep students involved and active in school. It gives them a place to be and a place to fit in. School systems that cut these programs do a great disservice to the students. We must fund our non-tested activities!
5. Meaningful professional development for teachers. The keyword is, “meaningful”. Those of us in the teaching world know that many of our PD days are spent in meetings that often have little to do with what we teach. Sometimes, they are based on products of the latest educational fad company our system has bought into. Schools need the funding to create more subject-area based professional development that any teacher can actually use to improve student learning directly.
6. Improved pay and benefits for teachers. Contrary to popular belief, teachers do not get two months paid vacation in the summer (in MNPS, teachers must have so much money withdrawn from their regular checks each pay period to get “paid” evenly year-round). I do not know of any teacher who only works 40 hours a week. I see some teachers staying at school for 12 hours a day, simply to stay caught-up on the excessive amounts of grading and lesson prep that is needed to be successful. Tying teacher pay directly to test scores is wrong and dangerous. To say that experience does not help a teacher improve their craft is laughable. To say higher degrees do not make a difference is simply not true. Are some extra incentives ok? Absolutely. Teachers do not get into the profession to make big dollars, but a fair and straightforward compensation package with benefits should be available to all in the profession.