Thursday, October 22, 2009

My Education Rant

Today in a meeting at school with all of the 8th grade teachers and our fearless leaders, we were asked to watch a 10 minute clip of General McChrystal being interviewed by Dan Rather. The general was expressing that the war in Afghanistan was progressing, but just much too slowly. At every post he visits, he hears, "We're making progress," but when he delves into, "What progress," it is a very small step toward the end goals. There were numerous shots of McChrystal pep talking his men on the dangers of becoming complacent with small gains. "We must see more progress or we'll be here a hundred years."

What does this have to do with education? Our superintendent of schools, Stu, knows what he's doing. He has transformed under-performing schools into top-achieving schools in record time. The video was his way of pep-talking us I suppose. I think we were supposed to walk away with a renewed sense of purpose, with energy and determination to "wage war on the achievement gap." (Stu's words) And for some teachers in the room, maybe it worked.

But for me, I'm left dissatisfied and aching in the pit of my stomach. After the video, we were given color printouts listing students we are to target. This is our battle plan. We're not to stop teaching everyone else, but we are to hone in on this group of students, carefully grouped for us, color coded and graphed. It makes sense right? If your troops are overwhelmed and making small amounts of progress, you zero in on key areas where you need to gain control; get the job done there, and then spread out. I get it. Maybe I'm just not wired for this kind of thing because here's all I can think about.

I have 18 kids on my 'target' list. They aren't the 18 lowest performing kids or the 18 kids who have the poorest reading scores. They are students who are just a few points away from making it to the magic number on the state test and their subgroup information couldn't be clearer.

It is suggested that our time would be best spent on the kids who fit more than one and preferably more than two subgroup populations. For example, a student who is Hispanic, receives special education services and is on free and reduced lunch should receive more of my focus than another student of the same reading level who is white, has no identified disability and is not on free and reduced lunch.

Of course, no administrator would ever admit that their intention is to provide better educational opportunities to some kids based on their belonging to a subgroup population- but the message is none-the-less clear. 1) We're expected to somehow pull aside low performing students into small groups for specialized instruction that meets their needs while maintaining high levels of instruction overall. 2) There are too many needy students to be effective with all of them all at once. Ergo- maximize your efforts on the students that "count" in closing the achievement gap. And with Stu's track record of success, this is probably the best way. I'm just not made for this.

It's not that I don't enjoy the low performing kids. I love them. And I love the subgroup kids and the gifted kids and the creative thinkers and the linear thinkers. I want to teach them all, and I can't. That's what makes me crazy. If I'm focused on the subgroup kids, my lesson planning for the large group suffers, and my lessons are good but not great. And if I'm planning great lessons for everyone (large group and subgroup), my grading suffers and students aren't getting timely feedback on their work. And let's say by some miracle that I get caught up on grading, and my lesson planning is still great, then I'm certainly not having time to spend with my own family or participate in any extra curricular activities myself. (Like writing this blog for example)

So to Stu, I appreciate him and I think he is a valiant and courageous leader, but I'd just like to remind him of one thing. General McChrystal's ultimate solution is 40,000 more troops in Afghanistan.

OK, rant over. More pictures and video of kids to come soon.


Jeanine said...

"...I'd just like to remind him of one thing. General McChrystal's ultimate solution is 40,000 more troops in Afghanistan."

Game over. This is ABSOLUTELY the difference. Great post.

And PS, when you're ready to become the fearless leader, I might just be willing to teach at your school! :)

Angela said...

Um, yea...i'd vote for a few more educators in our school so that this problem can be erased all together!

Erin, those kids, and your own kids, are lucky to have you. And that's all I've got to say about that.

Simile Metaphor Collection

Elijah after running: My heart is beating like a coconut rolling down a hill.
Elijah on urination: Pee is like horses galloping out of the gate. Once they get started you just can't stop them.
Elijah: If school were a human I'd give it a wedgie.
Elijah: I am like a hot rod and I just want to be a plain old Ford
Elijah on the fruits of the spirit: I've got them all covered except self-control. Its like a tiny green tomato and the rest are all big ripe ones. Especially love. Its like the biggest tomato we saw in the garden tonight.