Thursday, March 08, 2012

Blaming teachers

Open Education Week, Day 4...

If a business fails, how often do we blame it on the rank-and-file workers? When Enron failed, who's fault was it? Would you blame the electricians who were actually doing the retrofittings of the buildings?

But this is the logic of current attitudes toward teachers.

Teachers today and teacher education programs have a more challenging task than ever. We need educators who can blend the best of the pedagogies that have worked in the past, yet adapt to the challenges of more mediated learning environments.  And all this while classroom teachers are feeling more disrespected than ever. Here are a couple of examples that come to mind.

On Tuesday, 3/6/12, the Utah state Senate passed a bill that would allow schools to drop sex education and prohibit instruction on how to use contraception. Despite the opinions you might have about sex ed in schools, there was a quote by a legislator that bears repeating:
"To replace the parent in the school setting, among people who we have no idea what their morals are, we have no ideas what their values are, yet we turn our children over to them to instruct them in the most sensitive sexual activities in their lives, I think is wrongheaded," Republican state Sen. Stuart Reid said, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.
These "people" Sen. Reid refers to are known to others as "teachers." I can't help but read this statement as an indictment of teachers, like we can't be trusted ... to teach.

At the same time New York City teachers are also feeling disrespected because news organizations have now identified the "best" and "worst" teachers based on a "value-added score," progress students make on the state tests in a year's time. In theory this sounds good, but as the NYC teachers pointed out, if you've got good test taking students, you won't be identified as one of the "worst." Rating teachers on the result of a test taken one day. Can't we do better?

Here's an excerpt from last night's Teachers Teaching Teachers show notes (the episode is still being edited, by the way).

A teacher’s rating depends on how much progress her students make on state tests in a year’s time, and is known as the value-added score.... If city officials were trying to demoralize and humiliate the workforce, they’ve done a terrific job. News organizations get an assist for publishing the scores, and former Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein deserves a special nod for enthusiastically supporting the release.... It’s not just the low scorers who are offended. Maribeth Whitehouse, a special education teacher in the Bronx, wrote me [Paul Allison] in an e-mail: “I am a 99th percentiler. A number of us are in touch with each other, united by nothing more than our profession and professional disdain for this nonsense.” She is circulating a letter of protest for others on the 99th percentile to sign.

So on this fourth day of Open Education Week I'm wondering about the role of the teacher in online spaces. How will we judge effectiveness? The medium has a lot of potential. Will we live up to it, or continue the same ways of assessment?

No comments: