Friday, June 26, 2009

The Reform that's Needed

After reading the previous post, I realized that my January 15th blog entry was my last one. I knew it had been a while, but hadn't realized just how long I've been silent. While there has been plenty to write about, I've allowed the oppressive conditions of working within DCPS to get the better of me this school year. After 9 years in DCPS, I was really feeling discouraged and began questioning if it was time to leave the system.

I kept asking myself why the dysfunctional workings of DCPS got to me like they did this year.

Why? Well, I think a large part had to do with the continuing charade that, despite some recent cracks, still has convinced many that DCPS reform is moving in the right direction. I can't tell you how discouraging it is to witness on a daily basis systemic problems that continue to be ignored while so much time and money are being spent in areas that might make DCPS look good in the short term, but will probably not lead to long term and systemic improvement.

The Saturday Scholars program is a case in point. I'm sure it helped improve our test scores—but who is this really helping? The rhetoric that we have to stop serving “adult interests” doesn't match the reality of adults targeting certain students to make our test scores go up. While I have no doubt that it helped the students “on the cusp of proficiency”, what about the thousands of children who were not targeted because they are several grade levels behind in reading and math and have little if any chance without serious intervention of scoring proficient on the DC-CAS? Where is their Saturday Scholars program?

My criticism is meant not to condemn, but to expose the reality so that we can begin to fundamentally correct what is broken. I don't claim to have all of the answers, but I realize that now is not the time to be silent if we want to make real education reform a reality in DCPS.

My next topic--truancy.


Mark Simon said...

Kerry, it seems obvious that the DCPS "reform" strategy of targetting the kids on the cusp of meeting proficiency (so the adults look good), instead of providing remediation and support to the kids significantly behind grade level, is directly connected to the demoralization and burnout you describe feeling as a teacher. As a high school teacher for 16 years, I know how demoralizing it is when students lack the basic skills they should have learned in elementary school, and then when those seriously at risk kids stop showing up and you don't know from one day to the next who will be in your class. For DCPS to ignore that priority is shameful. You are an award-winning teacher who does an awesome job with your students. The system should be lisening to teachers like you, not blaming you when you don't get someone's idealized notion of student achievement results. Thanks for this last post that helps us think about the difference between the real reforms we need and the faux reforms that just look good in Time magazine cover stories.

incredulous said...

The adults must ask better questions of the "accountability" system. What is the total supposed learning of all students, not just the number who can be identified to tossed over the line.
Just such question was asked, sort of, in the recent Stanford U / CREDO evaluation of test score gains, comparing students in charter to those in traditional public schools, nationwide and in specifically in DC too. The relationship between past test score and gain shocked me, so strong was the regression.
"Regression"? What you find when so much of the baseline score is due to over-achievement, non-sustainable chance so that the greater the score the more likely it is to fall. IOW, rather than having some of this inevitable regression effect offset by the FACT that the test helps identify more ready learners, capable of sustaining learning and gain, the prep procedure and increasingly much of schooling under NCLB creates bubbles which can be inflated with coaching on test specifics, bubbles which the more they are expanded, the more likely they are to pop.
Now to be fair to educators: they are directed to pour resources into underachievers on last year's test; and they do. But many of those kids had bad days or problems not related to math and reading. So, they too, regress, UP to their own level.

Just described: A system in which there is a STRONG negative correlation between educational need and resource allocation.
This isn't hypothetical. I'm not making his up. A multi-degreed, experienced, and committed Special Ed teacher DCPS despaired of the bad luck of a student she worked with for years. He did his best, didn't quit (guessing), and attempted all items. But, the student guessed so many items right, he disqualified himself from assistance, even though he every day demonstrated he was several grade levels behind in his mastery of reading due to learning disabilites.

meaningful change said...

The problem being described here is part of what happens with the constant turnover of leadership and that is the pressure to show that DCPS is improving quickly. As a result the focus is to pour resources into the easier fixes like students on the cusp and to make things look good on paper while not prioritizing the deeper problems. Wow, look at all of the improvements, a person without intimate knowledge of what is really going on in the schools might say.

I believe if DCPS listened more to the teachers when coming up with solutions rather than consultants sitting in downtown offices, such issues would be addressed.

Mary M said...

Kerry, thanks for this post. We had the same frustration at Langdon with the Saturday Scholars program. This is a predictable result of NCLB and the need for the current DCPS leadership to show quick results. The kind of fundamental reform we need is not a quick fix. I hear stories of this kind of priority setting for tutoring from friends in public schools systems in PA, CA and WA. No extra resources for kids that are far behind, and no extra resources for kids who are ahead of the curve. Boost test scores short term, and ignore real needs.

lodesterre said...

Hi Kerry, I am glad you are back. Your voice is very much needed and has been missed among the many teacher blogs about DC in the last several months.

The Saturday Scholars is another in a long list of quick fixes that characterize and define this administration. There are stronger, better ways of addressing most of the problems we have in our system and yet we are constantly given dubious, experimental "theories" with poor track records (pay for performance, paying the students, etc.). Whenever it is suggested that we might follow Montgomery County we are given a lecture on why DC is different from Montgomery County and why their model would be ineffective here. Yet one of the stated goals of MR was to make DC a public school model for the rest of the country. I would quote Whitman at this point, something about contradicting herself and containing multitudes but I think she simply contradicts herself.

The most recent quick fix is Green Dot. Green Dot, with no more a proven track record than anything else that has been tried will now come in, break some of our high schools into smaller schools and begin the same charade they have been practicing in California (btw,does anyone have any statistics that show success for this company? - just curious).