Head-Writing

bubble sheet with pencil

Friday, April 17, 2015
Today I am grateful for head-writing. My son, who is a teacher, posted something on Facebook this morning about the teachers/educators in Atlanta who are facing prison sentences for their roles in a test cheating case. He asked for opinions. Hah! Be careful what you wish for. I’ve been head-writing my opinion all day long.

When I lived in a house in the country every spring we’d get a horrible stench in our den, which was the former garage. The first year we tore apart furniture, lifted carpet, moved every book and blamed every animal or family member. Each subsequent year we went through similar machinations, but we never did find a definitive original source of the foul odor. The stink would appear, someone would say, “It smells in here.” We assumed a mouse crawled between the wall and avoid the room for a couple of days until it rotted enough to dissipate.

That phantom stench was just like our current educational system and the test-cheating scandals that are shaking communities all over the country. There is a stink and I refuse to believe it’s generated from the teachers! Sorry, but I don’t buy it. Jail time? Racketeering charges? Stricter sentences because they did not plead out and admit wrong doing? Were they all wrong in the first place? Sure they were. Even if you feel your back is against the wall and you do wrong, you still know you did it. But do two wrongs make a right? Get real. Throw the Enron idiots in jail! Throw the child molestors in jail. Throw drug dealers and rapists in jail. Throw the No Child Left Behind Act in jail! For these people to get serious jail time makes our legal system reek as much as the educational system. The system! Not the teachers!

From the on-set of No Child Left Behind there have been problems. Big problems. No one seemed to know how to make it work. No one! The idea of all kids getting a great education seemed okay, but that’s in a perfect world. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen a perfect world for a long time, now. . .if ever! I’m still not sure what it’s all about, but I do know that when any change is made it costs money. In my opinion no big government money was earmarked to help No Child Left Behind succeed. The opposite happened. Local school districts were asked to “find” the money. State governments balked. Local taxpayers complained. No one wanted to finance any part of it. No one thought it out! But it was mandated! End of discussion! Do it! Just make it happen! This is an example of the playground bully at his/her most powerful position. Now there is a stench source for you!

In a desperate attempt to finance the debacle, many districts hinged the bonuses of principals and administrators on test scores. This caused the stench to waft. If you think for one minute that student test scores alone determine whether or not a child is getting properly educated, then you need to get out of your chair and into a school. And to make it a straight across the board edict is unconscionable! Really?

So if I am a principal in the “hood” where most of my students have one parent or less, who is working three jobs trying to stay above water and siblings are caring for siblings, with no help for any of them. . .those kids better get high test scores or my bonus is cut or worse, I’m out of a job? Does it matter that I am spending day after day, night after night trying to find services to help them on more levels than reading and writing? Nope. Because their TEST scores don’t measure up, so I’m penalized. That’s wrong.

Or suppose I’m an administrator/principal in the burbs, in a great school district, but my particular school has socio-economic issues and a high population of English as a second language students, or many children with special needs. If their test scores pull the percentage down, then I’m out of a job, losing my pension and my insurance and my self-worth? That’s wrong, too!

It is also wrong to take matters into my own hands and BULLY. . .yes, I said, BULLY my teachers to go against every ethic they have striven for and change test scores. “You will lose your job if the scores aren’t high enough,” does not have to be actually said, but merely implied! And it will scare the crap out of every teacher out there.

That’s bullying! If I was one of these teachers, I might not be proud of it, but I might be thinking. . . I’m an honest teacher with integrity, but my son is sick and I need my insurance and without a job we’ll lose our house and I can’t afford to lose my job because my mom had to move in with us and where will she go if I don’t have a home? So what am I going to do? I won’t like thinking it, but there it is.

And if I’m five years from retirement and scared to death that everything I’ve worked for will go up in smoke because I’ve dug in my heels to make a point, will it be worth it? Will anyone even notice that I’ve maintained my integrity? Maybe I’d get the eraser and make a few changes. I don’t know. I might. Is it wrong? Yes, of course, it is wrong. I know it’s wrong. My stomach is sick and my hand is shaking. . . but if it’s a choice of my family or an erasure. . .and they are TELLING me to do it. . .then. . .

It’s a very slippery slope.

Yeah, I don’t know either. I just don’t know. We have children with grave mental and physical challenges being mainstreamed into regular classrooms making it difficult for everyone. . the child, other students, teachers and administrators. There are children from foreign countries who start school here at all ages, not speaking or understanding one word of English. They are passed to the next grade each year and some even graduate without ever really understanding English. Graduate. How do they pass the tests? Did you ever try to take a test in Arabic? Or Bengali? Or Hindi?

Probably adjustments are made for all of these students in the form of extra time or exemption from testing. I’m a bit out of that loop myself at this point so I’m not sure how that’s handled. But are their scores still included in the pass-fail percentage of their school? How do you equalize that part of the system? You can’t.

There is a horrible stench in the air regarding education and we need to find the source! This odor is not going to dissipate in a few days. We need to start pulling up the rug and tipping over the furniture and find the dead-mouse-in-the-wall causing it. We need to stop placing all of the blame of a broken education system on teachers and test scores. We need to start treating people in education with the respect they deserve. The respect they used to have before they became the scapegoat for every problem within a broken down system.

I sucked at standardized tests. I’m glad my teachers were not bullied into changing my scores. I’m glad I grew up in a time where that sort of thing wasn’t even considered and their jobs did not hinge on my ineptitude. Not all change is good. I believe those teachers who made that horrible, wrong choice, cared too. You never know how you will react until you are backed into a corner with the stench all around you. I sentence Judge Berry Baxter, the one throwing teachers in jail because it’s easier than fixing a broken system, to one year in a low-scoring school! Now wouldn’t that be fun?

FYI- I just checked and only one person besides me commented on my sons post from this morning. One. My sister. Why? I’ll tell you why! There is not a person in education who wants to touch this subject without a flak jacket over a hazmat suit. They can’t. Their jobs depend on them NOT having an opinion. If our government stops being the playground bully, then they would have to admit they botched this one big time. Isn’t gonna happen.

That’s why they have me! I am angry and incredulous, confused and opinionated and have been head-writing all day long until I could find the moment to put digits to the keyboard! I am able to do this because I had teachers who cared beyond my test scores. Thank you! And you’re welcome!

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