Thursday, July 02, 2009

"Why do schools fail? Try asking a teacher."

So reads the headline that the Journal put over a letter to the
editor in this morning's Journal, link.

In her letter, a teacher pointed out that it is;

Odd, no one has asked the teachers why schools are failing.
I have made the same observation; link.

APS Director of Research, Development, and Accountability Tom Genne, told me that in his experience, the leadership of the APS has never surveyed teachers, to find out what they think the problems are, and on what they need (from the administration) to succeed in their classrooms.

The teacher who wrote the letter pointed out a few obvious points;
  • poor attendance,
  • social promotion,
  • (the lack of) literacy,
  • (the lack of) parental involvement.
but missed a few others. Not the least of which is the lack of simple discipline in classrooms and on school campuses.

In the intervening months since I chatted with Genne, the leadership of the APS still has not surveyed teachers. Why?

Obviously, there is no good and ethical reason to not gather data from those with the most experience, highest education and training, and in the closest proximity to the problem.

In truth, there is only one reason not to gather data, and it is a completely unacceptable reason; the leadership of the APS will not take any step that would document their failure to maintain discipline in schools.

It is an administrative responsibility to enforce school and district discipline policies. Yet if teachers were ever surveyed on this particular aspect of the problem, it would be shown that, teachers feel that the administration has not enforced the discipline policies that would create order in the chaos. In particular, the record will show that administrative efforts to control chronically disruptive students, is an abject failure.

And the leadership of the APS is want to document their failures, abject or otherwise. The leadership of the APS is loathe to holding each other honestly and actually accountable for anything.

As an aside;
  • Attendance is only a problem because it interferes with the plan to move six rows of five students through 12 years of education, in precisely the same direction, and at exactly the same speed. If a student who had been absent, for any reason, simply came back to where they left off, nothing would be lost except the days they were absent.
  • Social promotion is an invention of the administration, not of teachers. It relieved administrators from accountability for the disproportionately high failure rate of minority students. Instead of having to explain the disparity, the failures are just moved along, which requires no explanation at all.
  • The lack of literacy is problematic because poor readers have no other input from which to learn. If they can't read, they are shit out of luck. This despite the fact that there are unlimited opportunities for other forms of input, not the least of which are, exceedingly well done and readily available video presentations of every subject under the sun, easily accessible on the internet and virtually free.
  • The lack of parental involvement is the part of the dynamic over which we have the least control. While we can and should do everything we can do to offer parents the help that they want, it is foolhardy to expect that we can affect that dynamic in any other circumstance.

    Education will either get done at school between 8 and 3, or it will not get done at all.

    By all means, try to engage parents. By no means, put all your eggs, or even the most of them, in that one basket.


Anonymous said...

One of your best! As an example, I was the sponsor teacher for one student who got in trouble or was written up, 12 times in one 9 week period by various staff members. I was required to get copies of each one turned in for his file. When we went to a long term hearing, imagine my surprise when the administration only could come up with three they had acted on. The rest of the time, the kid thought they had "gotten away" with it, thus escalating his offenses until the long term hearing incident. How well we set them up!

Anonymous said...

Wow! That happens on a daily basis at JCMS. Exact same scenario, over and over again.
Otherwise, thanks MR. Genne, for being honest and open about teachers not being consulted. This seems to be a nationwide problem, but that doesn't excuse APS administration from this bad behavior.