Saturday, November 12, 2011

Bean counters and school compliance


Paul Karrer: Bean counters and educational compliance
About 4,000 schools in California are in "failing" status. And of those, a measly 85 have managed to "unfail" themselves. That is just a squeak over 2 percent.
What gets schools and even entire districts in failing status, called program improvement, or P.I., is a Byzantine formula. If any one group of students—Anglo, special education, Latino, one-legged hemophiliacs—scores below basic (a very low average), the entire school is placed in failing status. When that occurs, a downward spiral kicks in. Everything must now be focused on this specific group of under-achieving students. It is a Sisyphean task.
Spreckels School, which has a super high score and high performing kids, is in failing status because two kids dragged down the score.
Now, imagine the reality of teaching in a district where 40 percent or more of the students are low performers.
No Child Left Behind has destroyed public education, contaminated its noble mission, and sold out to private industry in the name of reform. Those of us left in the educational trenches are blamed for conditions we have not caused, cannot fix, yet are held accountable for.
"Reform" plays itself out like this in my failing school.

A bean counter, otherwise known as an education consultant, sits by the door of the classroom. Sometimes she paces around whispering in the ears of my suffering colleagues, my fellow frontline failing-school teachers. In our case, the bean counter is a middle-aged
woman. She probably makes a mean apple pie for someone somewhere. But here, in the trenches of a barrio school, she's the face of an intrusive for-profit external education consulting business that has come to "fix" us.
My district pays $128,500 for this imposed, required, distrusted, and resented interloper-consultant and company. NCLB got us here. Thank you very much, President Bush. My school is considered a failing school and if your school has that status, then baaaaad things happen, like having Bean Counters Inc. march in to set things right. And, of course, make a tidy profit while gutting public education. The bean counters are "teaching" the teachers to teach because, if scores are low, it must be because we are wretched teachers.
Though teaching is an art, not a science, new "reforms" come and go year after year. Three years ago the hot reform was "differentiated learning," meaning that children learn differently and must be taught accordingly. The promoters of that trend danced in front of teachers with charts and graphs showing tests, studies, and supposed hard proof of its credibility. Soooo, differentiated learning it was. A few years before that, it was "learning centers," meaning that kids learn best in small focused groups.
But, alas, both former fads have blown to the winds and now we have bean counting, otherwise known as scripted teaching. It works like this: teach, ask the kids what we taught them, and have them "pair/share," discuss with themselves.
Then the teacher arbitrarily picks a student and asks what was said. The student is supposed to reply correctly. The teacher then asks the kids to write what was said on a white board and the kids, on command, lift board to chin. Teacher scans to see that they get it.
The reform difference this time is that the reform comes with Bean Counters Inc. supplied with clipboards and if teachers don't hop, skip, and jump like the consultants say, the teachers get a bad checkmark next to their name, raising the possibility of a nasty evaluation.
It should be evident there is no one way to teach. It is the teachers' love of teaching and knowledge of content, and absolute caring for their students that matters. The rest can be hocus pocus and in many cases, much like snake oil, very expensive and probably harmful in the end.
But the real problem is Bean Counters Inc. It demoralizes teachers in frontline, battle-weary schools. They suck money from our coffers. They make their financial bottom line rise and the owners of their companies wealthy. Few teachers believe in what is forced on them.
In order to survive to the next reform, teachers smile and go through the motions to raise standardized test scores—scores that don't matter and tests that cost us millions and result in restricted curriculums.
Real education is what matters. Lively, fulfilling, enriched education has vanished. Replaced by Bean Counting's external managers scurrying about with magic data-driven systems promising to bring us to Olympian heights of test score success.
Fortunately, the "reformers" and their consultant minions' days are numbered. Teachers are regrouping. Like resistance fighters, we are waiting. The tide is turning. We whisper when they aren't looking. Our smiles are false. We think some of them are with us. We hope they worry and have trouble sleeping at night. They should.

Paul Karrer teaches in Castroville and writes about educational issues for this page.

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