Sunday, April 24, 2011

Warring on Women

I've read The Handmaid's Tale.

Maybe that's my problem--an English teacher who's thought too much about how language is manipulated in 1984 or how women were stripped of their power in the 1985 dystopian novel.  In one day of coordinated mass firings, coinciding with ATM cards that suddenly showed a zero balance, Margaret Atwood's women lost all of their freedoms.  (ATM cards did not even exist when Atwood wrote her novel.)

It can happen fast, apparently, when the leaders decide to disenfranchise a whole group.  The Iranian revolution of 1979 flipped a monarchy to a theocracy in just months.  Protests that began in August 1978 ended with the Ayatollah Khomeni in charge - and modern women forced into burkhas and out of work--by December of 1979.

The formula for disenfranchisement is simple: take away jobs and access to power through economic security, and hand all that power and access over to a ruling class.  Once the power is shifted and discrimination becomes law, as happened to the Iranian Constitution, returning to levels of equality is an uphill battle by a greatly weakened constituency.  The Ayatollah is long gone, but the laws remain.  In 1998, the parliament rejected a proposal for equal inheritance rights for women. A woman is only entitled to half that of a man.  No indication of changing back to more equal status for women.

So maybe I'm a little paranoid when I read about:

  • Outlawing collective bargaining for unions serving mostly women - the teacher's unions.
  • Zeroing out funding for Planned Parenthood that provides health care to women exclusively.
  • Reducing funding to WIC by as much as 10% - a program that provides funding for healthy food options for women and infants.
  • Cuts to literacy programs for children like RIF that have been proven to boost literacy for the poorest children.
Why are women and children being targeted for cuts?

Let's face it: poverty is primarily a woman's issue since women with children comprise the majority of the poor. National arguments are centering the blame on victims and removing the few supports that get children and their mothers through the first year's of life.  Simultaneously, the women who rear those children are facing cuts to their livelihood, placing more children at risk and ensuring a divided nation.

This is more than a woman's issue.  This is a "what kind of future can we look forward to?" if over half our population is stripped of the ability to improve their lives.

Who benefits?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Just Sayin...

In case you thought my last blog was overkill:
In North Carolina, for example, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools this spring field tested 52 (yes 52) new standardized tests, including four exams each for kindergartners and first-graders, and kids lost as much as a week of instruction. That won’t stop the district from adding even more tests next year, for art, music and physical education, and many teachers and parents fear that this is becoming the face of public education.
From Valerie Strauss' April 18 blog.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Beware the Forty-Percent Rule

Virginia has recently passed a new expectation for Teacher Evaluations.
Normally we are assessed in six areas.
The new ruling adds a seventh area of evaluation: Student Growth.
Though it is the seventh category, a full forty percent of our evaluations are now dependent on evidence of Student Growth.  Twenty percent of the evaluation must be tied to the student's SOL scores.  The other twenty percent will be left for Districts to determine.
This is a bad idea.
It will be bad for children.
This means that every teacher in every subject and grade must find a way to measure student growth.
Think for a moment on that.
Kindergarten teachers, art teachers, phys. ed teachers---all must collect some sort of data at both the beginning of the year and the end of the year in order to prove some growth.
No one knows what this will look like, but in the case of SOL tests this means a beginning of the year assessment followed by a state test at the end.
But if you are an insecure teacher, this may also mean many other standardized smaller tests throughout the year in order to gauge how well students will do at the end of year test--because your performance relies upon theirs.
Picture yourself as a child facing a battery of tests implemented at every turn throughout the days, weeks, and months of the school year.  Start with the image of a five-year-old sitting still for one assessment after another.
Now imagine the listless, passive graduates who manage to survive such a mind-numbing thirteen years in a test-driven system.

This also means that all the grownups will now be focusing like a laser on how well their students will do on these assessments.
Please note: People's livelihood will depend on how well children test.
If that is not a recipe for corruption, I don't know what is.

Finally, the district must come up with some equitable formula for the other 20% of teacher evaluation.  This will likely take the form of some quick and dirty test.  (I recently sat in on a meeting where purchasing a test for our assessment of that twenty percent was mentioned.)  That will cost money.  That will be a part of the limited funds available to districts that will not be spent on instruction.


Putting all other arguments aside, this will be BAD for CHILDREN.

Standardized tests are now being asked to perform a function they were never designed for and the tests are wagging the entire teaching dog.  We have entered into a national experiment where the future of our children is hanging on the outcome of an unproven, widespread trial that includes four and five-year-olds as the experimental subjects.

But surely somebody can benefit from measuring and weighing our students at regular intervals.  Oh, wait, this is good for the Testing Industry.  My guess is the stock is going up.

There is an answer:

  • Prepare teachers well. Currently billions is spent on "teacher proofing" schools rather than trusting the professionals. (Think of the entire education industry from textbooks, to outside professional development, to standardized tests.  All are predicated on the idea that we can staff our schools with anyone and everyone, and it will all be OK for kids if we put enough rules in place.)
  • Leave the assessment to teams of teachers. (This works well in high performing nations like Finland, South Korea, Singapore, and the province of Ontario.) 
  • Stop outsourcing the intellectual property of teachers to distant, impersonal, child insensitive, profit-making enterprises.