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9/11/14

Truth and Consequences

Truth and Consequences


     There were 1,615,066 students in Georgia public schools k-12 and 120,660 teachers to teach them in 2009.  In 2013 the GADOE reported 1,657,506 students and 111,401 public school teachers k-12.  Anyway you count it, public education has lost 9,000 teachers and class sizes have increased in Georgia public schools.  Add to that issue six years with no raises, layoffs or RIF's in many systems, furloughs that actually take money out of teachers’ pockets to help systems cope with decreased state funds, higher property taxes, loss of planning time, the elimination of professional development funds, the lack of instructional funds, the elimination of band, chorus, orchestra, art and elective classes, the destruction of motivation and creativity through the institution of phony reforms, a continuation of the “blame the teacher” mindset, an insistence on teaching to the test, by the test and for the test, the growing numbers of children in poverty, the proliferation of standardized testing at the state and local levels, the junk science of value added models of teacher evaluation, unrealistic expectations for students and teachers, the dearth of resources for students with special needs or remediation, the “everyone is college material” insanity, the inanity of student learning objectives for non-tested subjects, the implementation of Common Core standards by decree with no instructional support, books that are older than the kids they are issued to and it’s no wonder teacher morale is in the dumps.
    The Met Life Survey of the American Teacher noted that teacher job satisfaction fell from 62% “very satisfied” with their jobs in 2008 to a 20 year low of 39% “very satisfied” in 2013.  Principals surveyed indicated 75% were frustrated with their jobs and almost one third of those said they will go to a different occupation within the next 5 years.  Add to that the findings of the NCTAF 2010 report “Who Will Teach” that between 2004 and 2008 over 300,000 veteran teachers retired nationally, that 30% of new teachers leave the profession within 5 years and the average age of the teaching force nationally has risen from 36 in 1976 to 55 in 2008.  The number of teachers over the age of 50 in 2008 was 1.3 million, and the most common age of retirement for teachers was 59.  What we are seeing is the beginnings of a teacher shortage at the state and national levels.
    Age and a rampant bureaucracy created by Federal and state regulations toward a data-driven accountability system that over-tests and micro-manages educational policies only add to the already high frustrations of teachers and administrators.  While every parent wants their child to have an individualized educational experience, governors, legislators and Federal policies insist that all children be subjected to the same inane standards and testing.  It would seem their intent is to drive away as many teachers as possible and make the profession even more unattractive than it currently is.  Enrollments in education programs are dropping nationwide, due in large part to the attacks on the profession through opposition to due process, denigration of the profession, low pay and increasing expectations.  Doing more with less has ceased to become a temporary circumstance and now is a way of life for teachers.  
    It would seem that 12 years of a failed test and punish system would be enough for anyone to recognize it simply doesn’t work.  The answer, as it has always been, is in the power of teaching.  Providing resources for teachers, using standardized tests at the beginning of the year (if at all) for diagnostic purposes, recognizing the dignity and importance of the teaching profession, dismissing the junk science of value added models of evaluation, giving teachers the time for collaborative planning, instituting a system of mentoring for teachers that need improvement and removing the constraints of scripted national “standards” that, in the absence of books and materials become a de facto curriculum.
    The key to effective education is effective teachers.  Our politicians have done everything they can to demonize teachers and take away what little authority and classroom autonomy they had to begin with.  Teachers really don’t come out of the college training box ready to teach and inspire students, but rather than spending more money on professional development our legislators eliminate professional development funds, cut their salaries and increase testing.  Rather than finding ways to run off more teachers – we have ways to remove poor teachers now if we have administrators with the courage to do so – our focus must be on training the teachers we have to be more effective, to use cooperation and collaboration as a basis for daily operation, to improve student engagement in every classroom on a daily basis and to teach administrators that the key to effective administration is not attempting to browbeat, chastise or shame teachers into working harder but in having the courage to involve them in the school operations and decision making and empower them to create teacher leaders.  Teachers have never been the problem; teachers are the solution that will save children from themselves and from society one kid at a time.   Public education serves 93% of the students in our state.  We cannot afford to abandon the many to provide more opportunities for a select few.  It’s not about race, it’s about poverty; it’s not about a test score, it’s about student achievement; it’s not about a standardized curriculum, it’s about good teaching; it’s not about the business model, it’s about personalization; it’s not about compliance, it’s about individualization, it’s not about competition, it’s about cooperation.  Until we restore the power of teachers to teach, publicize our daily successes and vote for representatives that believe the US and Georgia Constitutions are more than legal suggestions, we will continue to hear the nonsense about the failure of public education and be subjected to the continued denigration of the teachers that, in spite of the system and not because of it, still make a positive difference for kids every day.  The more we allow politicians to demonize teachers and teaching the further we get from the goals to educate every child, and the harder it becomes to keep good teachers and attract their replacements.


7/9/14

Reformulating Reform Based on Reality

It’s Time to Reform the Reformers
Jim Arnold & Peter Smagorinsky


Jim Arnold recently retired from the superintendent’s position of the Pelham City, GA Schools and blogs at http://www.drjamesarnold.com/. Peter Smagorinsky is Distinguished Research Professor of English Education at The University of Georgia whose public essays are archived at http://smago.coe.uga.edu/vita/vitaweb.htm#OpEd


“The failure of public education” has become a de rigueur assumption in the public forum on public education, particularly among those who claim to possess the silver bullet for “reform.” The definition of reform signals the need to improve something for the better by removing faults, abuses, and evil ways. For there to be a need for reformers, then, those they wish to reform must be found to be as defective as possible. When the target of reform lacks sufficient dereliction, and a reformer still needs to advance his or her agenda, ideally with consulting fees, then the flaws must be manufactured and propagated as if they are real.


Arne Duncan, for instance, often cites such statistics as the need for 40% of college students to require remedial coursework.  Carol Burris has shown, however, this canard has no basis in fact, but is a manufactured statistic coming from a think tank, repeated by other think tanks until it became accepted in public opinion. As part of this process of fabricating a crisis, our Secretary of Education has repeatedly promulgated this bogus claim to advance his reforms, even if the evil of shoddy education in public schools requiring remediation by colleges at the taxpayers’ expense does not exist.


As part of this perceived need for reform, many people hearken back to the good old days, back before schools began circling the drain. For instance, a Rasmussen poll found that 69% of respondents doubted whether today’s public schools provide our kids with the world class education that the rest of the world is getting. As market-based reforms are offered as our only means of salvation, the schools of socialistic Finland are provided as a model of excellence.


Perhaps this irony is not the only one at work in the public debate about our purportedly failing schools.


We went to Southern schools back in those halcyon days. Nostalgia buffs might recall scenes such as this one from those misty times of yore on the occasion of efforts to integrate The Varsity restaurant in Athens, Georgia:




Given that opposition to school integration often was more violent and virulent than were responses to allowing Black people to each a hot dog at The Varsity, perhaps those great old schools from those good old days might benefit from a closer look. Let’s consider the public perception of US public education over time.


In 1996 E. D. Hirsch called for a return to a traditional approach to public education in “The Schools We Need and Why We Don’t Have Them.” In 1983 “A Nation at Risk” told us of the apparent failure of our system of public education. The Educational Testing Service discovered in 1976 that college freshmen could correctly answer only half of forty or so multiple choice questions. In 1969 the Chancellor of NY schools, Harvey Scribner, said that for every student schools educated there was another that was “scarred as a result of his school experience.”


Admiral Rickover published “American Education, a National Failure” in 1963, and in 1959 LIFE magazine published “Crisis in Education” that noted the Russians beat us into space with Sputnik because “the standards of education are shockingly low.”  In 1955 Why Johnny Can’t Read became a best seller, and in 1942 the NY Times noted only 6% of college freshmen could name the 13 original colonies and 75% did not know who was President during the Civil War. The US Navy in 1940 tested new pilots on their mastery of 4th grade math and found that 60% of the HS graduates failed. In 1889 the top 3% of US high school students went to college, and 84% of all American colleges reported remedial courses in core subjects were required for incoming freshmen.


And in the years before the American Revolution, “Undereducated, overworked, short-tempered male schoolmasters often presided over the schools. Corporal punishment was a euphemism for outright brutality against children.” Women were not allowed an education until the Industrial Revolution took hold, a century before they could vote.


So much for the good old days.


And so much for the perception that education is perpetually in decline, if actual statistics inform the conversation. The National Center for Educational Statistics reports that educational attainment is continually on the rise. Here’s their table providing decade-by-decade figures for high school graduate rates.


         HS Graduates (total %)         Whites     Blacks
1940          38.1                         41.2         12.3
1950          52.8                         56.3           23.6
1960          60.7                          63.7         38.6
1970          75.4                          77.8         58.4
1980          85.4                          89.2         76.7
1990          85.7                          90.1         81.7
2000          88.1                         94            86.8
2010          88.8                          94.5         89.6
2013          89.9                          94.1         90.3


Georgia lags behind these national averages, as the following table shows, yet still continually graduates increasing numbers of people at the high school and college levels:


            HS grad     Bachelor’s     Advanced degree
    or more       or more      or more
1990    70.9                   19.3                 6.4
2000     78.6                  24.3                  8.3
2006     82.2                  26.6                  9.2
2009     83.9                  27.5                  9.9


Going back a bit farther in time, in 1940 17% of adults in Georgia had completed high school; in 1946 5% of Georgians attended college. We’re doing quite a bit better these days, even as public rhetoric and perception suggest the opposite.


But you can’t frame our current situation as a crisis in need of reform if all trends are positive. So, the Georgia Department of Education claims that state graduation rates are below 70%, in spite of statistical evidence to the contrary. We cannot ascertain their motives, but they do seem to feel that charter schools and Teach for American are the answers, even if the question remains opaque. Like Arne Duncan, they appear to require a manufactured crisis of the sort revealed by David Berliner, Gene Glass and colleagues in order to come to our rescue.


Long ago Darrell Huff exposed how people lie with statistics, helping to explain the sort of smoke-and-mirrors statistical manipulation at work in much of the educational policy world. For example, in determining graduation rates, states are allowed to count only those HS graduates each year who are awarded a diploma within a 4-year course of study. GED’s don’t count, but special education students do, and count against graduation rates, as do students who graduate by persisting through difficulties such that they take more than four years to complete their degrees.


Schools, like any complex social institutions, require continual maintenance and rethinking; we hope that in our careers as teachers and school administrators we contributed to that challenging project. But the current “reform” movement, we believe, is not solving actual problems, and in contrast is manufacturing new ones with each dedication of funds to corporations instead of schools. Reforming the ways of the reformers would make better sense to us.



6/30/14

An Alternative Universe

 I grew up reading Superman comics, and especially enjoyed those that featured stories of an alternative universe.  Bizarro World was one such universe, where the planet and its inhabitants were diametrically opposite to everything on earth.  Even the name of the planet, Htrae, was “earth” spelled backwards, and the planet was a cube shape rather than spherical.  
    Education seems to have entered it’s own Bizarro world with Arne Duncan’s policies and beliefs.  It would seem President Obama’s appointee to head the US Department of Education, second only to Bill Gates as the most powerful force in US educational policy, believes strongly in the Bizarro theory of educational improvement; whatever research says, do the opposite.  For the first example, we need look no further than Common Core, the Federal standards that aren’t Federal standards because Arnie says they’re not.  Used as a carrot in the RTTT program, acceptance of CC was inferred for states to receive money.  Not the only carrot, but  large enough to attract the most timid of state DOE bunnies to implement the standards before they had been tested on a smaller scale and, even more unbelievably, before they had been written.  Like the publishing company that paid Mrs. Clinton millions before her new book was written, many states now wonder at just what they could have been thinking when that particular deal was made and are re-thinking their participation in CC and the accompanying testing.  Perhaps the Bizarro mentality was momentarily contagious, or perhaps the teachers, students and parents left out of the initial decision have expressed their displeasure at CC adoption through such an asinine process with an unknown product.
    Another Bizarro idea is VAM, as in vam-boozled.  The development of teacher evaluations using student test scores as a percentage of the evaluation is also another prerequisite for RTTT money and an exemption from NCLB regulations for states, and the process has wound its tortuous way through several state legislatures in spite of it’s mind-numbing inanity.  A doctor, policeman and lawyer must all take into consideration the history and past performance of their clients, but through the VAM process teachers are not allowed to do so.  Parental input and student motivation are conveniently omitted from the equation and there is no current research that says incorporating VAM into the teacher evaluation process is a good idea.  Even Bill Gates, whose word is usually tantamount to command, says that perhaps a moratorium on teacher evaluations using VAM would be a good idea.  Arne and his minions, however, continue to insist on the process being a part of RTTT because “its better than the evaluation system we had.”  For someone responsible for formulating national educational policy, that doesn’t really seem to be a well thought out, reasoned, insightful response, does it?  http://dianeravitch.net/2014/05/19/strauss-what-does-arne-think-of-new-vam-studies/
    In the category of “you can’t make this stuff up,” Mr. Duncan recently noted that the performance of special education students in several states were not meeting his lofty expectations.  His solution, again meeting Bizarro requirements, was to raise expectations and subject SPED students to more standardized testing by using NAEP as an indicator of the progress of special education students.  Even though the test was not designed to measure this, Bizarro reasoning says it’s OK to use it because “it’s the best we have.”  Parents of students with a learning disability will be happy to know their concerns, fears and worries over their child’s learning disability can be erased with the amazing combination of higher expectations and more testing.  Who knew?
    The Bureau of Indian Affairs will be happy to note that the President and Mr. Duncan have proposed that Race to the Top methodology, including increased standardized testing, evaluation of teachers using VAM and implementation of the CC standards, that have been so wildly successful in transforming public education across America that the Bureau of Indian Education will be “reformed” using a similar model.  As if we hadn’t already done enough to “help” indigenous Americans - http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/06/27/obama-expands-use-of-standardized-tests-for-special-needs-and-american-indian-students/
             Just like kids in other American public schools, they will be subjected to myriad standardized testing administered in a post-mortem fashion in the belief that such testing accurately measures both student learning and the effects of individual teaching upon student learning without evidence that supports either contention.  Recent research indicates that the best predictor of student success in college is high school grades and not the ACT, SAT or standardized test scores (http://articles.courant.com/2014-02-18/news/hc-sat-research-0219-20140218_1_fair-open-testing-s
      Consistent with his stance on other research that contradicts what he knows about educational reform, Mr. Duncan will, of course, ignore this too.  I would also venture that if standardized testing were an effective measure of teacher performance and student academic achievement that private and parochial schools and post -secondary institutions would have already jumped upon the testing bandwagon so their students would not, so to speak, be left behind and deprived of the benefits of that testing.  That there is no such groundswell seems to indicate the benefits of standardized testing presented by accountabullies in the name of accountabalism seem to believe the only students that could possibly benefit from more and harder testing are public school students.  Isn’t it a shame that the children of those making the rules are almost always students in schools exempt from those policies?  
       I believe I see a pattern in Mr. Duncan’s ideas.  Surely no educational leader could implement so many Bizarro-like strategies in the face of contrary research and common sense...unless the intention was not educational reform but distraction. Perhaps standardized testing, VAM, RTTT and Common Core are simply distractors for public outrage while the true enemies of public education continue their efforts to expand the opportunities in public education for market based solutions.  You remember market based solutions, don’t you?  That’s the euphemism for using public money in ways that benefit investors and not students.  Perhaps the real issue here is that Mr. Duncan is a high level Bizarro #1 lightning rod for the outrage of teachers and parents, and bases his decisions about processes and policies on which will be the most controversial without calling attention to the real problem...the privatization of public education through vouchers and for-profit charters.  The alternative is too terrible to contemplate...unless, of course, you are Bizarro #1.
    


6/19/14

Testing the Alternatives

Testing the Alternatives
 
 
Jim Arnold recently retired from the superintendent's position of the Pelham City, GA Schools and blogs at http://www.drjamesarnold.com/.  Peter Smagorinsky is Distinguished Research Professwor of English Education at the University of Georgia whose public essays are archived at http://smago.coe.uga.edu/vita/vitaweb.htm#OpEd
 
Last fall journalists exposed the wretched conditions at Trenton (NJ) High School.  Brown water oozed from drinking fountains, rodents roamed freely, teachers and students became physically ill from being in the building, mold covered the walls, roofs were leaking, ceilings were crumbling onto the students and teachers below, streams of water ran down the hallways, and morale throughout the building was, not surprisingly, well below sea level.  Conditions reached the point where the met the state criterion of being "so potentially hazardous that it causes an imminent peril to the health and safety of students and staff."
 
Governor Christie, however, issued a stop work order that ended an initiative to make essential repairs on this school and over 50 others that were dangerously unsanitary and just plain dangerous, not because of the menace of free ranging, gun -toting ruffians and thugs but because the decrepit buildings themselves required so much maintenance.
 
While halting repairs on schools, what the state did invest in was accountability for teachers.  No one was accountable for the conditions of the schools until a citizen uprising and news coverage forced a building initiative that fortunately will provide the people of Trenton with a modern facility.  But while dodging chunks of falling ceilings, treading cautiously around scurrying rats, and attempting to teach through building-induced illnesses, teachers remained accountable to the standards that Arne Duncan believes can determine their fitness for the classroom.
 
We live in Georgia, another state in which schools are grossly underfunded yet consultants and testing corporations are living large off the investment of state funds in holding teachers accountable, regardless of their work conditions or the life conditions of their students.  Most schools cannot afford to run a full year, with roughly two-thirds cancelling 10-30 days every year and requiring teachers to take "furlough" days to make budget.  Further, schools in our state have 20th century connectivity infrastructures and technology affordances, limiting the degree to which kids can learn what they'll need to know to navigate and thrive in our emerging, digitally-driven society.
 
What we need, however, according to the people making educational policy these days, is not money dedicated to provide a full school year - and many people, evidently unaware that most Georgia schools cannot afford 180 days of school, are pushing for longer school days and years - but a more rigorous curriculum and more tests, preferably more rigorous tests.  We use the term "rigorous" ironically given that the rigor of curriculum and assessment are claimed again and again but never established in any clear or responsible way.
 
Last year the state of Georgia DOE spent a little over $18 million on End of Courses Tests in high school and Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT) in lower grades.  Plans to replace the CRCT with yet a newer testing regime, Georgia Milestones, are underway to the tune of $108 million.  Georgia BOE minutes for the May 2014 meeting report that "the State School Superintendent {has been authorized} to enter into a contract with TBD at a cost not to exceed TBD in State/Federal funds for the development, administration, scoring and reporting of a new student assessment system."  TBD seems guaranteed to add significantly to the millions already spent on standardized testing in Georgia.
 
Regardless of expense, the Georgia Measure of Achievement and Progress will still be administered at the end of the school year and student scores will be returned to schools far too late to have any positive effect on teaching and learning.  Since the tests are administered near the end of each school year rather than at the beginning, it's safe to assume their purpose is political rather than diagnostic.
 
Just assuming that Georgia will spend nearly $140 million on testing and test development next year - and we are only including End of Course Test, CRCT, and GMAP expenditures which are only a few of the tests administered in Georgia - what else might the GADOE do with the money?
 
For starters, let's say the money be equitably distributed to districts for the express purpose of hiring more teachers and reducing class sizes for required classes, or even to re-staff faculties with teachers of music, art, drama and vocational electives that have been eliminated by austerity cuts.  The state salary schedule for first year teachers with no experience is about $31,600.  Assuming benefits for those teachers equals about 1/3 of that figure, salary and benefits for a first year teacher with no experience would be around $41,000.  Given the reduction in the number of teachers employed statewide over the last several years and the availability of teachers with experiences, let's put that figure at an even $50K.  That's $20 million dollars which would hire an additional 400 teachers statewide - admittedly not much in a state with roughly 2300 schools, but a step in the right direction.
 
Funding for school nurses has also been reduced in recent years.  Stephen Krashen argues that school nurses are among the best investments that communities can make to improve education, given that kids are better students when they are healthier.  There are about 2300 public schools in Georgia and the 2014 budget for nursing services is $32,741,000.  That averages around $13K per school for nursing services.  Even adding $20 million to that figure raises the amount per school to $13,900 for nurses.  Certainly not a large increase, but significant in reducing the amount of local funds used to pay for essential nursing services.
 
There are other places where the money currently spent on standardized testing could be better invested:  mental health services for students, remedial instruction, building repair and replacement, instructional supplies, and countless more where a few millions of dollars would help replace programs and services cut over the last 10 years of underfunding and neglect in the name of educational reform that is neither educational nor reformative.
 
The point is that millions spent in Georgia on testing could be spent in ways that could have an ameliorative effect on the causes of poverty and this a beneficial effect on schooling.  Standardized testing in all its forms merely serves to point out the effects of that poverty again and again with no solutions presented except to blame teachers for the consequences.  How many tests does it take to learn that middle class and affluent children tend to do well on standardized tests and poor kids tend not to?
 
In this brief essay we have not provided a complete portrait of the funds spent on curriculum and assessment developed by corporate providers, or the costs involved in funding schools properly to do their jobs.  A more detailed examination of the labyrinthine state budgets might identify even greater amounts currently being diverted to testing, testing, testing and far more alternative investment possibilities than we have outlined here.  Putting so much in the dubious testing enterprise has not only provided misleading information about the achievement of student sand impact of teachers, but done so at great expense to far greater needs.  We find this misplacement of priorities to serve as a sad illustration of the grotesque values and beliefs that drive the current accountability policies governing education.
 


4/29/14

10 Rules of Educational Process

10 Rules of Educational Process
      I believe in public schools.  I am a product of public schools, my children graduated from public schools and my grandchildren currently attend public schools.  My experience, observations and beliefs tell me that public education is a strength of our nation, and that a strong system of public education is the primary means of salvation for the vast majority of students.  Abandonment of that system through privatization and market based solutions, euphemisms for “let politicians and their cronies use public money for personal gain,” will abandon a significant percentage of our student population, primarily poor, rural and minority students, to subsidize the education of a select few.  Our system is far from perfect, but is the only hope for most of our kids.  Our state and nation cannot afford to abandon the 90% of students in public ed for the benefit of the comparatively affluent 10% that are not; neither can we use public funds designed to educate that 90% to fund the private studies of  those that choose other avenues.  By the same token, public education must no longer act as if we are the only game in town.  During 39 years of service in public education as a classroom teacher at the elementary, middle school and high school levels, a HS assistant principal, a HS principal and small town superintendent I have compiled my personal list of non-negotiable guidelines for teachers and administrators.  Some are original, all are based on personal experience and observations, and some have been compiled from readings, conversations and a wide variety of unique sources.  I would also venture that these guidelines are based on common sense, but remain cognizant of Voltaire’s observation that “common sense is not so common.”  Education - especially educational policies at the national and state levels over the last decade - is proof of that observation.
 
Rule #1   Never assume that any decision at any level will make sense simply because the topic is education.
    We would like to think that decisions influencing educational policy would be well thought out, reasonable and ultimately made to benefit the majority of students and the educational process.  Unfortunately, this is rarely the case.  Learning this rule and carefully applying it to state and national policies will significantly reduce the amount of time teachers spend puzzling over legislative interventions, yet another educational initiative, another top down DOE decree or an additional parental responsibility delegated to schools and teachers.
    Many legislative rules and regulations, for example, begin as well meaning ideas that stem from one isolated incident in one small geographic area - usually a legislator’s home district - which the legislator attempts to translate into something wonderful for everyone.   Three recent examples in Georgia are the recent focus on bullying and the resultant anti-bullying statutes, the decision to give teachers medical license to use epipens at their discretion and personal health assessments schools are now required to implement for every student.
    It seems we are almost to the point that most behaviors once classifed as “male” are now determined to be “bullying”, and that schools and teachers are given more responsiblities for enforcing and governing whatever aspects of parenting that legislators, acting in loco parentis, decide to delegate.  I am not suggesting that teachers ignore these issue; I am suggesting that these behaviors are are not those that can be solved at school without parental involvement, and cannot be the focus of teachers to the exclusion of teaching and learning.  Teachers, in addition to academic proficiency in bubble-in tests, are already responsible for sex education, eating habits, cyber-bullying, dress code, cell phone enforcement, classroom discipline, attendance, disease control, implementation of a standardized curriculum with individualized instruction, IEP’s, 504’s, workplace readiness, college readiness, tardies, mentoring, contacting parents, testing and testing security, after school tutoring, make up work, food allergies, anaphylactic shock, remediation, departmental meetings, faculty meetings, sex trafficking, PTSA, coaching, extra-curricular activities, clubs, parent conferences and, in their spare time, professional development for whatever new direction the DOE decides on this week and whatever new initiative adopted this month by the Superintendent “guaranteed to improve test scores.”  Now, teachers are also required to become frontline troops in the army of the fat police.  If this trend continues, teachers in the very near future will assume all parental responsibilities for every child and be required to sign adoption papers as part of the yearly contract process.  In football, this is called “piling on.”  In education it’s called “accountability.  In reality, it’s accountabilism practiced by accountabullies whose primary concern is not children or their education but access to the public funds used to educate them.

Rule #2  Discipline may not be personal.  To be effective, all education must be personal.  These statements do not conflict.
    If discipline in the classroom or in the halls is allowed to become a personal issue or is presented as a personal affront by the teacher to the student communication and learning will suffer.  Allowing anger to control behavior gets many 15 year old in trouble.  Education professionals do not have that luxury.  Teachers and administrators are expected to model behavior for students.  Make sure we are modeling the right ones.  Teachers and adults are expected to rise above anger and retaliation and personal confrontation as effective problem solving tools.  The administration of discipline may not deteriorate to the point where adults delight in the power they hold over the lives and behaviors of students  Much like the moral dilemma portrayed in in movies or comic books when Superman or Batman must decide whether to let the bad guy fall or give him a hand back onto the roof, teachers can manipulate an argument just to win or take the moral high ground and be the adult in the situation.  It’s not about winning, it’s about good teaching.  It is rather frustrating that many parents more often than not see teachers as adversaries rather than allies.  Corollary to Rule #2 - Anger does not solve problems or motivate people.  The results of allowing anger to control behaviors or expecting anger to control the behavior of others are never positive.  Conversely, teachers must establish a personal relationship with their students if authentic learning is to take place.  A level of trust and high expectations facilitate student engagement and performance.

Rule #3  Teachers are the key to good teaching and student learning.
    To test this hypothesis, place a good teacher in a room with X number of students but devoid of equipment, furniture or books.  Learning will still take place.  Count on it, and reaffirm what you already knew but had forgotten.  Teachers teaching students is what is truly important in schools.  Administrators can administrate all day and student achievement will not improve.  Teachers are the key, teachers are the answer and policies that require more paperwork or interfere with teaching time, however well intentioned, are counterproductive to effective student progress.  Anything that gets in the way of what good teachers do best - positively influence student learning - is a distraction.  Anything that gets in the way of teachers helping each other become better at what they do is counterproductive.  Take care of teachers, make administrative decisions that facilitate their ability to do what they were hired to do and trust their professional judgement by allowing them the freedom to teach without micromanagement.  Observe, suggest, recommend and observe again, but don’t forget that good teachers and good teaching make administrators look smarter than they really are.

Rule #4  A good teacher will succeed in spite of the system more often than because of it.  Hire good people and have the courage to allow them to teach.
    For far too long programs and initiatives have been allowed to define educational reform; we must recognize that effective teaching drives true educational progress.  Adding one more program for teachers to concentrate on - in the hope that this will be the one program that really, really works and increases those test scores and provides that magic silver bullet that overcomes the effects of poverty on student achievement - is looking at reform through the wrong end of the telescope.  District initiatives are usually based on the belief that the goal of teaching and learning is to improve test scores, and that “just a little more training” will assist teachers to be more successful in motivating those students to try just a little harder and bring those scores up to where we all look great.  True teaching and authentic learning have nothing to do with raising test scores and everything to do with helping children learn to figure out things on their own and giving them the tools to be successful.  Christmas tree programs - presented to teachers and turned over to teachers but never really allowed or expected to flourish or profoundly affect student learning - are added to that ever growing teacher “to do” list until teachers discover one day that all the queen’s programs and all the king’s staff development couldn’t help little Suzy learn to read or do math.  Only a good teacher can do that, and we don’t need another program or initiative to make that happen.  We need a teacher that cares enough about kids to talk to other teachers and find out what works and what doesn’t and who is smart enough - and is allowed the time and the freedom - to know the difference.  We don’t need programs or initiatives to provide mass staff development for teachers to “help” teachers learn to teach.  The same things that work in classrooms for kids will work for teachers in schools.  Provide them time to learn from and to teach each other and student achievement will improve.  We don’t need more programs to work on teachers, we don’t need more ideas to work on students.  We need administrators that aren’t afraid to allow teachers the freedom to teach each other and provide them the encouragement and freedom from the constricting, mind-numbing, creativity crushing reliance on test scores as the single measure of student progress.  We must have the courage to trust teacher measures and teacher judgement of student achievement as part of the accountability equation.  

Rule #5  Research based practices and shared decision making requirements too often begin and end at the building level.
    For verification of this rule, see VAM, RTTT and Common Core.  We could also throw in “work ready,” “college ready” and “no excuses” initiatives.  Our purpose in education is to teach students to think and reason for themselves.  We have, to our shame and sorrow, managed to effectively stamp out creativity and the joy of learning with multiple choice tests that measure the amount of educational trivia and minutia students can hold in their short term memories.  There is no current research that says spending billions of dollars to tie student test scores to teacher evaluations has any positive effect on teaching and learning.  Common Core was pushed upon states before it was written, and was implemented on a massive scale with no pilot program whatsoever.  It would seem our educational leaders at the state and Federal levels are intent upon following the path of reform that benefits testing companies with little or no data to support this decision.  Their goal is for education to be data driven without their having to follow the same guidelines.  Their policies lack substance, research, reliability and validity and reflect the top down one size fits all stupidity that no parent would accept from their kid’s teacher.  The question is why do we accept it from those that pose as educational leaders?  Go figure.

Rule #6  There is an inversely proportional relationship between contact hours with children and the quality or effectiveness of decisions made about education.     The further removed administrators or legislators are from daily contact with students the less likely they are to have any ideas that positively affect the educational process.  There is much more to creating effective educational experiences for students than simply having attended a school once upon a time.  One of the most enlightening experiences any of us can have is to talk to a truly good teacher and discover the depth of knowledge they have about teaching; about the strengths and weaknesses of the students in their respective classes.  Including teachers in the decision making process at the school, system, state or national levels will provide a system of checks and balances that will almost guarantee the filtering of genuinely stupid ideas before implementation.  Truly effective administrators will put the paperwork aside at least once a day, cancel a meeting and get into the classrooms of their school or system.  Talk to teachers, talk to students, talk to parents and remind yourself as often as possible what is truly important and why you are there.  Perhaps one of the solutions to this dilemma is the preclusion of decisions concerning public education for anyone whose kids are not participating in public education.

Rule #7  Behavior is not changed by increasing consequences.  Behavior is changed by the certainty of a consequence.  (Read that one again.)
    Teachers and administrators may institute the death penalty for dress code violations, but teenagers will find a way to challenge or subvert the rules adults make.  It’s their job.  It was our job to do the same thing when we were in high school.  They sag, wear revealing outfits and test boundaries on a daily basis with cleavage, morality, propriety, tattoos, tongue studs, eyebrow rings and unimaginably painful piercings.  All we had were bell bottoms, long hair, short shorts, miniskirts and sandals.  We really thought we were rebels - teenagers today have skated past our outrageousness without a backwards glance.
    We create, in our quest for conformity, unique, original and highly punitive plans to ban cell phones and other communicative devices.  Those plans won’t work either.  Our focus should be on finding creative ways to utilize the technology teenagers already have.  Their devices are usually four or five rungs up the technology ladder above what schools can provide.  When we focus more on conformity than on creativity we do so to the exclusion of more important things.  Our focus for years has been an insistence on compliance when our real goal must be engagement.  Remember the “zero tolerance” ideas for weapons?  Anybody want to discuss how a third grader with a plastic knife in his lunch box is a danger to society and his classmates?  That’s just another example of how “one size fits all” thinking works with people, and far too often we forget that students are people, too.  We also forget that the behaviors, morals and morality of younger generations have been topics of doom and despair for most successive generations.  We become our parents more quickly than we ever imagined.  

Rule #8  Model the behaviors you expect to see in others.   
    Professionalism requires professional dress.  If our goals include teaching students that professional dress is important, why would it ever be OK for teachers to dress professionally four days a week?  If we expect to teach students that allowing a phone call to interrupt class is unacceptable and rude behavior, why are we leaving class when our cell phone rings to have a conversation in the hall?  If we expect students to treat us with respect, should our behaviors not reflect our respect for them?  If students are suspended for using profanity, is it OK for teachers to use “damn” or “hell” in the context of classroom conversations with students?  If students are given a consequence for being tardy to school or to class shouldn’t teachers be held accountable for their own timeliness?  I’m sure we all remember our frustration as youngsters when adults told us “do as I say and not as I do.”  Educational professionals cannot afford that luxury.  If we want to be viewed as professionals we must model professional behaviors every day in every way.  That also means that administrators at every level must model the behaviors they expect teachers to display.

Rule #9  The only effective way to evaluate teachers is through repeated personal observation.
     Teachers cannot be effectively evaluated using student test scores any more than physicians may be effectively evaluated by counting the number of their patients that eventually die.  Teachers have no control over which students are assigned to their classes, what their history and backgrounds might be, how much their parents are involved in the education of their child, what their study habits are, their socio-economic level or the occupations of their parents.  Doctors, lawyers and members of every other profession are not just allowed but required to take into consideration the background, history, habits and past performance of their patients.  Failure to do so would be gross negligence.  To disallow the same consideration for teachers is foolish at best and criminally negligent at worst.  Administrative and peer evaluations must be a part of every teacher’s evaluation process, and, as with students, the goal is remediation of noted deficiencies and not immediate termination.  Test scores, IF the tests measure what they purport to measure, may be used in a pretest, posttest method for evaluative purposes, but the current post-mortem method that precludes use of scores to remediate student deficiencies is misguided, malicious and designed to denigrate teaching as a profession.

Rule #10  Be values based and data influenced.
      I’m guessing we all know Central Office people that proudly proclaim they are “data driven.”   Data is important, data is useful, data, like technology, can be an effective tool and data, under certain circumstances, can assist us in making decisions that influence direction, focus and outcomes, but educators are not in the data business.  We are in the people business, and students are not, cannot, will not, should never be data points.  Closely associated with the “data based decision making” idea is another great education myth, the “business model.”  The issue with both ideas is that students do not fit well into any given category, and come to teachers with the issues, problems, flaws, handicaps, parents and limitations beyond their control and ours.  Businesses can control the quality of the raw materials they receive, teachers cannot.  Expecting every child to learn the same thing to the same level at the same time is an exercise in futility along the same lines as herding cats.  Students are not data points, and pushing these square pegs into the round holes of grade level achievement defined by chronological age rather than individual achievement level is a fruitless endeavor.  One of my favorite Principals operates his high school on the assumption that every child is the exception to the rule, and that creative, individualized, personalized instruction is far more important than following a rule for the sake of conformity.  His teachers find solutions especially for those kids that life has kicked around, and provide individualized instruction for every child because every child is different.  They use data but do not relegate students to the educational sterility of being known as just a number.  That’s one thing every parent wants for their child - individualized instruction tailored to their child’s strengths, weaknesses and skills.  
    Judging schools and students as data points or test scores misses the importance, especially in small towns and communities, of the schools and associated student activities within those communities.  Schools are centers of activity for those places, and bands, chorus, drama, sports, FFA, FBLA, shop, journalism and all the other activities that cannot be measured or tested are just as important to learning as academic progress in tested subjects.  Ignoring the contribution of these activities is selling schools short of their real contributions and importance in towns and localities.  They provide a sense of community that is important to the parents and residents and students.  It would be impossible to teach that all important sense of community if the only available activities were those that were measured by standardized tests.
    Data points are simply statistics, and can be manipulated to show practically anything to support any particular view or ideological bent.  Studies show, however, that 63.8% of all statistics are made up on the spot.  Just ask any politician quoted in the Washington Post.