Truthfully, I’m not writing this article from a political agenda. I’m writing, as one who cares deeply about children and the education profession. I’m writing from a position as an insider. I taught in public schools for 20+ years, served as an adjunct professor in Teacher Education, and now I am an educational consultant. I work with private schools and see parents rushing to transfer their children to our school, as if they are fleeing from some monster.
Sadly, teaching according to this legislation seems to place educators in a “social role” of compliance rather than coming into their classrooms from their “essential” nature. Most teachers will share that there is a feel in the air of a heavy duty pressure to raise test scores. Unfortunately, the passion for teaching just flows out of the classroom like a balloon without air. Teaching has become a process to prepare students for a test. As an adjunct instructor in the school of education, I’ve had numerous opportunities to ask teachers what inspired them to choose this profession. To date, I’ve never heard the answer, “To raise Standardized Test Scores.”
Under the No Child Left Behind Legislation, schools are required to follow a “Pacing Plan” and to cover “state standards for a subject” on the day that the lesson is to be taught. I do understand the need to be accountable and that teachers are expected to cover the curriculum for their grade level. However, this pacing plan seems to require that each grade level teach the same lesson on the same day.
I will never forget the day that I was observing a student teacher in a special education class. The children were responding and the lesson was designed to improve reading comprehension. No problem with that…UNTIL….the woman with the clipboard taking notes walked into the room. The teacher, within a milli-second, changed her lesson to match the standard written on the board and to show that she was teaching the same lesson that all the 2nd grade classes were covering. During the post observation conference, the student teacher explained that this was a survival tactic to satisfy administration. However, she knew that she would be leaving all of her students with significant learning disabilities behind, if she actually did try to teach the grade level curriculum as written in the teacher’s manual.
Most administrators are left to be in a position to “Enforce the Law” in many larger urban school districts. They would rather use their time to support teachers and to create visions and move schools forward to adjust best practices to the new research on learning and the brain. The actual vision, in some schools, is for all students to reach “proficient” or “almost proficient” standards on testing.
The real critical issue in education is that students are taught to pass tests and it’s up to individual teachers to pursue more professional development to begin to teach children how to think, as they learn. It’s impossible to legislate how the brain works. In large urban school districts it appears to be a reality that there is little time to devote to differentiated instruction so that all students have access to the core curriculum. While the students who are considered gifted may be bored; on the other end of the pendulum there are those students with learning challenges. Both groups of students are being denied a quality education under this model. There is minimal time for teachers to plan on how they will reach all students and still keep the pace. Those teachers who do take this time to plan may be spending hours after the final bell rings for the day developing strategies to reach all students.
While considering thinking and learning, the bottom line question that we should be asking about education in the United States should be: “Are we educating our students in such a manner that they will be prepared for the work force of the 21st century?” Schools and corporations are beginning to dialogue about the training needs for the employees of the future. The test, retest, and then test again model of education is not even closely aligned with the vision of skills that we’ll need for the employees of tomorrow. In an economy that is experiencing tough times, companies will be pulling employees together to consider alternative ways of doing business to keep up with the times. This requires the ability to work with a group and consider all angles from “if/then hypothetical thinking” higher level cognitive skills. The employees will not be asked to sit in a room and take a multiple choice test about the situation.
While we want students to learn the curriculum designated for their grade level, the current model in our schools limits the way teachers can offer instruction designed to match the higher level cognitive thinking required in the future work force. Even educators, who are the best and brightest teachers, are continually thinking “out of the box” to determine divergent teaching methods to reach all students. Continually following this model, which was brought forward by the legislation of the Bush Administration, will ironically hurt the schools of the future. When I taught at the University in teacher education, it was already apparent that students four years out of high school wanted more rigid structure. Applying creativity to consider alternative means of educating seemed to leave some of these teacher education students with no props. They were very concerned about passing a course because they had learned to rely on rigid structure in learning.
Most teachers, who are my current and previous colleagues, care deeply about their students and want to do all in their power to create an environment in which children will be challenged to think as they learn. At one time private schools faced a challenge in attracting great teachers. I serve as an elementary director of a private school, which can’t possibly match the pay offered by public schools. Yet, we’re beginning to receive more applications every year for teaching positions at our school.
Government at both state and federal levels has authority over the public schools. Most politicians aren’t educators. As long as they make the majority of decisions based on a test score accountability system, there are concerns that schools may continue to keep doing what they are currently doing for years to come. The medical profession is experiencing a similar challenge when it comes to delivering quality care to patients. Though they are highly educated and licensed to practice medicine, the health insurance companies are beginning to dictate how patients should be cared for. This medical care crisis is an analogy to what has been going on in schools for years.
We can all come together on the agreement that we want quality schools in which our students are well educated. We want our American students to be able to compete and be skilled to occupy the jobs available for the 21st century. In education in this country there are many consultants, teachers and college professors, who have created models of instruction, which brings about a real enthusiasm for motivating students to learn. I’m able to send my teachers to learn to implement programs called “reading workshop” and “project based education”, because I direct a private school. Our students have an advantage over their neighbors who attend public school. We are delivering an education that promotes a desire to learn, teaches children how to think as they learn, and encourages teachers to implement programs that will prepare our students for the demands of the 21st century. Though I’m pleased with what our private school is able to offer our students, I sincerely want this same opportunity for all children.
We have a much smaller operating budget then our colleagues in public schools, however, we have a freedom to do what is in the best interest of our students. The government involvement in public education may actually deny our students the right to a free appropriate education that delivers far more than curriculum content. The public schools have the funds to offer the same skills to students who attend their neighborhood school. There has to be a better way to serve students whose educations are funded by our tax dollars.
Mary Ann Lowry is currently serving as an educational consultant, She is a Martha Beck Certified Coach, family life coach and an ADHD Coach. During her 28 years of teaching, she earned an M.Ed. and also took post graduate work to be certified as a cognitive educational specialist. Mary Ann has spoken to hundreds of teachers through teaching University courses and conferences. She teaches on topics such as “Teaching Children How to Think as They Learn” and “Teacher As Life Coach”. She can be reached at www.createanewseason.com.