Thursday, November 7, 2013

Wait? Teachers Don't Suck After All?

There is a story on page 6 of the October 30th issue of Education Week.  To clarify, page six is NOT the front page, and Education Weekly (while a fine publication) is NOT The Washington Post, New York, Times, or the Chicago Tribune.  This story, by Catherine Gewertz, indicates that most U.S. states are outperforming the global average in Math and Science.  Really?!  

Teachers, particularly in public schools, have been beaten up and degraded for years for the alleged repeated failures of their efforts.  The calls for higher standards can be heard from sea to shining sea, particularly from political windsocks (terrific news for those who sell tests, test preps, newly aligned textbooks, workbooks, and software to fearful districts...).  The results are terrible moral issues, teachers leaving the field in droves, and of course tougher standards. 

We are literally and needlessly torturing some children with these new standards.  Yet, now there is a report that 28 states are actually outperforming the mighty Finland in math.  According to the article, U.S. public schools collectively outperformed England, Australia, Italy, New Zealand, Sweden, Norway, and the United Arab Emirates among others. 

The data used are predictive statistics applied to the 2011 TIMSS test for 8th graders.  Look, I get it.  Data can be twisted and manipulated to tell you anything you want, but let's also acknowledge that this truth applies both ways.  Nowhere is data more abused than in education when it is published or distributed without any qualifications or understanding accompanying it.      

There are some states that measured poorly, and certainly room for growth for all of our great states (isn't there always?).  Obviously we're going with the stick over the carrot on that one.   

These statistics are particularly impressive when considering that the United States takes all children. Students are not tracked into certain future career paths at early ages.  No one is told they can't come to school based on ability or income.  Patrick B. at my school has been kicked out of class 4 times today already, and 7 times total this week.  If he gets himself straightened out, there's not reason he couldn't become a lawyer, or a doctor, or, um, a teacher.  Not in China he couldn't though.  

It's frustrating that our profession is abused by twisted statistics and repeatedly put down (thank Governor Christie).  Sweeping, poorly thought out, reforms are often the result of the panic set forth by misunderstood data and sensationalized headlines.  The truth most likely lies somewhere in the middle.

Reform doesn't have to be an ugly word.  Schools, teachers, and administrators can all evolve and get better.  But change is a slow process.  Results shouldn't be expected immediately, yet we move to the next reform before we figure the current one out half the time.  These reforms should be guided by experts from the field- not politicians and business leaders.  Reforms should match the needs of the local area and not be totally identical because the needs certainly aren't.

I unfortunately cannot fix the whole media.  But from my little corner of the Interweb, allow me to publicly celebrate educators, and the fact that a new report shows that we don't all totally suck.  Hooray.