Wednesday, March 18, 2015

NC Governor McCrory Dismisses & Ignores Most Teachers as Special Interests

According to a WRAL news story today, "NC Still Lags in Teacher Pay, Student Spending," the National Education Association released a report that ranks NC teacher pay 42nd nationally. 

As would be expected, North Carolina governor McCrory's education adviser, Eric Guckian, immediately dismissed the report. Whatever happened to the idea of arguing perhaps that the content of the report is incorrect and present the correct facts. Instead, our North Carolina's governor office labels the report as irrelevant.

In rather telling and interesting statement made by Eric Guckian, McCrory's "Education Adviser" the Governor reveals how he "really" feels about teachers.

"Governor McCrory is leading change that makes targeted investments in education spending that has students, not special interests, at the center of the equation."

Is he labeling every teacher in the state of North Carolina a "special interest" as if their needs somehow don't matter? Sure looks like it.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Why the Continued Obsession with High Stakes Accountability and Testing?

"The test obsession is making public schools, where nine out of ten American children are enrolled, into unhappy places." Anya Kamenetz, The Test: Why Our Schools Are Obsessed with Standardized Testing---But You Don't Have to Be
At the center, high stakes accountability and standardized testing policies are an attempt to justify public education. Politicians need quantification for the expenditure of tax dollars for education, no matter what the quality of the accountability system providing them with that justification. Various groups of people are happy with the massive increase in standardized test administration in spite of the fact that such testing has indeed began to suck the life out of our public schools.

Politicians want these accountability systems for a variety of reasons. Some are fine with public schools being unpleasant places because they do not want them to exist in the first place. They want evidence that public schools are performing poorly, and testing gives them the evidence. Other politicians blindly see these tests as the "objective" tools of salvation for public education. They have the faith that "objectivity" is possible, and that tests can fairly measure all that is worthwhile in schools. They are true believers in standardized testing.

Then there's the federal and state level policy makers who want all this standardized testing too. They see them as vital "measures" that tell them how schools, principals, teachers, and students are doing. Test scores give them purpose. "Let's get those test scores up!" becomes their focus, without which the existence of their job is questionable. They find the justification in what they're doing rooted in standardized testing.

Finally, there are administrators, from the national to the school level, who want these massive testing systems too. It gives them an "easy and simple" way to measure how their teachers are doing their jobs and how students are performing. No judgments are required: if a school, teacher, or student doesn't get the score, "dump'em." That makes leadership all tidy and neat, because there's no need for thinking, and there's no need for courage either. Test scores are used by school leaders as evidence of their own leadership as well; when scores go up, they feel validated. If scores drop, they can blame the teachers under their charge, the students, or lack of support from elsewhere. In addition, focusing on test scores is an excuse by many to ignore advocating for social justice and true actions taken to deal with poverty.

It's simply true, a lot of educators and politicians need test scores, otherwise, they don't have justification for their existence or evidence of their success. If there's nothing to count, then they can't show anyone "numbers" which, in their eyes, is the only convincing evidence of success in this thinking. But what if there are other ways to show success?

Maybe, it's time to rethink the high stakes accountability and testing paradigm. Maybe, if accountability is ultimate goal, there is a way to get that without this continued chasing of shadows. Perhaps, it we really put our heads together we could find a way to really improve schools and know it, rather than this multi-decade search for the measure and punish tactic that will work.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Listening with Real Compassion: A True Leadership Trait

"Having the space to listen with compassion is essential to being a true friend, a true colleague, a true parent, a true partner." Thich Nhat Hanh, from Silence: The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise
How many of you find that you don’t listen well in your role as leaders? I find that out every single day of my life. In the job of being a school leader, my mind races through the day. Even when I am sitting still, my mind is elsewhere. It’s chasing those classroom observations I have yet to do. It is preoccupied with a specific issue involving a teacher, parent, and student. It is racing about so much, there are times I just don’t listen to what anyone else has to say. It’s not that I am stubborn; its that my mind is tuned in to what Thich Nhat Hanh calls  Radio Station NST, and the NST stands for “Non-Stop-Thinking."

How effective as compassionate leaders can we really be with our minds so distracted? I suspect not very much. So, what’s the answer? I think Hanh offers a pretty solid answer: we have to begin with ourselves.

“If we want to help others, we need to have peace inside,” Hanh writes and teaches. We have to focus on creating this peace within ourselves or else, we’re wasting everybody’s time, including our own.

We need to take time today and listen inwardly. Have compassion on yourself first and listen; then you can have genuine compassion for others.