Sunday, December 16, 2012

Violence, statistics, and American education

No phrase irritates me as much as "data-driven education."

As someone who has dealt with educational data for the past 35 years, first as a reporter and now as a classroom teacher, I have learned that statistics should never be taken at face value.

From my discussions with teachers across the United States, I have seen many of my thoughts confirmed and many of them in a way that scares me, especially when it comes to statistics on violence in our schools.

I have heard one story after another of how school administrators, seeking to climb up the organizational ladder, report declining statistics on violent incidents and referrals, often by categorizing them differently, or by adding a separate layer of reports that are then not included in those that go to the state or federal governments.

I also hear from teachers who suffer the consequences when their building administrators, often following edicts from top administration, send those who commit classroom disruptions back into the same classrooms without any type of meaningful consequence. This has led to an increasing feeling of isolation among teachers, and in fact, has led many of them to leave for other, less stressful, better-paying jobs.

That lack of discipline has led, despite "statistics" from many school districts showing that the number of such "incidents" is on the decline, to an increased amount of bullying, which always leaves the door open to the sort of violent incident that happened April 20, 1999, at Columbine, and has been repeated since then across the country.

Education, in a frenzy brought on, in part, by No Child Left Behind, perhaps just as much as a reaction to the so-called "reformers" who are looking for ways to profit from public education or want to destroy it so they do not have to pay taxes (since they are sending their own children to private schools, anyway), has jumped on the bandwagon of one fad after another, often with sketchy, sometimes non-existent statistical backing.

And let's face it, it is hard for school boards and administrators to make names for themselves, unless they are trying the latest "innovative" methods of teaching, even as they discard those two years later for the next round of can't miss, cutting edge, state-of-the-art advancements.

All of these factors increasingly leave classroom teachers in a struggle to separate the wheat from the chaff among these educational ideas, and being forced often to make "innovations" work even when common sense says they won't.

Teachers' struggles to cope with all of these outside forces are the focus of my novel, No Child Left Alive. I had initially planned a Christmas promotion for the e-book this weekend, but I do not intend to try to make a profit from a book with that title and with the tagline "If the shooter doesn't get them, the system will," in the wake of Friday's shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut,

At the same time, I firmly believe that the issues brought up in the book are worthy of discussion, so I am offering free downloads of No Child Left Alive today (Sunday, December 16) and tomorrow.

Buzzwords like "data-driven education" and "best practices" are often the enemy of real education and rely on statistics and personal ambition that have nothing to do with the reality our nation's teachers see in the classroom every day.

Please feel free to download the book today or tomorrow and let's start a discussion.


Rick Nichols said...

Good column and most timely!

Anson said...

Randy, Becoming aware of you situation as of April 8th I downloaded and read this book No Child Left Alive. I hoped to learn more about where you are coming from regarding educational matters.

Frankly, I was repulsed by the book beginning with the first scene. And I am in no way a prude. I can handle sex in any context but it should be linked directly to the message in a book such as this one about the problems with education.

It went downhill from there for sure with all the ranting about everyone except the "good" teacher and his friend, learning her way, Kayla.

The remainder was distorted, greatly, in my view and based on my own experience as a substitute teacher in Joplin and Henry County MO for about 8 years, combined.

Yes things are bad in public education and have been so since at least the 1960's. I don't like statistics anymore than you do by the way. They can easily be slanted to make any case you like, for sure.

But the level of knowledge of many students and for sure their citizenship has declined, remarkably, in my view. This book points out truly remarkable mistakes, gross mistakes of the highest order, but does little to tell anyone how to correct the problems other than quite for year and collect "good Photos" to get your job back, in the end!!!

I certainly would not fire you for writing such a book. But you sure lost my respect in doing so.

Anson Burlingame