Friday, January 31, 2014

It's not 21st Century Learning; It's 21st Century Disaster

As the noted education blogger and best-selling author Diane Ravitch noted today, there is a growing cottage industry of veteran teachers who are leaving the profession and writing columns telling what caused them to make that decision.

One of the earliest that came close to the start of the flood was my Huffington Post blog on why young people should not become teachers. That one was a bit different in that at the time I wrote the blog, I had no intention of leaving the profession, probably for another 10 or 15 years at least.

That being said, the direction in which education is headed would have been enough to make me consider leaving.

The latest in the columns was printed in the Hartford Courant and drew my attention, not only because of its accuracy on the problems facing education today, but also because the author, Elizabeth A. Natale, like me, at one time was a newspaper reporter.

Unfortunately, government attempts to improve education are stripping the joy out of teaching and doing nothing to help children. The Common Core standards require teachers to march lockstep in arming students with "21st-century skills." In English, emphasis on technology and nonfiction reading makes it more important for students to prepare an electronic presentation on how to make a paper airplane than to learn about moral dilemmas from Natalie Babbitt's beloved novel "Tuck Everlasting."
The Smarter Balance program assumes my students are comfortable taking tests on a computer, even if they do not own one. My value as a teacher is now reduced to how successful I am in getting a student who has eaten no breakfast and is a pawn in her parents' divorce to score well enough to meet my teacher evaluation goals.
I am a professional. My mission is to help students progress academically, but there is much more to my job than ensuring students can answer multiple-choice questions on a computer. Unlike my engineer husband who runs tests to rate the functionality of instruments, I cannot assess students by plugging them into a computer. They are not machines. They are humans who are not fazed by a D but are undone when their goldfish dies, who struggle with composing a coherent paragraph but draw brilliantly, who read on a third-grade level but generously hold the door for others.
My most important contributions to students are not addressed by the Common Core, Smarter Balance and teacher evaluations. I come in early, work through lunch and stay late to help children who ask for assistance but clearly crave the attention of a caring adult. At intramurals, I voluntarily coach a ragtag team of volleyball players to ensure good sportsmanship. I "ooh" and "ah" over comments made by a student who finally raises his hand or earns a C on a test she insisted she would fail.
Those moments mean the most to my students and me, but they are not valued by a system that focuses on preparing workers rather than thinkers, collecting data rather than teaching and treating teachers as less than professionals.
Until this year, I was a highly regarded certified teacher. Now, I must prove myself with data that holds little meaning to me. I no longer have the luxury of teaching literature, with all of its life lessons, or teaching writing to students who long to be creative. My success is measured by my ability to bring 85 percent of struggling students to "mastery," without regard for those with advanced skills. Instead of fostering love of reading and writing, I am killing children's passions — committing "readicide," as Kelly Gallagher called it in his book of that title.
Make no mistake about it. What Ms. Natale is describing is happening right here in Joplin and in the state of Missouri. We are substituting technology and testing for reading, writing, and thinking.
This is not 21st Century learning; it is 21st Century disaster.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So sad. TEACHERS are often the deciding factor in whether or not a student succeeds of fails. For many children, school and those teachers are the most stable part of their lives.
It seems that everyone wants different test results. The federal government wants a certain test, the state wants a certain test, district administrators want several tests. All of them claim that they will let everyone know whether or not the students are learning and the teachers are teaching. Not many of them tell the teachers what they need to know so they can be sure that they are teaching what the students need.
I'm curious to see what is going to happen when the internet and/or power go down and students can't take their tests and teachers can't get those scores to turn in to administrators.