Data: our reputations – our students – our collective future

testingIn learning environments, particularly schools, where teachers have yet to engage in a conversation about common assessment, that is, participating in a shared instructional environment and reflecting on teaching with colleagues, it is all too common to hear the following statement offered in argument against it:

“It may reflect on me negatively as a teacher if my students do not perform well on a given test.”

This is a true statement.

Like all true statements, though, it deserves some unpacking, and I’ll do that by asking the following questions:

1. If your student doesn’t do well on a test, whose problem is that, really? Is your ability to make a living and function in the culture threatened? In the long run it is clearly to our collective detriment as the social fabric will be weaker, but will next month’s paycheck shrink?

2. Let’s say you can teach circles on a given topic around the teacher in the room across the hall, and your students do better than his/hers on a test as a result. What right do you have to secret mastery in teaching that topic? Do the students in class across the hall have any rights? If it’s a competition (and no doubt teachers become very competitive), who are the actual winners and Hanshin-Awaji_earthquake_1995_Kashiwai-building_001losers?  If you and a friend suffered from the same cancer and your friend’s doctor had the cure, would you feel entitled to the same access to the cure your friend enjoys?

3. Do you have the right to a good reputation just because you show up and have the keys to the room? Does an architect with a cool studio but whose buildings fall down have a right to a good reputation? How about the doctor who judges his own competence based on the bell curve?

4. Do the people who sign your paycheck and the kids whose futures you hold in your hands have the right to expect that some evidence exists, somewhere, indicating you know what you’re doing?

5. Should each student expect you to figure out how best to educate them, or should every 15-year-old already know the best way to learn whatever you choose to offer up? (I said 15 because my own 15-yr-old just left the room).


Staff_meetingSo the above is all very negative, but do grant that the phrase in question has the word “negatively” actually in it.

What teachers discover when the competition no longer makes any sense, when they start to share the best practices available to get the job done for students, that they begin to grow again, and that teaching returns to the joyful, vital, hopeful profession they thought they entered in the first place.

Teachers, students, the world, deserve no less.

How do teachers think about the Achievement Gap?

educational inequality balanceThis title wrecked my morning, specifically around selecting the first word. There is no question teachers think about the Achievement Gap. I have not met a single teacher who has not given the entire issue a great deal of thought, so the question requires some form of relative pronoun, hence the use of “How?”

This is not a post about grammar, but about beliefs. I think.

This question is a genuine one, and I’m hoping for serious help in addressing it. I know a lot of teachers, and to a person they are admirable professionals who seem to be in our business for the right reasons. My confusion stems from the very different contexts in which they do their teaching, particularly in two districts I can’t help but contrast. I know teachers working in a district that has managed to close its achievement gap putting them among the top ten in California according to Ed Trust West, and doing this with a diverse student and parent population of varied ethnicities, broadly distributed parent education levels, and significant socioeconomic challenges. Simultaneously I know teachers working in a district which occupies the absolute basement of their regional achievement gap stats, within a much more privileged demographic community. None of these teachers, from both districts, actually talk much about it, and they are all professional people of good will.

The districts I’m contrasting have obviously addressed their respective achievement gaps differently, making very different program choices, and I am neither naïve nor ignorant as to how they operate on a system level leading to this outcome. It is also clear that instructional practices in the two districts are quite different, so there is a clear cause and effect thing happening. None of these strategies are terribly mysterious, having been well-described in publications such as this one that was released a full five years ago.

As tempting as it is to speculate about teachers’ internal processes, I will continue to scratch my head. This is clearly more complicated than mere denial or delusion. If a teacher winds up working in either of these districts, how does he or she process either reality? I think of sitting in a restaurant, having ordered a house salad because the guy at the next table did that and it sounded good. His salad comes out magnificent, gourmet greens garnished with fresh peppers, capers and sprouts, sliced parmesan and the best balsamic, and he’s offered fresh, aromatic ground pepper. The salad set before me is a quarter head of iceberg with a dob of mayo, no pepper. Do I notice? Am I curious about why this disparity exists? Do I wonder if my business is valued, or whether my neighbor has connections? How does my neighbor process this disparity?

Please help me here, readers. What is happening in the heads and hearts of the great human beings that do this difficult work that allows them to keep smiling in the face of naked inequity? How do you explain the silence?