Systemic Change: schools watch out?!

I was reading Will Richardson’s blog the other day, and he made a great point in reference to Obama’s new educational plan:

“It’s all about the talent,” Secretary Duncan told me. Thus, the highest number of points — 138 of the 500-point scale that Duncan and his staff created for the Race — would be awarded based on a commitment to eliminate what teachers’ union leaders consider the most important protections enjoyed by their members: seniority-based compensation and permanent job security. To win the contest, the states had to present new laws, contracts and data systems making teachers individually responsible for what their students achieve, and demonstrating, for example, that budget-forced teacher layoffs will be based on the quality of the teacher, not simply on seniority…To enable teacher evaluations, another 47 points would be allocated based on the quality of a state’s “data systems” for tracking student performance in all grades — which is a euphemism for the kind of full-bore testing regime that makes many parents and children cringe but that the reformers argue is necessary for any serious attempt to track not only student progress but also teacher effectiveness. [Emphasis mine.]

All I have to say is… watch out! If this plan gains support (which it will -sadly) then we are going to see more testing. (period). And with more testing, administrators are going to continue to cut back electives, and those “other” programs which are not listed as “essential” – thanks to Clinton (NCLB) – i.e., technology and engineering courses. What people don’t realize is that if you give a child a practical domain in which to learn, i.e., technology and engineering, kids learn. For example, last year when I had my son (4) participate in a engineering project tailored to older kids (make a robot) he successful completed the challenge without my help – and understands the basics of dc motors, batteries, etc. Testing for testing sake is not going to help kids learn, but it sure will make for great data points – which we can use to… lament how our educational system could be better. If you want a better educational system all you have to do is: 1.) use them money you are going to give to those higher performing test scoring districts, states, schools, and simply pay teachers (across the board) better. If the profession was as lucrative as law, medicine, garbage men, you’d attract a greater populace, increase competition, and ensure teachers are fully trained, ready, capable, and rewarded for the essential and wonderful profession they have “won” the opportunity to be a part of. 2.) Increase the use of application based instruction, fully integrated with practical technological and engineering skills. I am not saying do away with the arts – as they are essential and needed, but the world wide economy demands students who are technological and engineering skilled, savvy, and competent. That doesn’t mean they have to be engineers, but they need to be technologically literate – that knowledge will help them perform in business, in law, medicine, social services, etc. 3.) Get families more involve in schools, their students’ lives, teaching appropriate ethics and morals. And finally, 4.) Trust the good teachers, and don’t hire the bad teachers. Everyone “knows” who the good teachers are – those committed to the school, who want to be there for the right reasons, who have great pedagogy, etc. Kids wait inline for those teachers, administrators love those teachers, parents support and praise those teachers. We know who they are, tests are not going to reveal anything new or revealing – the good teachers will be the best regardless of the tests. People also know if a teacher is going to be a good one before they are hired, when they are coming out of teacher prep programs. Teacher prep programs should have limited enrollment systems in place where they limit their student body to people who posses the skill sets to be good teachers: personality, commitment, etc.

There you go – the solution for a working systemic change.