Saturday, May 10, 2008

My UFT New York Teacher "Speakout"

The DOE’s ‘accountability’ is absurd
by Marjorie Levine
published: Feb 28, 2008
I sigh with exasperation when I read editorial pieces in newspapers which promote the concept of evaluating teachers based on the test scores of their students. The writers have no understanding of what is happening in the classrooms.

It is ludicrous to speak about “accountability” when there is what the New York City Department of Education believes to be an excellently designed model in place that teachers are mandated to follow. Teachers are now required to follow a very rigid and almost scripted daily plan. Teachers attend workshops during which they receive instruction on how to effectively implement the model. One would think that since the teachers receive a “roadmap” regarding exactly what to say during their lessons that all the students would perform well on tests. It’s a “Stepford teacher” approach and test scores should be consistent.

It is absurd that teachers should be held “accountable” for the test results from a method they never even chose in the first place. We can only discuss the subject of accountability if teachers are allowed to craft what they might consider more effective and creative lessons. Without that flexibility, we are evaluating teachers who have been reduced to robots. “Accountability” becomes too absurd in the present scenario to even continue a dialogue. I can only prove my worth if you allow me to teach you with my own techniques. If you give me a recipe, please do not evaluate my ability to bake a great cake.

I failed science in the 9th grade. It was not because my teacher did not know how to craft excellent and effective lessons. The student sitting next to me in that science class received very high grades. My test scores had nothing to do with the principal or which politician was in control of the schools. My sister, who had the same set of parents, did very well in school and was an honor student.

I did not pay attention in class, did not carefully do my homework and did not study for exams. As a matter of fact, I did very poorly in high school and had nobody to blame but myself! It was not until college that I realized the value of education and the true importance of study. I was then able to develop a seriousness of purpose and succeed in classes and I finally performed well on tests. I would feel bad for my science teacher if he was held accountable for my failure.

I was a 5th- and 6th-grade teacher in the New York City public schools from 1968 to 2002 and I am now retired. During the last few years of my career, the learning model in the schools completely changed. I was no longer allowed to keep my students seated in rows during “teacher-directed” lessons at the chalkboard. I was not permitted to teach “math applications” and my role was reduced to that of “facilitator.” Children were placed in groups to discuss strategies for solving math word problems.

Students no longer learned to read with a basal reader and a comprehension workbook. Phonics, which is the basic building block for reading instruction because it teaches the sounds the symbols make, had been reduced to a watered-down approach called “phonemic awareness.” Students were choosing “just-right books” from classroom leveled libraries with books grouped by genre. In many schools today, students do not even have textbooks in the basic subject areas.

At the end of my career, a principal came into my room and told me she wanted more “productive noise.” I knew it would soon be time to exit the system when I went from group to group and heard the students not discussing literature or the books they selected, but their plans for Saturday!

Here’s a “tip” from me: Get the schools back to strong and solid basics and stop the nonsense already. Quiet classrooms, textbooks and structure is what it’s all about. The rest is a total sham. I am glad I am retired.

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