By Dianne B. Stillman
For Brooklyn Daily Eagle
As students march into their classes this week, the teachers will be smiling at each of them, but underneath the smile they’ll be thinking, “Another one to get me fired.”
“Why?” you say. Well, you can thank President Obama, Education Secretary Duncan,
Former Chancellors Klein of NYC and Rhee of DC, Chancellor Walcott, Mayor Bloomberg, the UFT, and assorted educational policy makers trying to make a name for themselves. All contributed to the fiasco called “Value Added” and the idea of judging teachers based upon student results on standardized tests. These two concepts are destructive weapons in use to attack the educational system and the student-teacher relationship.
I used to look at my students with relish. I couldn’t wait to read their writing, get to know those loopy teenagers, and see some of them inspired by literature. Now, all I would see is whether or not these kids could pass the English Language Arts Regents Examination. What would they do to my statistics? If I were teaching the lowest level of student, would I be fired by June?
How did this change come about? The federal government declared war on education in its latest initiative, Race to the Top. Here’s how that worked: Bribe the states with huge grants for education in return for enforcement of the trendy idea of using student achievement data to judge their teachers. Add merit pay bonuses for those teachers and administrators whose students do well on standardized tests and improve yearly. Schools and teachers that don’t cut the statistical mustard are annihilated.
A more stupid and short-sighted idea has never crossed the educational stage. The very idea of a “race” to learning reveals the ignorance behind the initiative. Learning is not a race but rather a slow and steady climb. It presupposes a stable, education-oriented home life. In most cases, once off-track, we cannot make up for our learning deficits in some Hollywood-inspired marathon.
Here’s a secret unknown in the highest reaches of education administration: A teacher cannot make up for a lifetime of deprivation and educational neglect. A student in most cases but the miraculous, cannot make up for not being read to, not reading, and not being spoken to every day since birth.
Can a teacher do anything? Teachers at my school often discussed how we got kids in the ninth grade who were so deficient in skills compared to middle-class students that it was disheartening. However, give us a student who attended class most days and did the work, and we would see wonderful progress over four years.
The first teacher judged negatively this year because of student results on a standardized test should bring a federal Equal Protection Clause lawsuit. The regulations create two groups of teachers and judge them unfairly. There’s the group who teach deprived, struggling students versus the teachers of the middle class, education-oriented students. The first group of students will do poorly each year, and their teachers will face unsatisfactory ratings for their work. The latter group will be given kudos galore and possibly, pieces of silver.
Dianne B. Stillman is a retired high school English teacher and attorney who lives in Kensintgon. She is the Director of Take Your Seat, a multi-faceted educational policy and teaching company. Ms Stillman was born in Brooklyn and went to public schools through college.