10/15/10

Inner Wisdom Needs No Data







I read this amazing article (above) this past week and a line from the article (below) hits the nail on the head in terms of what is wrong with today's approach towards public school teachers.

The quote reads as follows: "I raise scores when I have to. Yet when I do, I'm not as effective a teacher."

I am a great teacher in DCPS. YET, when I've been pushed against the wall to raise scores in the past I did it without a doubt. But, I know I am not as effective a teacher when I teach for the purpose of raising scores alone. And with all the threats of punitive consequences we all face daily how could any teacher NOT have that end burned in their mind? The higher the stakes placed on testing data, the more the fear of losing job security, the more I fear about my job, the more I tighten and restrict my program to have it solely address only what I should address. So are testing and more acquisition of data really the answer? Yes.....if the end result is a positive data set. But what does those high scores really guarantee for our kids? Have we dare even go further and ask what are the promises behind getting a high score on a standardized test? what lies at the end of this proverbial rainbow? Certainly nothing life-changing I'm afraid.

There is so much that happens in a class from minute to minute that could potentially be life-changing, but 80% of it would never ever show up on a test. I challenge each parent to question the very need for any chart to help us get a sense on where our very own child stands academically. How can we so blindly trust data over what we experience in knowing our child. Are we not with them daily? Do we not know them enough?....How could a chart better clarify what is standing right in front of us? It might mean something if yet, should it be relied upon? I see how the growing dependence on data has done a lot to dumb down parents. Data has helped create a more manageable mess out of an area we might know very little about. Kids do not come in predictable situations, kids are messy, hard to figure out, they are all very different from one another. Data affords us an oversimplified, neat, and sterile way to approach how we view kids. But ultimately, it's just one very elementary way for people who do not know our kids to view them and maintain their distance.

This over dependence on external criteria is also happening everywhere. Take the use of GPS for example. The more we use this device to get us from here to there, the less we see the need to actually learn the streets and routes we need to operate daily. Its precise and sterile structure takes our focus off actually 'knowing; our very own neighborhoods. The fact is that our kids do not and will not ever fit on a chart neatly. Reliance on a chart will never help our kids become much more than good test takers. If we want MORE for our kids, we need to actually get down to their level and get to know them in all their intricacies. If only we can trust our own intelligent inner wisdom we will see that we don't need any data than the kid we see before us daily. It might be messy, but is maintaining neatness and perfectly aligned rows really what life is all about?

I use to work at Studio in a School in NYC when the Department of Education began requiring these teaching artists to begin assessing kids in art. The DEO in NYC was funding this organization with very deep pockets and the stakeholders needed data to prove the program's 'effectiveness'. And what better way, they thought, then to require artist teachers to collect and present the data? There was a frightful and protesting uproar in the meeting room when this change was announced. We all reluctantly jumped the rope and complied to get our funding the next year. Did we think it was meaningful? NO. Did we think this was helpful? NO. Was it a complete waste of our time? Absolutely. Did it help instruction? not in the least. But for years teachers have been doing just that. Jumping hoops placed by their non-educator bosses; busywork, simply just busywork.

The teaching artists were totally disgusted that there needed to be some measurement of what was happening in their magical classrooms where the children were doing simply amazing work designing, planning, discovering, exploring, etc. The imposition of having to box all this magic into neat little charts did a lot to restrict the magic itself and some found other less restrictive settings to continue teaching using their inner knowledge. Once an external set of criteria and processes are imposed on a creative entity, it does great damage to the flow of that structure; it's undeniable.

I was complaining to a friend a few weeks back about the fact that I even have to assess the kids in art. She calmly explained to me that this process helps less effective teachers be identified, and that of course I, a highly effective teacher, would find it annoying. The gist of her comment being that this was a necessary evil that in the end helped kids. Her comment made me realize that the whole system basically operates with the paradigm that we must not trust the teachers; teachers need a script before we trust them to KNOW what to do with our kids. I personally feel the myth of the lazy, sleeping ineffective teacher has been largely overrepresented. We all hear about them. They are burnt out, just holding on to retirement. How come in my 12 years, I have met only a 2-3 of these folks? Perhaps we need to set aside these fears of the myth of the horrid teacher and begin this huge work by trusting.

We need to begin trusting ourselves in the way we see our kids without the need for external indicators. We need to begin trusting the teacher in that maybe, just maybe she knows what she's doing and has your child's best interest in mind. We need to begin trusting our schools with the responsibility of preparing well prepared and confident educators. Our children are much more than grades and tests, and scores and charts. They will one day recall all the memories of being a child growing up under your care and none of those memories will include in them charts, or numbers or grades.

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