Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Counting my Blessings

Our school is currently going through its WASC accreditation, which means we've had a committee of several outside teachers/administrators strolling our halls, meeting with teachers and students, and poring over a  long "self study" document that our staff has been putting together all year. During one of our WASC meetings today we were praised on what we do, which was really nice to hear - apparently, our students are happy and successful, our teachers work hard to make sure that they learn, and all in all there's lots of great stuff going on at our school. Unfortunately, our scores on the state tests aren't necessarily our best attribute (the reasons for this are a whole post unto themselves, and probably don't even need to be explicitly stated for most of the people reading this). As a result, our AYP, API, etc. are lower than we'd like -- which means that this became a major topic of discussion at the aforementioned meeting because these scores are what the state uses as evaluative metrics.

While the WASC committee was incredibly helpful and generally positive about our school, they really wanted to impress upon us how much we want to raise those AYP/API scores to avoid becoming an "NCLB Program Improvement (PI) School." I was incredibly curious about what this meant, so I came home and looked up the requirements for PI schools here. Both committee members at this meeting were able to speak to some of the consequences of becoming a PI school - having state-appointed administrators come in to implement programs, being forced to read lesson plans that have been scripted down to the minute, and even - yes, I could not believe it - BANNING NOVELS IN ENGLISH CLASSES. Folks, I was floored by this. True, no one's "banning novels" explicitly. But apparently PI schools are required to cover so many writing and reading samples in English classes that it's virtually impossible for teachers to teach entire novels, and those who do receive threatening memos from their administrators. I realize that struggling schools need change, and that change isn't always easy, but - for goodness sake - does anyone out there really, truly think that preventing our kids from reading novels is going to make them more educated??? Just like a bad teacher can "get in the way" of a beautiful subject, it seems that the government have managed to "get in the way" of education. I'm 100% for accountability at all levels (school, teacher, student) but I also believe that this accountability happens locally. And certainly not by banning novels. There are very few things that shake me out of complacency in my old age (ha) but this really did it. What can I do to change the status quo?

I left the meeting a little shaky (which I believe was the intention) but also feeling incredibly lucky. Lucky to work at a school with people who are so passionate about education and about constantly refining their practice. Lucky to have the freedom to experiment with new ideas and to make changes in my classroom as I see fit. I always knew I was lucky to begin my teaching career at such an amazing school, but today the point was really hammered home.

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