Friday, January 13, 2006

What Local Control in Schools Really Means

I'm all for teachers getting paid more, having been one myself at one time and knowing what it's like to toil in the $20K salary range despite having an advanced degree. But a new policy instituted by the Houston public schools yesterday that gives teachers bonuses based upon the standardized test scores achieved by a their students is misguided. To be sure, other school districts have already adopted such a bonus policy, but what makes Houston notable is that it's the biggest district to do so, yet, and it could thereby serve as a role model for other big districts to follow suit.

The problem I have with this bonus policy has nothing to do with giving teachers more money, but rather the notion that salary should be tied to standardized test scores. My problem with standardized tests is simple. In teaching, the evaluation given needs to match the type of instruction provided. For example, if I privilege an open-ended, discussion-based style of instruction in the class, my evaluation should mirror it by focusing on essay and short answer questions in which students feel open to respond in a variety of ways. On the other hand, if I privilege a fact-based, teacher-led, book-driven style of instruction in the class, my evaluation should mirror it by focusing on multiple choice, true/false, and matching questions.

Nearly all standarized tests are exclusively multiple choice, true/false, and matching because it's too tedious to grade that many essay and short answer questions in the time that standardized tests are expected to be graded, and quite honestly it's not fair because the person doing the grading is not the one who did the teaching so they have nothing to base their assessment upon. Thus, when standardized tests are used the type of instruction and the type of evaluation is predetermined for a class.

The effect of this is to take the control over the structure of that class out of the hands of those participating in it--the teacher and the students. Teacher and student determination of the direction of a class is what real local control of education is all about, an educational concept conservatives like to say they favor. But standardized testing--the hallmark of the No Child Left Behind Act proposed by the Bush administration and, admittedly, supported by many Democrats in 2001--takes this control out of the classroom and gives it to a governing body far removed from the day-to-day realities of teaching and learning that takes place in our schools.

The Houston bonus policy takes standardized testing a step further by encouraging already poorly paid teachers through financial incentives to further give up local control over the classroom. Some people will cry out--"Well, we need to have some accountability!" I agree, but the burden of accountablility needs to be placed on government, not teachers and students. For me accountability means the government doing all it can to ensure adequate access to education for students and keeping classroom control in the hands of teachers and students. Accountability does NOT mean demanding teachers and students perform in a predetermined way and making sure they do so by tying funding and salary bonuses to their ability to goose-step to high standardized test scores.

One last point, the reaction by teachers to this bonus policy--which was to say it's unfair and an across-the-board salary raise would've been better--is misplaced. While an across-the-board salary raise is undoubtedly needed, this argument should be about why money should not be linked to standardized test scores, not simply about how that money should be divided more evenly. There is a bigger point to be made here than just demanding a fair and adequate pay increase because there's more at stake in this policy than salary bonuses.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd like to see more articles like this one. Do you know where I can find them?

adhd in infancy
adhd in infancy

Children with ADHD

There is a perplexing state of affairs in today's society, there lies a strong correlation between the affluence of a society and the amount of disease that is present. There is also another correlation that troubles many a people and that is with affluence comes disease at an Earlier age.

Working with children and the parents of these children I often get asked the question, 'Why are Children with ADHD on the increase?'

The answer as you shall find is one that is both interesting and challenging.

Children of today are really no more different from the children of yesterday in terms of genetic makeup. However, if you examine the issue more closely you will tend to find that many children today have been given labels. For example, 'Oh, those are children with ADHD' or 'Those are the children who can't sit still.' Or 'That is the kid that always gets into trouble.'

These labels are not only destructive but also become a self fulfilling prophecy as it is repeated adnauseum.

So as a 21st century parent or a parent with a child with ADHD or a parent with children with ADHD, what knowledge framework do you need to equip yourself with to ensure your children live out their true potential?

Here is a quick reference list for thinking about ADHD
� ADHD is a source of great frustration because it is misunderstood
� ADHD medications are a great short term time buying device and should be avoided long term
� The above point goes for any sort of drug consumption. Think about it for a minute. Unless you have a biochemical deficiency in your body like Type 1 diabetes where your body fails to produce enough insulin or any at all, why would you take an external drug? A body that is in balance is totally healthy. It is only when the body is out of balance that dis-ease symptoms start to creep up.
� ADHD is a biochemical imbalance of the mind and body.
� The Head of Psychiatry in Harvard states that drugs for ADHD simply mask the effects of ADHD. It does not cure ADHD. This is an important point because a cure implies never to have to take the medication. This means that once you start on medication you will have to be on it for the rest of your life i.e. you have medically acquired a dependency for a biochemical imbalance. That is like stuffing all your rubbish (problematic behaviors) into a closet (medication) where no one can see it. But if you continue to stuff more rubbish into that closet, one day you will not have enough space and need to do one of two things. You either empty the rubbish (the natural conclusion) or you get a bigger closet (i.e. change to stronger medication to control the symptoms). The choice is obvious but sometimes when you don't have the necessary tools to deal with ADHD you tend to think the bigger closet is the only option.
� ADHD children are super sensitive to the emotions around them. Often they pick up emotional cues from their parents without realizing. Many parents come home frustrated or annoyed from work, the child with ADHD picks this up and starts to 'cause trouble' by becoming restless. Parents frustration increase because they just want some peace and quiet. They get angry which in turn is picked up by the child who then intensifies their activity. Things get way out of hand and some sort of punishment is handed down to the child who has no idea what just happened. The cycle repeats itself every so often.
� Our brains are wired emotionally. Positive praise is interpreted as an analytical/thinking exercise. Negative criticism including scolding, name calling, physical punishment all go directly to the emotional brain of children with ADHD. This means in order to ensure you get your message across in the most optimal way, you need to learn how to communicate with your ADHD children the way they like to be communicated with.
� Every negative comment requires 16 positive comments to neutralize the emotion. Save yourself the frustration and agitation by practicing positive communication.

The list is by no means complete. In dealing with children with ADHD there are a certain set of behavioural principles to follow. I will detail these steps in the coming weeks. I'll also build on the list as you continue to learn about what appears to be a mystical disorder known as 'Children with ADHD'

March 02, 2006  

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