Chaos in Our Schools

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Bureaucracy:

an organization that is complex

with multi-layered systems and processes.

source: Investopedia.com

The New Normal

What does it mean for a system to be awash in bureaucracy?  

    Colorado schoolteachers have been finding out for almost a decade.  Their professional lives are now consumed by policies that are not only cumbersome and useless, but deceptive.  People outside the field do not understand the many layers behind what goes on inside our schools.  Indeed, most of their information comes from political soundbites, yearly feel-good speeches from principals, and lobbyists for new taxation initiatives.  They have no idea what it means when someone touts the terms Best Practices, Proficiency Scales, or Research Based.  Okay, so they have some idea, but they don’t understand how these concepts have become doublespeak [1].

    The paradigm of education has shifted over the last decade.  In Colorado, it means  teachers now must prove their worth as a teacher every year, as mandated by the Colorado legislature.   It is, in effect, pay-for-performance, and here is a brief outline of it: [2]

 

    This might sound like a good idea, because what teachers do is important to the development of future generations of citizens.  We all know that. Most of us also suspect there are quite a few teachers who are just skating by in an easy profession. This is likely because we have experienced one or more of them, ourselves. 

     Pay-for-performance, however, is a slippery slope, with unintended consequences attached.  Some of those consequences might appear innocuous, but others portend fraud and hypocrisy.

The new normal we are faced with, as teachers, is that it is more important to talk strategically about teaching than to teach.

    Teachers are rewarded, monumentally, for doing two things in their job:  collecting data and documenting.  As long as they can curry favor with their principal and follow through on these two activities, they are likely to receive a favorable evaluation at the end of the teaching year.  In fact, the more a teacher documents her classroom activities, the more likely it is that a principal will give her that favorable review, even if observations of her performance are suspect.    I discovered that myself in the spring of 2017 when I provided documentation to my assistant principal so that he would improve three ratings of performance on my final evaluation. 

    Our schools have become havens for demagoguery and our teachers are now saddled with pointless and redundant requirements in their jobs.   

    How did we get here?   It’s been an amazingly short road, traveled in purposeful stages over only a few years.  Once the edict was issued via legislation, school districts jumped into overdrive to comply with the mandate, and the changes began their rollout in the fall of 2012.

 

    As teachers, we all agree that growth is essential.  If we’re not growing, we’re not truly living.  The focus on growth as a measurement tool for students did not ring alarm bells for many of us at first.   We teachers had been studying growth in CSAP [3] scores since its inception in 2001.  We used the information to adjust our teaching strategies. 

    In 2012, analyzing growth in standardized test scores turned into tracking growth in our own classrooms.

    We were required to make formal goals for our students in a subject area and track them.  Our percentage increase among our students, collectively, was applied to our final evaluation.

    I began to wonder what could happen if the concept of rewarding growth were taken to the extreme.   I investigated the requirements of SB 10-191, and discovered that it was not only a performance doctrine for teachers but principals, as well.  That was my ah ha moment.

     I was consumed by the disturbing ramifications of over-reliance on growth-tracking.  Unverified growth tracking.  Not just teachers tracking growth in their students, but principals tracking growth in their teachers. Our principal had shared the new evaluation matrix with us; we knew that part of our evaluation pie was labeled “School Growth”.  How was that measured?

     I knew a teacher’s data could be suspect; it was not difficult to imagine a similar scenario for our administrators.

    I wrote my first book on this subject in 2014 and 2015, a novel that went nowhere.  It’s been sitting on Amazon’s self-published bookshelf since the summer of 2016.  Perhaps that is because it reads like a sarcastic, bitter diatribe.  I admit, I was angry when I wrote it.  In writing this book, I have edited the (true) events from that book juxtaposed beside the equally true policy mandates from my former Colorado school district.

    My hope is that this style of writing will help you understand the chaos of the situation, as well as why we in this country are at a critical crossroad.

 

    I retired from Colorado teaching in 2018 and have secured a post-retirement position in a non-traditional setting in New Mexico.  For the first time in a decade, I am satisfied with my career.  I am successfully differentiating instruction, perhaps because I have so few students and I work with a co-teacher.  Additionally, I have none of the hogwash presented in this book to deal with.  This past school year, I received the highest rating possible in three out of four teaching categories.

By the time you finish this book, you should understand three things:

        1.  Class size, along with personnel distribution, are critical for student learning.

        2.  The fraud and deception of performance-based teacher evaluations must be eliminated.

        3.  Money is not the problem in public education.  How it is used is a murky puddle that needs to be               cleaned up.

 

    Additionally, please keep in mind this axiom:

The best way to get people, en masse, to accept a bad situation is

to sugar-coat it with feel-good language.  

    Policies that sound either benign or even great on the surface have led to a corrupt and fraudulent deployment of education.  

 

And that should cause angst for everyone.

 

Notes:

[1] Doublespeak:  deliberately euphemistic, ambiguous, or obscure language.  The term is a hybrid of two terms made up by George Orwell in his book 1984, “doublethink” and “newspeak”. (Google)

 

[2] SB 10-191: Senate Bill 10-191, The Educator Effectiveness Act

[3] CSAP:  Colorado Measures of Academic Progress; state standardized test (2001-2011); completed in March each year.

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