Thursday, December 01, 2011

The Effects of Intentional Turmoil on Schools

Anthony Cody:

School closures, the ability to hire and fire at will, the use of high-turnover interns - all these strategies have resulted in turmoil in our schools. They have succeeded in making teaching a much riskier, less rewarding profession. They have made teachers feel insecure, since they have made them vulnerable to poor evaluations and pay cuts based on student test scores that may be beyond their control. And they have subjected vulnerable students to even more inexperienced, poorly trained teachers.

There were things that were working in our schools that have been destroyed by this turmoil. I know, because I was part of a team at my school that had done some wonderful things over the course of a decade. We had dramatically increased teacher retention, and student performance was improving. We had a lively community of teachers engaged in teacher research and collaboration. We were leading efforts to strengthen the science curriculum on a district-wide basis, and shared our experience with scores of teachers from other schools. This school-based community became impossible to maintain after NCLB came along, and year after year labeled us as "failing."

Unlike the salesmen promoting education "reform", we never promised we would eradicate the effects of poverty.
I do not believe a school alone can do this. We just said we could do better, and we gathered resources and supported one another to do so. We invested in strong relationships with one another, and found ways to support the newer teachers on the staff by pairing them with experienced colleagues. We found resources to buy hands on materials. And when we had strengthened our own school, we reached out to others to help them as well.

When we evaluate proposals for improving our schools, we need to consider stability as a core value. It takes time to develop the relationships and institutional memory that can sustain a community of educators. Just because a school is not at the top of the test score pile does not mean there are not great teachers there, or things worth preserving and strengthening. Turmoil may occasionally result in creative innovations, but it is certain to destroy whatever might have been working as well. Unfortunately we are finding that it is a lot easier to tear down a school than it is to build one.

Nailed it.

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