Thursday, April 25, 2013

All Roads lead to Rome:

All roads lead to Rome is a common English idiom.  Literally, the saying was accurate due to the fact that in the Roman empire all roads actually took the most direct route to Rome.  However, it is generally accepted to mean there are different routes to the same goal.  In today's educational climate, all roads lead to Rome.  I believe this idiom accurately describes the current state of education and the educational reform movement.

Education is in a constant state of transformation.  I have accepted that fact because I believe we should always be looking for ways to maximize our educational effort for the sake of our children and their future.  But there is a cost associated with this constant drive to do things better, and the cost is more than just dollars and cents.  The biggest cost is the toll these reforms take on our classroom teachers.  Kevin Hime summed it up best: every reform idea lands squarely on the teachers' desks.

Our classroom teachers are drowning under the tide of educational reforms.  It doesn't matter which reform you want to point to, it eventually leads to the teacher.  Teacher Leader Effectiveness (TLE) is a prime example.  Sure administrators had to sit through 5 days of excruciatingly bland training sessions.  That pales in comparison to the daily obstacles TLE bestows upon our most valuable educational tool: the teacher!  Teachers not only have to deal with the added work responsibilities of keeping up with an artifact folder, observations, observation conferences, and evaluation conferences, but the daily reinforcement that a statistical formula straight off a winner take all state assessment will make up 50% of their evaluation.  And to make it worse, 70% of Oklahoma teachers do not teach a subject that is tested.  50% of their evaluation comes from where? - how their kids do on the math or ELA test, or other factors out of their direct control.  Common Core is another reform that hits our teachers unreasonably hard.  Great teachers do not understand why they have to change the manner in which they teach when they have been so successful teaching it that way.  Now, don't get me wrong; you do not have to be a bad teacher to get better.  Sure we can all be better, but to change the way I do things to make others better is a logic they don't understand. Yes, we need to incorporate more technology in the way we teach.  Technology should be a tool in a teacher's toolkit, but it shouldn't be the only tool.  There is still value in some of our traditional methods of teaching.  We shouldn't ask a 1st grade teacher who has been successfully teaching students to read for the last 30 years to start teaching reading only using technology because we will eventually assess reading with a computer? The mother load of reforms that effect the livelihood, culture, and climate of our classroom teachers are A-F accountability systems.  I'm all for holding schools, teachers, and administrators accountable for the job they do with our students.  And I am just as guilty as the next guy for adding to the stress of teachers instead of shielding them from this 'stresser'.  The use of data to drive instruction is awesome, but using that data to "grade" individual teachers has caused pure pandemonium among a group that is already underpaid and overworked.  Guilty as charged, and a mistake I will not make again.  The A-F accountability system has teachers taking the overall grading system and applying it directly to them and their peers' classrooms.  This is a stress maxer! When they feel the pressure, so do their students, and because learning is an active and social process, this is a learning inhibitor.  Therefore, both the teaching and learning parts of the academic formula has been dealt a challenge.  Every reform I just talked about isn't necessarily a bad idea, but we need to remember that every one of these reform ideas drastically affects the classroom teacher, and not always in the most positive way.

Today, educators are generally described as 'reformers' or 'traditionalists'.  What I don't understand is why do I have to be on one side or the other?  This is the educational equivalent of the logical fallacy of 'or'; that there are only two options, and you have to choose 1 or the other.  I vehemently disagree!  Why can't we be both a traditionalist and a reformer? I think both groups want the same thing: the best education possible for students.  Shouldn't we all want to protect those time honored traditions we know work while reforming the things that will make them work better?  Traditionalists and reformers honestly have the best interests of students in mind.  The roads they take might not be the same, but – hey - all roads lead to Rome.