Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Why Professors Drink 2012.11.28

The American Federation of Teachers – a national organization of teachers unions – is expanding its campaign opposed to standardized testing.
The campaign seeks to stop federal programs, especially No Child Left Behind, that test students in order to chart their progress and determine effectiveness of teachers. Unions have generally fought against using anything other than seniority as a benchmark of teacher skill. Thus, the irony: a major teachers union has come out foursquare against finding out whether American kids are indeed learning.

While testing is not without legitimate criticism … the “obsession” with it that (the union president) describes has happened because parents and lawmakers want to find out whether student are actually learning and what works and what doesn’t. It is becoming increasingly clear that the union-dominated public school model doesn’t work so well
Amen to that. Recall that testing was a response to the growing problem of  public school underperformance and the resulting ‘social promotion’ of kids who couldn’t read, write, or do ‘rithmatic (see Why Johnny Can’t Read ).

There may be some validity to the claim that the pendulum has swung too far the other way, and we are now over-emphasizing standardized testing as a means of assessing how well our children are learning. However, I will argue that the unions are more interested in protecting their butts than in educating our children.

Please notice that I am saying “unions” – not teachers. Most of the teachers I’ve met during the course of my kids’ time in public schools have been sincere, hardworking people who truly care about providing a quality learning experience to the children entrusted to their care.

Of course, here in Texas we don’t have teachers unions. Just sayin’…

I could go on and on about this topic, but instead I’ll give you some anecdotal evidence regarding the quality of graduates from our public school system. The following are actual excerpts from a research project I assigned college sophomores and juniors.

Read ‘em and weep.
  • "Technology is rapidly evolving with innovative innovations..."
On the other hand, we have those uninnovative innovations.
  • "...for children who are minors this is an extremely sensitive subject."
As opposed to adults who are minors, I suppose.
  • "Just be weary when venturing out into the internet as scams are always lurking in the rear."
I don’t know about you, but I’m getting weary of internet scams taking me from the rear.
  • "Researchers ... have gone to a harder procedure to implant a peace maker for children in the womb."
Actually, if we really could implant peace in children while they’re in the womb it might be a good thing.
  • "...way back when people with unhealthy hearts were left to die on their deathbeds."
Isn’t that what deathbeds are for?
  • "It is true that this technology would increase competitive advantage because it could lead to higher production in less time, no worries about government laws influencing the hiring of people, and no need to take breaks, at least I don’t think robots would need breaks."
I don’t think robots take breaks either, but I bet their sentences have breaks.
  • "I do have a different perspective on technology after reading this article, but my perspective now includes fear. Fear that one day my skills will be surpassed by a piece of metal or software robot. I like where technology has taken us, and the things that are now possible through technology, but I despise the fact that robots will take jobs from the people. People fear the zombie apocalypse, but what really comes is the robots’ apocalypse. That one, we should really fear."
I don’t know which is worse – a zombie apocalypse, or a robot apocalypse.
  • "The new supercomputers are capable of…predicting the weather based on information."
I can predict a change in the weather based on how my knee feels. Supercomputers don’t have knees, so they must depend on information.
  • "I feel as if a door of knowledge I didn’t know existed had just swung open on me."
Someone just took a creative writing class.
  • "Employees can sometimes be lazy and uncommitted, producing low quality at a slow rate."
I’ve worked with some of them.

The next one is somewhat sad. The university where I teach is located in deep South Texas. It’s one of the poorer regions in the state. Most of the people here are hardworking blue collar types, with large families and little education. This student’s situation is far from unique. A large number of the people in this region are born here, spend most of their lives here, and die here without ever leaving the immediate area. That’s very hard for me to fathom.
  • "I’ve never been out of state only once which was to Florida, I can’t imagine going to a foreign country."
Some might argue that Florida is a foreign country, but that's a topic for another day.

Bottom line - this is very frustrating for me, and for most educators I know. We all want to do a good job, but for those of us at the college level we're frustrated by the quality of the 'raw material' we have to work with. The K-12 teachers I know are also frustrated by a bureaucracy that dictates what and how they must teach.

All that is bad enough, but at least here in Texas we're not handicapped by self-serving unions that insist on seniority over performance.


Bag Blog said...

I taught in Mission, TX, back in the early 80's. The school highly suggested that we join the NEA or some sort of union to protect us from law suit.

Although I understand the value of standardized tests, I'm not for mandatory tests. Teachers tend to teach to the test and a mediocre level - thinking that if a student scores at the 50th percentile all is well.

CenTexTim said...

If you taught in Mission you know where I'm coming from.

I understand your position. I'm not a big fan of standardized tests, but they do have their place. There's got to be some way of measuring progress, and measuring schools against their peers. Until someone figures out a better way (and I've tried, but I can't) IMO it's the lesser evil (just like our elections).

As for teaching to the test, I would argue that many schools tend to teach to the middle, test or no test. By that I mean teachers (myself included) tend to teach to the level of most of the students in the class - the median, if you will. That neglects both the good students, who get bored, and the poor students, who get left behind.

'Gifted and Talented' classes, along with remedial classes, would help solve that problem. But as I'm sure you remember, there's no better way to upset parents than to tell them that their little darlin' is (a) not gifted and talented, or (b) isn't keeping up with everyone else.

Hey, if teaching was easy everyone would do it... :-)

Harper said...

God Bless You, Tim - I could never be a teacher, and I appreciate people like you. Even more so now, hearing the stories from my freshman in college, that illustrate how ill-prepared her peers are, and how beaten down some of the profs are because of it.

CenTexTim said...

Thanks, Harper. I wish I could say I do something special, but it all comes from the life lessons I learned from my parents, in the Army, and from a succession of demanding bosses.

Knowing you, I'm sure your kids are beneficiaries of the same upbringing.

I've seen those beaten-down profs. They've never learned to set high standards and stick to them. People (and students are people, despite what many professors think) will live up -- or down -- to expectations.