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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Setting Our Students Up For Failure?

By Peter DeWitt — July 18, 2011 4 min read
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On average, professional parents spoke over 2,000 words per hour to their children, working class parents spoke about 1,300, and welfare mothers spoke about 600. So by age 3, children of professionals had vocabularies that were nearly 50% greater than those of working-class children and twice as large as those of welfare children (Rothstein, 2004, p. 28).

Life is about advantages and disadvantages. Our advantage is that we get to teach kids on a daily basis and hopefully have a positive impact on their lives. We have disadvantages as well. We lack the same resources that some of our colleagues in other school districts have just like we have students that lack the same upbringing and advantages of their classmates.

How does our present situation in education have an impact on our student’s social and emotional well-being? After all, as educators, we know we are here to make an impact on our students. How will they fair after all of this educational reform is completed?

High stakes testing, teacher/administrator evaluation, the constant negative press about the public school system made by politicians during sound bites have a major impact on the social and emotional well-being of our students. Our students already know they go to a school that lacks the same facilities, course options and resources that other schools have available. Some of those students are in classes with 35 or 40 other students and lack pencils and paper; let alone do not have whiteboards or Smartboards. As they visit other schools for sports competitions, they understand that not all schools are created equally.

The Principal Has Left the Building
In New York State, we are in the midst of the new teacher/administrator evaluation. It has been proposed that administrators will be pulled from their buildings for 10 days during the school year to be properly trained in how to evaluate teachers. Ten days of training will put administrators out of the building and leave staff and students alone. Administrators cannot help change or support a school climate if they are not allowed to be in the building.

Students need consistency in their daily school lives, and the amount of time that will go into training educators during this new evaluation system will take that consistency away from students. Add in the amount of time spent preparing for high-stakes testing during the year, and we should have major concerns about our future.

If I asked you to list the names of students who fall apart when you are not in your classroom, I bet you can quickly give me a few names. When I ask administrators if they can list the names of students they check in on every morning when the school day begins, I bet you can quickly provide the names as well. Those students may lack support at home so they come to us looking for it.

Test Prep Schools
We, as educators, spend a great deal of time trying to do more with our students than test prep. It is not our first priority to create a test prep school where all of the students receive 3’s or 4’s. It is our first priority to teach students the essential skills they need to grow and be career or college ready.

I spend a great deal of time with educators. They all have the same worries and concerns on their minds. At this point, as educators, we’re feeling a bit paranoid. It’s not that I have an issue with being evaluated, nor do my teachers or the countless educators I know. Evaluation is a very important part of our lives because it can tell us where we are successful and where we need improvement. Even the most gifted educators need improvement somewhere, and I would venture to guess that they work hard to improve those areas.

Evaluation Using High-Stakes Testing
New York State is in the process of creating an evaluation that includes assessments counting for 40% (20% local assessments and 20% state assessment which includes high-stakes testing) of the evaluation. The other 60% will be locally developed measures of effectiveness which includes observation, goal setting and some other elements which will have to be negotiated.

Using high-stakes testing to evaluate teachers and administrators has implications for the rest of the country and has major implications for our students. Are they being caught in the middle of school reform? If teachers are busy doing too much test prep, will students want to come to school? How can we engage them in school if they do not want to come to school in the first place?

As New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other politicians enter into school reform, it is my hope that they are focusing on the social and emotional well-being of our students and not on money. If they believe we are truly failing as a school system, perhaps they need to make sure that students receive proper health care, quality pre-school and early intervention, and are provided with the same course offerings with the same number of students in a class, without the stress of constant high stakes testing. Allowing teachers and administrators to remain in their classrooms and buildings during the day would be beneficial to students as well.

Peter can be found at www.petermdewitt.com

Rothstein, R. (2004). Class and Schools. In R. Rothestein, Class and Schools. New York: Teachers College Press.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.